German conductor Wolfgang Sawallisch, acclaimed for his musical brilliance and unpretentious leadership of the Bavarian State Opera and the Philadelphia Orchestra, has died. He was 89.
The Munich-based Bavarian State Opera, which Sawallisch led from 1971 to 1992, said he died Friday at his home in Grassau, southern Germany.
“His enormous personality and unrivaled artistry shaped this house for decades,” the opera’s current head, Nikolaus Bachler, said in a statement Sunday. “His name is linked to the Munich opera like no other. His influence continues to be felt until this day and will continue to do so.”
Sawallisch also conducted the Bayreuth Festival, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic, La Scala in Milan and Tokyo’s NHK Orchestra, among others.
Born in Munich in 1923, Sawallisch began his career after World War II.
In 1953, he garnered international attention by becoming the youngest conductor invited to direct the Berlin Philharmonic. By 1960, he had become principal conductor of the Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra before moving to Munich in 1971.
Taking the helm of the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1993, at age 70, he guided the ensemble through a decade of financial and artistic turmoil. He was criticized by some for his traditional approach, but others praised the purity of his performance.
“With Sawallisch the music always sounded simple, clear, uncomplicated and transparent,” the Vienna Symphony Orchestra said in its obituary of the conductor who led the ensemble on its well-received first tour of the United States in 1964.
At La Scala, where he made his debut in 1957, he was the first non-Italian to be awarded the Golden Baton in 1993.
Sawallisch “leaves an enormous void in the musical life of our time,” the famed Milanese opera house said in a statement marking his passing.
The Bavarian State Opera said it would dedicate Verdi’s Requiem, directed by Zubin Mehta, to Sawallisch on Monday.