Obituary: General Director Franz Xaver Ohnesorg Dies at 75

By Francisco Salazar
(Photo: Archive Berliner Philharmoniker/Stefan Beetz)

Former General Manager of the Berliner Philharmoniker Franz Xaver Ohnesorg has died at the age of 75.

Born on March 9, 1948, Ohnesorg was the son of a master baker couple and graduated from high school in 1968 at the Adolf-Weber-Gymnasium in Munich. He went on to study business administration and general music and theater studies as well as art history in Munich from 1968 to 1973 after training as a flautist.

He started working as a freelance journalist for various broadcasting companies and in 1978 he became director of the Munich Philharmonic and in 1979 he recruited Sergiu Celibidache as the New Music Director. From 1983 to 1999 he was first director and later Artistic Director of the Cologne Philharmonic.

He went on to direct the Ruhr Piano Festival as Artistic Director from 1996 onwards and, as the artistic lead project of the Ruhr Initiativkreis, developed it into what has now become the world’s most important piano event.

On June 1, 2005, Ohnesorg was appointed managing director of the Ruhr Initiative Circle and thus also director of the Ruhr Piano Festival. He went on to restructure the organization of the Ruhr Piano Festival and thus created the conditions for the festival’s significantly increased artistic and economic success since then.

He also served as the general manager of the Berliner Philharmoniker between September 2001 and October 2002 and played a key role in the orchestraʼs transformation into a foundation.

Throughout his lifetime, Ohnesorg was awarded many prizes including the Dr. Kurt Neven DuMont Medal For his work as director of the Cologne Philharmonic and received the special prize from the Echo Klassik and the Medal of Merit from the German Composers’ Association. 

He was appointed Franz Xaver Ohnesorg as a professor in 1999 at the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and was honored with the Cross of Honor for Science and Art, 1st Class, for his commitment to the Vienna Philharmonic. He also became an honorary member of the German Music Council, among other honors.