The distinguished German-born conductor Michael Gielen, who led the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in the 1980s, died of pneumonia on March 8 at his home in Mondsee, Austria. He was 91.
Gielen was appointed the 10th music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, serving from 1980 to 1986. He succeeded music adviser Walter Susskind, who stepped in for two seasons following the untimely death of Thomas Schippers in 1977.
An ardent champion of contemporary music, Gielen was one of the most important conductors of his generation.
As a music director, Gielen’s preference for programming the music of the Second Viennese School didn’t always endear him to Cincinnati audiences. But during his tenure, his discipline and exceptional ear became legendary, and the orchestra achieved new heights as a polished performing ensemble.
“Many felt that, through no fault of its own, the orchestra had lost some of its technical edge. Though his tenure was a brief six years, Michael’s strong, consistent artistic leadership restored the CSO’s luster and musical discipline,” said David Loebel, associate conductor of orchestras at the New England Conservatory, who was Gielen’s assistant conductor during his tenure.
“Many bristled at his demanding programs, which were meant to challenge and enlighten rather than merely entertain,” Loebel said. “Those who attended one of his CSO concerts expecting to relax and have pretty sounds wash over them were bound to be disappointed. Those willing to be exposed to worthwhile music they had never heard and to discover new things about the music they already knew, usually left exhilarated.”Read More »