Conductor Michael Gielen 91-year-old deceased
Born in Dresden (Germany), conductor and composer Michael Gielen died at the age of 91 at his residence in Mondsee (Upper Austria). As early as 2014, Gielen had to retire from the conductor’s podium due to health problems. He was not only regarded as a pioneer of contemporary music, he was also one of the great contemporary conductors as an interpreter of classical romantic music.
Gielen’s family, who had moved from Berlin to Vienna in 1937 under pressure from the National Socialists, had to emigrate to Argentina after the annexation of Austria in 1940 because his father was hostile to National Socialism and Gielen’s mother Rosa, a “Jewess” according to National Socialist terminology, was in danger of being arrested and deported. It was there that Michael Gielen met the conductor Fritz Busch at the age of thirteen, with whom he frequently practiced piano four-handed. From 1942 to 1949 Gielen studied piano and music theory with Erwin Leuchter in Buenos Aires. In 1945 he additionally began studying philosophy for three semesters and then played a lot of chamber music privately with his brother-in-law Ljerko Spiller and his violin students. Gielen studied Ernst Krenek‘s writing “Über neue Musik” and composed. In 1946 he composed his first work, a sonata for piano and violin.
He began his professional career in 1947 as a répétiteur at the Teatro Colón, where his father was chief director and where he was decisively influenced by the conductor Erich Kleiber. Gielen became pianist in the Ensemble Agrupación Nueva Música of the Argentine Society for New Music, founded by composer Juan Carlos Paz, where he also met Mauricio Kagel. In 1949 he performed Schönberg’s piano works in a concert commented by Paz,
In 1950 Gielen went to the Vienna State Opera, where he also worked as a répétiteur and met Herbert von Karajan, Karl Böhm, Clemens Krauss and Dimitri Mitropoulos, among others. From 1960 Gielen was Music Director of the Royal Opera in Stockholm for five years, in 1969 Director of the Belgian National Orchestra in Brussels and in 1973 Chief Conductor of the Dutch Opera in Amsterdam. He wrote opera history as conductor of the world premiere of Bernd Alois Zimmermann‘s opera Die Soldaten on 15 February 1965 in Cologne. From 1977 to 1987 Gielen was General Music Director of the Frankfurt Opera, which became one of the most important opera houses in Europe under his direction (in collaboration with Klaus Zehelein), and also Director of the Museum Concerts in Frankfurt am Main. At the same time he was Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London from 1978 to 1981, of which he has been Honorary Conductor ever since, and from 1980 to 1986 Director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
In 1986 he took over the SWF Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden, which was renamed the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg in 1996, and conducted it until 1999. From 1999 to 2014 he was a permanent guest conductor, since 2002 honorary conductor of this orchestra. He worked regularly with the Konzerthausorchester Berlin, first as Principal Guest Conductor and later as Guest of Honour Conductor.