New home at last for the renowned Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra

After 3 1/2 decades the world famous Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra finally has a home to call its own. It is a monument to the tenacity of one man, conductor Kurt Masur, and the vagaries of East German economic and cultural policy.

The original 19th-century Gewandhaus was destroyed by Allied bombing in 1944. In the early postwar years reconstruction of the concert hall was unthinkable. Priority went instead to building factories, apartments for refugees, and apartments for the influx of rural labor to the city.

At the time there were hardly enough funds to do even this much in East Germany, as the Soviet Union exacted reparations for Hitler's occupation by stripping its area of occupied Germany of its industrial machinery and shipping it wholesale to the east.

By the 1960s and '70s the industrialization and reindustrialization of East Germany had proceeded to the point that there should have been enough money around to restore the Gewandhaus.

Any number of West Germans argue today that East Germany has done rather better than a consumer-mad West Germany at preserving the memory of Goethe and the various literary and cultural treasures of the common German heritage. The Gewandhaus Orchestra and the whole musical life of Leipzig certainly qualified as one of these treasures.

Yet somehow over the decades the Leipzig Gewandhaus - like the bombed-out Dresden Opera House, which is still in the process of being restored - never was built. Money was collected. Money was allocated. But, Leipzigers and Dresdeners complained, their money always ended up rebuilding something in East Berlin rather than in their own cities.

In the interim the Gewandhaus Orchestra had to play in the Congress Hall at the zoological garden. It wasn't the first time the orchestra was homeless. From the last half of the 18th century until it got its own Gewandhaus in the 19th century the orchestra presented its concerts in the hall of the towel and wool dealers.

That in the end today's Leipzig Gewandhaus did materialize - as a visitor hears from almost every Leipziger, even those who have no special musical interest - is a tribute to Mr. Masur. He tirelessly prodded the city fathers and whoever else needed prodding - and according to one popular version (no confirmation is possible) he threatened to take his baton and leave Leipzig if the orchestra didn't get its home.

Last October Masur won his final victory. His orchestra played its inaugural concert - Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, in repetition of the inaugural concert in the old Gewandhaus in 1884 - in the new Gewandhaus in Karl Marx Square, just opposite the opera house, just in front of the university.

The acoustics are a resounding success. The interior of the main auditorium is both grand and intimate in a formal way, repeating the concept of the West Berlin Philharmonic in having the orchestra in the center, with tiers of seats on all sides.

The fairly conventional concrete and glass exterior is controversial. The ''song of life'' child-art style painting on the sloped ceilings of the foyer is even more so.

All dispute fades, however, the moment Masur and the orchestra come on stage. Once the music starts, the audience's clear judgment is that the new Gewandhaus is worthy of its orchestra.

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