Günter Wand (January 7, 1912, in Elberfeld, Germany – February 14, 2002, in Ulmiz near Bern, Switzerland) was a German orchestra conductor and composer. Wand studied in Wuppertal, Allenstein and Detmold. At the Cologne conservatory, he was a composition student with Philipp Jarnach and a piano student with Paul Baumgartner. He was a conducting pupil of Franz von Hoesslin in Munich, but was otherwise largely self-taught as a conductor. During his 65-year-long career as a conductor, he was honoured with many significant awards, including the German Record Award and the internationally important Diapason d'Or.
In February 1924, aged 12, Wand attended a performance of Der Zigeunerbaron at the Thalia Theatre in Wuppertal-Elberfeld, and was so entranced he decided to become a conductor. The role of Sandor Barinkay that evening was sung by Richard Tauber.
Wand started his career in Cologne, where he was to stay for several decades, as a conductor of the Cologne Opera in 1939. After World War II his position in Cologne was consolidated as he became Generalmusikdirektor in charge of both the opera and the Gürzenich Orchestra, which he conducted until 1974.
In 1948, he also started teaching conducting at a music school in Cologne. From the early 1950s he guest-conducted a number of orchestras, making his London debut in 1951 with the London Symphony Orchestra. Other orchestras who invited him included the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne and Munich Philharmonic Orchestra.
After several recordings of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven with the Gürzenich for a French subscription collection in the mid-1950s, he made no studio recordings for nearly two decades with the exception of an appearance with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra on Decca Records, accompanying Wilhelm Backhaus in Robert Schumann's Piano Concerto (his only recording with that orchestra). In the 1970s he recorded the complete symphonies of Franz Schubert and Anton Bruckner with the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne.
Hamburg and late years
In 1982, Wand became chief conductor of the NDR Symphony Orchestra. With the latter ensemble, he was able to record the complete symphonies of Beethoven and Brahms as well as works by Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, Schubert and Schumann. He also remade Bruckner's symphonies 3 to 9.
In January 1982, Wand conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra for the first time, and was appointed principal guest conductor of the orchestra that same year. Wand was noted for demanding considerable rehearsal time, a minimum of 5 to 8 rehearsals, for his London concerts. For his first appearance with a US orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1989, he asked for and received 11 hours of rehearsal time. Wand subsequently recorded the Brahms Symphony No. 1, part of that first U.S. program, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
The highlights of Wand's late career were his annual guest appearances with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, which he conducted in Schubert's "Unfinished" and "Great" symphonies (1995) and Bruckner's Fifth (1996), Fourth (1998), Ninth (1998), Seventh (1999) and Eighth (2001) symphonies.
As a conductor, Wand was a deep believer in the originality of music, aiming to perform works exactly as they were meant to be played. However, he did not take the last step to "historically informed performance". Also in other respects his art was marked by strictness.
In his late years, Wand restricted his repertoire almost exclusively to the symphonies of Anton Bruckner (which he had never conducted until he was over 60), Schubert, Brahms, Beethoven and Mozart. Earlier in his career, however, he was a devoted interpreter of the contemporary music of such composers like Frank Martin, György Ligeti, Edgard Varèse, Olivier Messiaen, and initially Bernd Alois Zimmermann as well.
Wand regarded Bruckner as the "most important symphonist after Beethoven". Wand's biographer Wolfgang Seifert believes that "it is no exaggeration to say that Günter Wand has made an indispensable contribution toward the understanding of Bruckner in our time."
Wand also composed music, mostly songs with orchestral accompaniment and music for ballet. One composition was his concertino "Odi et amo", for soprano and chamber orchestra, which Wand wrote for his wife, the soprano Anita Westhoff. Anita Wand (Westhoff) died on December 29, 2009, at Ulmiz (CH) at the age of 89 years.
During his over 65-year-long career as conductor, Günter Wand received several important prizes, including German Record Award, the German Record Critic's Prize, the Echo Award and twice the internationally significant Diapason d'Or, which he received for his Schubert and Bruckner recordings with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1996 Wand received the rarely awarded Hans von Bülow Medal.