Klaus Tennstedt was born in Merseburg, Germany in 1926 and studied violin and piano at the Leipzig Conservatory. He began his career as leader of the orchestra at the Municipal Theatre in Halle in 1948 and although an injury to a finger cut short his career as a violinist, he continued to coach singers at the Municipal Theatre in Halle. In 1953, Tennstedt made his conducting debut with Wagner-Régeny's operaDer Günstling and in 1958 he was appointed Music Director of the Dresden Opera. In 1962 Tennstedt became Music Director of the Schwerin State Orchestra and Theatre. At this time Tennstedt also regularly conducted many leading East German orchestras including the Dresden Philharmonic, the Dresden Staatskapelle, the Leipzig Gewandhaus and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra. Throughout the 1960's Tennstedt regularly appeared with these orchestras in Czechoslovakia, the USSR and other eastern European countries.
On leaving East Germany in 1971, Klaus Tennstedt sought asylum in Sweden. He conducted in Göteborg and Stockholm, where he regularly worked with the Göteborg Theatre and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. In 1972 Tennstedt became General Music Director of the Kiel Opera in Northern Germany and from 1979 to 1982 he was Chief Conductor of the North German Radio Orchestra in Hamburg.
In 1974, Tennstedt made his first American appearances with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The success of his visit led to numerous invitations to conduct other orchestras, including performances at the Tanglewood Festival in 1975. Tennstedt regularly returned to Tanglewood where he was greatly admired for his performances of the Beethoven Symphonies and Concertos. He made his USA opera debut in 1983 at The Metropolitan, New York, with performances ofFidelio and continued to conduct many USA orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra till his retirement.
Tennstedt made his London debut with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1976. The following year he made his first appearance with The London Philharmonic and became its Principal Guest Conductor in 1980. In 1983, Tennstedt succeeded Sir Georg Solti as Principal Conductor and Music Director of The London Philharmonic and when he retired he was appointed Conductor Laureate. Tennstedt has also appeared at the Salzburg Festival where he made his debut in 1985 with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, conducting Haydn'sDie Jahreszeiten. Due to ill-health Tennstedt retired from conducting in 1994 and died on 11 January, 1998.
Klaus Tennstedt recorded exclusively for EMI Classics from 1977 and his last agreement with EMI Classics was signed in 1992. In November 1992 EMI Classics re-released Tennstedt's celebrated cycle of Mahler Symphonies, recorded between 1977 and 1986. Symphony No.8 from this cycle won a Gramophone award in 1987 and a performance of this work with the London Philharmonic at the Royal Festival Hall in 1991 is available on DVD. 1992 saw the release of Mahler'sDas Lied von der Erde with Agnes Baltsa, Klaus König and The London Philharmonic and the Beethoven Violin Concerto with Nigel Kennedy and the Norddeutscher Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester, recorded live at a concert in Kiel, Germany.
Other recordings in Tennstedt's discography include the Beethoven and Bruch Violin Concertos with Kyung-Wha Chung; the Brahms Violin Concerto with Nigel Kennedy and The London Philharmonic;Ein deutsches Requiem by Brahms and Schumann'sRequiem; Symphony No.8 by Bruckner with The London Philharmonic; Strauss'Also Sprach Zarathustra and Don Juan with The London Philharmonic and Music fromThe Ring with The Berlin Philharmonic and scenes from Tristan und Isolde, Tannhäuser, Der fliegende Holländer and Götterdämmerung with Jessye Norman and The London Philharmonic.
Text and images courtesy of Warner