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 Obituary, Michael Gielen (1927-2019)

Michael GielenThe Austrian-German conductor Michael Gielen, who devoted much of his career to championing contemporary music and conducted world premieres of works by Zimmermann, Stockhausen and Ligeti, has died aged 91.

The son of an opera director (who staged the premieres of Strauss's Arabella and Die schweigsame Frau) and an actress, Gielen was born in Dresden in 1927 and grew up in Berlin and Argentina, where he began his career as a repetiteur for the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires; in 1950 he relocated to Vienna, assisting Herbert von Karajan, Karl Böhm and Clemens Krauss (a former colleague of his father), and exploring contemporary orchestral repertoire alongside his career at the opera house.

Gielen served as music director of the Royal Swedish Opera between 1960 and 1965, and in the late 1960s he conducted several notable premieres including Zimmermann’s Die Soldaten and Reimann’s Ein Traumspiel; twentieth-century and contemporary music would play a vital role throughout his entire career, and during his tenure as principal conductor of the SWF Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden he recorded a vast amount of twentieth-century repertoire including Schoenberg’s Die gluckliche Hand, Gurrelieder and Die Jakobsleiter, Stravinsky’s Canticum Sacrum, Agon and Requiem Canticles, Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, and The Wooden Prince, and numerous world premiere recordings of works by contemporary German composers. He also recorded acclaimed cycles of the Brahms, Bruckner and Mahler symphonies with the orchestra.

He was also an active composer in his own right, writing predominantly instrumental and ensemble works including a string quartet inspired by the poetry of Baudelaire, a set of variations for 40 instruments, a sonata for solo cello, and Musik 1954 for baritone and ensemble.

Gielen retired from conducting in 2014 after problems with his eyesight became increasingly severe, and died of pneumonia in Mondsee on 8th March 2019.

SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg, Michael Gielen

Available Formats: 18 CDs, MP3, FLAC

Robert Dean Smith (Waldemar), Yvonne Naef (Waldtaube), Andreas Schmidt (Narrator), Melanie Diener (Tove), Ralf Lukas (Peasant), Gerhard Siegel (Klaus-Narr)

Bavarian Radio Chorus, Middle German Radio Choir Leipzig, South German Radio Symphony Orchestra, Michael Gielen

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Alfred Brendel (piano), SWF Sinfonie Orchester Baden-Baden, Michael Gielen

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Heinrich Schiff (cello), Heinz Holliger (oboe), Hakan Hardenberger (trumpet); SWF Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden, Michael Gielen

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

LaSalle Quartet

Available Format: Presto CD