Dr Franz-Paul Decker was appointed the NZSO’s first Conductor Laureate in 1995. This unique honour recognised his 40 year association as Guest Conductor, Principal Conductor, and Chief Conductor, and his significant influence on orchestral performance in New Zealand.
Born in Cologne, Dr Decker studied composition and conducting at the Cologne Hochschule for Musik while pursuing parallel studies in musicology, ethnology, and psychology at Cologne University. He made his conducting debut at 22 at the Cologne Opera. Four years later he was appointed to the Staatsoper, Wiesbaden, where he directed performances of major operas from the German, French, Italian, and British repertoires. He became director of the Wiesbaden Symphony Orchestra three years later and General musikdirector in Bochum (he conducted the opening concert at the 1957 Brussels World Fair with the Bochum Symphony Orchestra). In 1962 he became Music Director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra.
As the result of his European tours with the Rotterdam Philharmonic, Dr Decker was engaged by many of Europe’s finest orchestras, including the major London orchestras, the Vienna Symphony, the Santa Cecilia Orchestra in Rome, the Leningrad Philharmonic, the Moscow State Orchestra, the RIAS Symphony Orchestra, Berlin, the Berlin Philharmonic, the French National Radio Orchestra, and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande.
This recognition led to his North American debut in 1966, when he succeeded Zubin Mehta as Music Director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, a position he held for nine years. During this time he consolidated his reputation as an authoritative interpreter of the music of Mahler, Bruckner, Richard Strauss, and Wagner.
Dr Decker has undertaken many operatic engagements, including productions of Tristan und Isolde, with the great Canadian heldentenor Jon Vickers in Chicago, Dallas, Montreal, Rio de Janiero and Barcelona. He has conducted Parsifal, Ariadne auf Naxos, and The Flying Dutchman in Buenos Aires, where he also undertook a three-year complete Mahler cycle.
Dr Decker was appointed Chief Conductor of the Orquesta Ciutat de Barcelona in 1986. In 1996 he completed a five-year term as Chief Conductor of the NZSO during which time he conducted the orchestra and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa in an outstandingly successful concert to celebrate New Zealand Day at the 1992 Seville Expo.
Dr Decker conducted the highly successful 1997 Das Rheingold concert performances in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
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