German conductor Kurt Masur accepted the Leo Baeck Medal on Tuesday, November 9, 2010 at the Leo Baeck Institute’s annual Gala Award Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. Maestro Masur is one of the most widely acclaimed musicians of his generation and played a key role in the peaceful revolution that toppled the East German regime in 1989. In their laudatios to Maestro Masur, Burkhard Jung, Mayor of Leipzig, and Klaus Scharioth, German Ambassador to the United States, cited Masur’s role during the mass demonstrations that swept Leipzig in October 1989. As one of Leipzig’s most prominent citizens, Masur used his influence to urge the demonstrators to remain peaceful and dissuade the authorities from using force.
Maestro Alan Gilbert of the New York Philharmonic, who presented Maestro Masur with the medal, focused on Masur’s role as a musician and educator. Maestro Masur had a major impact on the cultural life of New York when he was Music Director of the New York Philharmonic.
Guests at the LBI dinner also enjoyed a musical tribute to Maestro Masur by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra Wind Quintet, whose members had all played under Masur’s baton when he was Kappellmeister at the Gewandhaus.
Maestro Kurt Masur
Masur, 82, was a citizen of the former East Germany and has been recognized as a central figure in the peaceful Wende era that ushered in German unification 20 years ago.
From 1970 until 1996, Maestro Masur served as Gewandhaus Kapellmeister of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in southeastern Germany.
He was also music director of the New York Philharmonic from 1991-2002, after which he was named music director emeritus, becoming the first New York Philharmonic music director to receive that title.
Masur is moreover a frequent guest conductor with the world’s leading orchestras. His US debut came in 1974, when he led the Cleveland Orchestra and also took the Gewandhaus Orchestra on its first American tour.
Since 1992, Masur has held the lifetime title of honorary guest conductor of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. He has also served as principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and is music director of the Orchestre National de France.
Masur has received many distinguished awards in his lifetime, including top national awards from the governments of France, Poland and Germany.
He has been a professor at the Leipzig Academy of Music since 1975 and holds honorary degrees from a slew of academic institutions on both sides of the Atlantic, including the Breslau Academy of Music; the Cleveland Institute of Music; Colgate University; The Juilliard School; Leipzig University; the University of Michigan; and Yale University. In 1998, he celebrated 50 years as a professional conductor.
The Leo Baeck Medal
The Leo Baeck Medal is presented to individuals whose humanitarian concerns, especially in promoting tolerance and social justice, reflect values that resonate profoundly in the tradition of the Leo Baeck Institute.
Founded in 1955 to preserve the legacy of German-speaking Jewry, the LBI was named after Rabbi Leo Baeck, who survived the concentration camp of Theresienstadt and became the first international president of the institute.
Today it works through three centers in Jerusalem, London, and New York, as well as the offices of the Freunde und Förderer des Leo Baeck Instituts in Frankfurt and the Wissenschaftliche Arbeitsgemeinschaft des Leo Baeck Instituts in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland.
Former recipients of the Leo Baeck Medal include Axel Springer, founder of the Hamburg-based Axel Springer publishing house; Edgar Bronfman, the former president of the World Jewish Council; Johannes Rau, a former president of the Federal Republic of Germany; Wolfgang Ischinger, a former ambassador of Germany to the United States; and, in 2009, former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.