Saturday, January 16, 2010

RIP Otmar Suitner (1922-2010)

(Suitner conducts the Overture to Engelbert Humperdink's Hansel and Gretel.)

One of the very last of the old-school German conductors passed on this week. Otmar Suitner was the director of the Berlin State Opera in East Berlin for the quarter-century before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the almost simultaneous arrival of Daniel Barenboim as its director. For the entirety of that period, his #2 was the Washington National Opera's own Heinz Fricke. Like Fricke, he was strictly of the Kappelmeister tradition. He worked his way up the German opera scene the way conductors had from time immemorial in the provincial German opera houses: doing every job in the theater - prompter, accompanist, vocal coach, offstage conductor, choral director, assistant conductor - finally arriving at podium with immense knowledge and an exceedingly Protestant work ethic. His musical presentation was entirely unfrilled - like a German Bernard Haitink - no fancy tempo changes, emphasis on dynamic contrast and registering every detail through the fog of orchestral textures (which is rare among German conductors). He was a champion of much new German music, but his great strength was in the German tradition, a tradition which is now gasping its last breaths.

(Suitner conducting the end of Die Meistersinger - an aging Theo Adam is Hans Sachs. Ehrt Eure Deutschen Meister though!)

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