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Günter Wand initially studied music in Wuppertal, before moving to the Cologne Conservatory where his teachers included Philip Jarnach for composition and Paul Baumgartner for piano. In addition he received some guidance as a student conductor from Franz von Hoesslin at the Munich Conservatory, although in this field he was largely self-taught. After completing his studies Wand worked for a year on a voluntary basis as a répétiteur at Wuppertal, where he made his conducting debut with Robert Stolz’s operetta Venus in Seide (Venus in Silk). He then spent four years as a répétiteur and conductor at Allenstein in East Prussia (now Olsztyn, Poland), where he conducted over six hundred performances of opera, operetta, and ballet as well as concerts, covering the entire repertoire. At Detmold he served as chief conductor, before being appointed to the position of second conductor (later promoted to first) at the Cologne Opera in 1939. Wand was based at Cologne throughout the war years, while also conducting elsewhere in Germany. After the destruction of the Cologne Opera House in 1944 he worked briefly as the conductor of the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra until 1945, returning to Cologne to become chief conductor of the opera between 1945 and 1948.

After his appointment as chief conductor of the Cologne Gürzenich Orchestra (the opera orchestra in concert-giving form) in 1947, Wand phased out his work in the opera house and concentrated on purely orchestral conducting. In addition to performing the traditional repertoire, he did much to introduce the music of contemporary composers to local audiences, programming for instance the music of the Second Viennese School and works by Paul Hindemith, Wolfgang Fortner and Arthur Honegger, as well as by his friends Olivier Messiaen and Bernd Alois Zimmermann. Wand taught conducting at the Cologne Conservatory from 1948, and began to tour extensively as a guest conductor. He made his English debut in 1951, leading the London Symphony Orchestra in an all-Beethoven programme at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. During the 1950s and 1960s Wand and the Gürzenich Orchestra recorded an extensive repertoire for Club Français du Disque, a popular record club of the period. Some of these recordings later saw the light of day in England through another record club, The Record Society, and in the USA through release on the Nonesuch label.

Wand was forced out of his Cologne post in 1974, allegedly on the grounds of being ‘difficult’. This change in fact marked the beginning of his international career. He moved to Switzerland, and for eight years conducted the Berne Symphony Orchestra. However he was not forgotten in Cologne and in 1977 he began to record with the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra for the German division of the Harmonia Mundi label. The repertoire included cycles of the Schubert and Bruckner symphonies which were well received. He was appointed chief conductor of the North German Radio Orchestra, based in Hamburg, in 1982, with whom he recorded complete cycles of the symphonies of Beethoven and Brahms, as well as more Bruckner. Many of these recordings were taken from live performances, in which Wand was able to achieve an almost religious atmosphere of concentration and serenity.

As Wand grew older he became extremely demanding in the number of rehearsals which he required: few orchestras could afford to offer these, but one that could was the BBC Symphony Orchestra, of which he became chief guest conductor following a successful debut in 1981. Another was the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which agreed to eleven hours of rehearsal for his debut with the orchestra in 1989 in a programme consisting of Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 ‘Unfinished’ and Brahms’s Symphony No. 1. The result was exceptional, provoking immense critical praise, and thus furthering Wand’s international reputation. In addition to his work in Hamburg and London, Wand also appeared in his last years with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, with which he made several notable recordings, and at the Edinburgh International Festival, conducting memorable accounts of music by Bruckner. He made his last public appearance during October 2001, in Hamburg.

Possessed of a straightforward conducting technique, Wand was capable of generating an often surprisingly intense level of performance, frequently based on exhaustive and highly detailed preparation. A great admirer of Furtwängler, Wand achieved in his interpretations a scrupulous balance between stylistic fidelity and subjective insight. For many people he was the last of the great German conductors active during the twentieth century.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).

Role: Conductor 
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