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Ernest Bour

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Biography

One of France's greatest champions of contemporary music, Ernest Bour conducted the world premieres of works by some of the twentieth century's most challenging composers: Xenakis, Ferneyhough, Rihm, Bussotti, and many others. He also oversaw the French premieres of such important operas as Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress and Hindemith's Mathis der Maler. He made some commercial recordings, most notably a highly regarded rendition of Ravel's L'enfant et les sortilèges, but his legacy has largely been preserved through his association with radio orchestras and his discography revolves around French and Dutch composers. The son of an organist and conductor of amateur choirs and orchestras, Bour obtained a broad general education, studying classics at the University of Strasbourg and piano, organ, and theory at the Strasbourg Conservatory. His primary mentor at the latter institution was Fritz Münch and from 1933 to 1934, he also studied conducting with Hermann Scherchen. Bour got his professional start in radio, first conducting choruses in Geneva and Strasbourg and soon being named chief conductor of Strasbourg Radio, a post he held from 1935 to 1939. After a short stint teaching piano at the Strasbourg Conservatory, he moved to the town of Mulhouse (near the German border) for the duration of the war, being appointed conductor of the orchestra there in 1941 and of the conservatory in 1945. Bour left the orchestra in 1947 and guest-conducted throughout Western Europe, settling back in Strasbourg in 1950 as conductor of the city's Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1954 -- 1955, he shifted to the Strasbourg Opera, where he served as co-director with Fritz Adam. During the 1950s, Bour and Adam organized many concerts of contemporary music in Strasbourg. Bour's career reached its high point in 1964 with his appointment as principal conductor of Germany's Southwest Radio Orchestra in Baden-Baden, a post he held until 1979. Here, Bour threw himself into new music with particular energy, drawing precise, honorable, and often compelling performances from his second-string orchestra. He carried these interests and skills over to his term as permanent guest conductor of the Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra from 1976 until his retirement in 1987.

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