Born: April 21, 1871; Aachen, Germany
Died: August 24, 1958; Berlin, Germany
Leo Blech emerged as one of the major German conductors in the years before World War I.
He came to professional music late, making his decision as a young adult already working in a mercantile career. He has studied piano under Ernst Rudorff. He entered the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin and studied composition with Woldemar Bargiel and Engelbert Humperdinck.
In 1893 he became the conductor of the Stadttheater (Municipal Theater)Read more in Aachen. He continued his work with Humperdinck during the summers of 1893 to 1896. He left Aachen in 1899 to become the conductor of the German opera theater in Prague. In 1906, he became a conductor at the Berlin Royal Opera (Königliche Kapelle) and was appointed its general music director in 1913. Ten years later, he moved over to become the artistic director of the Deutsches Opernhaus, Berlin. In 1924, he went to Berlin's third opera company, the Berlin Volksoper and in 1925 to the Vienna Volksoper.
Blech was particularly esteemed for his operatic performance, especially those of Verdi and Wagner, and for Bizet's Carmen, and as a conductor of clear, elegant orchestral compositions. He recorded frequently, including a classic performance of Beethoven's Violin Concerto with Fritz Kreisler.
As a composer, he had success, particularly in operas, three of which were premiered between 1902 and 1908. However, his music, despite possessing good compositional technique and imaginative orchestration, has not survived.
He returned to Berlin in 1926 to conduct the Staatsoper. Despite being a Jew, he remained in that position until 1937. Perhaps luckily, he was guest conducting in Riga, Latvia, when it became clear that it was unsafe to return home. He found a position as conductor at the Riga Opera House. The Soviet Union absorbed Latvia and the other Baltic states, which were then overrun by German forces in 1941. Blech left ahead of the Nazi army and settled in Stockholm, where he was known through his guest appearances. He obtained a position at the Stockholm Royal Opera, remaining there until 1949. He returned to East Berlin in 1949 to become conductor of the Städtische Oper (Municipal Opera) until his retirement in 1953. (He is not related to the British conductor Harry Blech.) Read less
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