At age 250, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra is one of the world’s oldest musical institutions. Founded by Leipzig’s town fathers as their answer to court entertainment–and originally housed in a merchants’ exhibition hall called the Gewandhaus–the orchestra has been a source of immense civic pride, even when the city was part of communist East Germany. Over the centuries a long line of illustrious musicans have been assocated with it, including great kepellmeisters such as Felix Mendelssohn (1834-47), Wilhelm Furtwangler, and Bruno Walter. More than most major orchestras today, the Leipzig is tradition-bound and insular: its playing remains the epitome of the old-fashioned central European style that stresses mellowness, warmth, lyricality, and finesse. Not surprisingly, it thrives on the German classics, from Bach to Brahms, suffusing them with a relaxed charm and natural profundity often missing in performances of a more aggresssive outfit like the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In this concert, their first local apearance since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Leipzigers will play to their strengths in Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony, and the Second Symphony of Schumann, who also maintained strong ties to Leipzig. Conducting is Kurt Masur, the orchestra’s music director since 1970 and, like the overwhelming majority of his colleagues, a product of the Leipzig Conservatory. The workaholic Masur–he also heads the New York Philharmonic Orchestra–is especially good with Schumann. Sunday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 435-8666.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Gert Mothes.