Kurt Masur was the principal conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra for 26 years. In the autumn of 1989, there were large demonstrations in Leipzig against the limitations of freedom imposed by the Deutsche Democratische Republik. Kurt Masur became involved as mediator, presenting his call for no violence to the government leaders and appealing to the public by radio not to use force. It was the strength of his personality and the high regard to which he was held by the people of the DDR and Leipzig that resulted in the success of his appeal. In 1996, he gave up his position as principal conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. He continued on as principal conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, a position he held with Leipzig since 1991, for some additional years. He gave up that position as well to become of principal conductor of another two orchestras: the London Symphony Orchesta and the Orchestre National de France. In the summer of 2007, he returned to Leipzig in celebration of his 80th birthday, which was on July 18, 2007, to conduct a concert with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. He invited Harald Schmidt, a German talk-show host whom he regarded highly, to help liven up the concert. He stated that his conducting is thought of as teutonic and serious. None of the pieces selected for the gala concert were serious. The first one, "Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor" by Otto Nicolai was the first piece he conducted in his first job at Halle. This was followed by a Mazurka by Moniuszko from the opera, "Halka". Then came two lovely "Liebeslieder Waltzes" by Brahms, sung by the MDR Radio Choir. Tchaikowsky's "Capriccio Italien" was next, followed by Mambo from "West Side Story" by Leonard Bernstein. Two songs from Gerschwin's "Porgy and Bess" were next, with the song, "There's a boat dat's leavin' soon for New York," sung by Harald Schmidt. The "Sorcerer's Apprentice" of Paul Dukas was next, followed by George Bizet's "Carmen". The program ended with a piece he brought back from Brazil, "The Girl from Ipanema" by Antonio Carlos Jobim.
Harald Schmidt did help liven up the concert. There was a great deal of verbal banter between Kurt Masur and Harald Schmidt, which can easily be translated into English on the DVD. Harald Schmidt proved to be a real asset in this celebratory concert.
Every piece was played most masterfully. The audience was enchanted to have Kurt Masur back. There was also a birthday celebration in addition to the concert, with food and rose wine (Masur's favorite wine type). Andreas Schultz, Gewandhaus administrative director, and Ronnie Maier, the general manager of the Leipzig Marriott Hotel at that time, were responsible for the food and wine. They offered to my wife and me, during our visit in May of last year, the opportunity to taste the four wine candidates but not to vote. It would have indeed been a most pleasurable experience to have been there. This DVD is the next best thing, though. It is wonderfully entertaining, delightful, not serious.