The Musicians’ Musician

By Monica Parks

One of the hallmarks of Kurt Masur?s years at the New York Philharmonic has been his unusually close bond with the musicians of the Orchestra. As his tenure as Music Director draws to a close, we asked several of them to share their reflections on this friendship.

Carter Brey: Kurt Masur has been hard on my laundry bill. To him there was no point to a life in music without total commitment. The only mortal sin is routine; upon those who fall prey to its temptations, he visits the wrath of the righteous, absolutely in earnest and shorn of irony. By the end of most performances under his leadership my formal shirts are knotted, sweat-soaked testimonials to his uncompromising vision.

Yes, Kurt Masur has been hard on my laundry bill. And my life as a musician is the richer for it. (Mr. Brey is Principal Cello.)

Rebecca Young: I met Masur in 1984, when I was a student at Tanglewood; when he first led the Philharmonic after I had gotten the job here, he remembered me. We have always had a good rapport. Sometimes, when he starts to get pretty heated, trying to communicate an interpretation, I smile?inappropriately?and I see his mood visibly lighten. Masur talks about music in terms of poetry?not just loud or soft, or fast or slow. This will be the most lasting musical impression he?ll leave on me. I suspect that the Masur years may be the highlight of my career. ( Ms. Young is Associate Principal Viola.)

Mindy Kaufman: Maestro Masur?s attention to detail has resulted in a warm, refined sound and a high level of music-making. I am proud to be part of it. In addition, he has shown that he cares about us as individuals, coming to non-Philharmonic events and showing his support in many ways. A personal career highlight was playing the Vivaldi Piccolo Concerto with him in subscription concerts. I have grown a lot as a musician because of his faith in me. Maestro Masur has done so much for the Philharmonic, and I wish him all the best in his music-making. (Ms. Kaufman is Flute/Principal Piccolo.)

Philip Myers: I think probably my dearest memory of these years was a rehearsal that the Orchestra had uptown very early on in Masur?s tenure, preparing the incidental music to Mendelssohn?s A Midsummer Night?s Dream. I was 42 and had never played all of it. This particular day I ended up crying after one of the movements because I felt that he did it particularly well. ( Mr. Myers is Principal Horn.)

Daniel Druckman: When I think of Masur?s music-making, the two words that keep coming to mind are consistency and commitment. He came to us with a small core repertoire; pieces that he had long ago decided exactly what they meant, and exactly how he wanted them to go. And he pursued these musical goals relentlessly, at every moment of each rehearsal or concert, with every fiber of his being. His consistency was remarkable?consistency of tempi, dynamics, articulations, phrasing, and, above all, musical intent. ( Mr. Druckman is Associate Principal Percussion.)

Sherry Sylar: I have wonderful musical memories of Masur?s tenure. But his legacy to the New York Philharmonic and to American orchestras generally is something of even greater importance. Communication! The musicians and Masur began a dialogue 14 years ago, before he was offered this job. Opinions were solicited and freely given. We now form a team, joined in the pursuit of musical excellence. This special identity will endure after he leaves. Now, when this giant of a man takes the podium, I take great pride in the musical partnership we have established and the legacy he is leaving behind. (Ms. Sylar is Associate Principal Oboe.)