Horst Stein studied music at the Music High School in Frankfurt am Main and at the Cologne Conservatory, where his teachers included the conductor Günter Wand. After a short period working with the Wuppertal Opera as an assistant conductor, he was appointed conductor at the Hamburg State Opera in 1951. He joined the music staff of the Bayreuth Festival in 1952, assisting such eminent conductors as Karajan, Keilberth, Knappertsbusch and Krauss. Having moved from Hamburg to the Berlin Staatsoper in 1955, Stein was progressively promoted from first conductor to chief conductor, but left East Germany in 1961 to return to the Hamburg State Opera as a senior conductor during the Rolf Liebermann era. Between 1963 and 1970 he served as chief conductor at the Mannheim National Theatre, while also working as first conductor at the Vienna State Opera between 1969 and 1971, returning to Hamburg for a third time in 1972, this time as chief conductor. Stein remained in this post until 1977, combining it with his work as professor of conducting at Hamburg’s Music High School. Between 1969 and 1986 he conducted regularly at the Bayreuth Festival, leading productions of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Parsifal, Der Ring des Nibelungen, Tannhäuser, and Tristan und Isolde.
At the beginning of the 1980s, Stein shifted the focus of his work from the opera house to the concert hall, serving as chief conductor of the Suisse Romande Orchestra between 1980 and 1985, and of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra between 1985 and 1996, the year in which he was made conductor emeritus for life of this orchestra. Between 1987 and 1994 he also held the position of chief conductor of the Basle Symphony Orchestra. In addition to his work as a general music director Stein has enjoyed an active career as a guest conductor, appearing with such ensembles as the Berlin, London and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras in Europe, the Philadelphia Orchestra in the USA, and the NHK Symphony Orchestra in Japan.
Stein stands within the first-class ranks of the distinguished German Kapellmeister tradition. He can always be relied upon to deliver stylistically and technically accurate performances, whatever the repertoire to which he turns his hand. On the podium he is undemonstrative but always clear in his beat. Stein’s discography may be divided into commercial and ‘off-air’ material. His commercial recordings have been made predominantly for Decca and Koch-Schwann. For the former he accompanied the pianist Friedrich Gulda in distinguished accounts of the complete Beethoven piano concertos, and of Bruckner’s Symphonies Nos 2 and 6, all with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; as well as a Sibelius recital disc and the accompaniment to violin concertos by Glazunov and Prokofiev (with Josef Sivo as soloist) with the Suisse Romande Orchestra. For Koch-Schwann he has led the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra in a complete set of the Brahms symphonies and an extensive edition of orchestral works by Max Reger, and also conducted the same orchestra in a complete cycle of the Schubert symphonies recorded for the Eurodisc label. During his Hamburg years Stein was engaged by the Miller International record company to record Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Calig has released an account of Franz Schmidt’s oratorio Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln, with Stein conducting Viennese forces. Outstanding among his numerous live recordings are Verdi’s Don Carlos (1970) and Cherubini’s Medea (1972), both from Vienna, and Richard Strauss’s Capriccio from the 1985 Salzburg Festival.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).