Times Music Writer

Now a free-lance conductor, Kurt Sanderling, the avuncular East German musician who occupies the podium of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for the next four weeks, says he is enjoying this sunset phase of his career “enormously.”

After holding permanent conducting posts for nearly two decades (1960-78) in East Berlin and for a comparable time (1941-60) in Soviet Russia, Sanderling has now left all extra-musical and administrative concerns behind him.

“Now, I think only about the music I will conduct. Not about the orchestra, or about the repertory for next season, or about the concerns of particular players,” he says. “In each place I go, I only have to worry about being re-engaged or not being re-engaged. And, if not, it’s not so terrible.”

The 73-year old, Prussian-born musician also acknowledges that, for a conductor of his age, “it’s not too late” to be recognized for his achievement.


Sanderling’s clear authority on the podium is prized, wherever he goes. His concerts with the Philharmonic, two years ago this spring, revealed a vigorous but thoughtful musical mind combined with a probing and dramatic interpretive manner.

The usually undemonstrative members of the Philharmonic expressed their approval through giving the Prussian-born conductor a Tusch (an unscheduled instrumental fanfare) at the end of his two-week visit, in February, 1984.

Backstage at the Pavilion earlier this week, Sanderling appears none the worse for his latest transcontinental hop, this one bringing him here from East Berlin to lead the Philharmonic in its next four sets of programs (tonight through April 27) at the Music Center.

“Enjoying myself? Certainly,” he responds to a question about his life as a free conductorial agent.


“When I was the boss in Berlin I had not the possibility of accepting many guest appearances. I had to educate a young orchestra. And I was responsible for the cultural life of my town. As permanent conductor, I had to play what needed to be played. I had a duty in making my programs,” he says.

“Now, I play what I wish to play, and where.” (Sanderling’s United States management, Mariedi Anders of San Francisco, says that the conductor, who has lived in East Berlin for 26 years, travels without restriction because the government of East Germany recognizes his world-class status as a musician).

“Now, it is my pleasure. And I get pleasure from repeating my standard repertory.”

After a lifetime of tending what he describes as “a very broad repertory,” Sanderling now specializes.


“I have conducted Brahms’ First probably 70 times. Schubert’s Ninth (the ‘Great’ C-major, which occupies a place on Sanderling’s program for April 17 and 18), 90 times. Shostakovich’s Fifth (which he conducts, April 9-11), 40 times. Beethoven’s Ninth (April 24-27), about 50 times.

“But now, I am not repeating these works as I did before. Now, every time I come back to one of them, I am studying anew.”

As a vigorous septuagenarian, Sanderling can make a gentle joke about the prerogatives of maturity: “Even at my age, I can still find new things, new insights in a familiar piece.

“Mostly, interpretation comes from the conductor. But the orchestra has a part in it, too. And the situation--the acoustics, the hall, the traditions in that place. But sometimes--even often--what the orchestra is offering me, I must, with pleasure, let them play the way they are playing.”


Questioned about his current responsibility to living composers, Sanderling cautions, “Remember, for me in my life, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Hindemith, Stravinsky and Bartok have been the new musicians. My duty was to present their works, which I did, again and again.