by Thomas Burge
One of the more memorable conductors and teachers of my career has passed. Maestro Otto-Werner Mueller was born in Germany in 1926 and passed away here in Charlotte on Thursday. A seemingly formidable giant, he will be remembered for being supremely generous with his knowledge. His life was a true contribution to music, clearly leading the orchestra in rehearsal but then “taking a back seat” in the concert to the performers. It was never about “him”, but always the music.
To my way of thinking he was not a “performing conductor” but his “performance” was always in the rehearsal. He truly honored the title “maestro” for its actual meaning; that of master and teacher. He was never “performing,” but always teaching.
He taught conducting at Juilliard, The Curtis Institute, Yale, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the Victoria School of Music in British Columbia. A list of his conducting students includes conductors and Musical Directors of the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony, San Diego Symphony, Fort Worth Symphony, and many more.
As a student, I will always remember his resounding baritone and his German accent; “TROMBOOOOONES! DO NOT SHOUT AT ME WITH YOUR INSTRUMENTS!”
No matter what musical forces might be necessary, he helped this young developing musician see that for music to be truly understood, the beauty must be honored and at the core of all we do.
Thank you, Maestro. Rest in Peace, surrounded by the beauty of the music and musicians you helped create.
Thomas “Tom” Burge is the principal trombonist for the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, an instructor at Wingate University and the Sunday evening host on WDAV Classical Public Radio.
Image courtesy of the Curtis Institute of Music