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Leo Borchard | Picture: Archiv Berliner Philharmoniker

On May 26, 1945, the first post-war concert by the Berliner Philharmoniker took place at the Titania-Palast, just three weeks after the German surrender. The programme was symbolic: It started with the overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Mendelssohn, whose music had officially not been allowed to be played for twelve years; then the Violin Concerto in A Major by Mozart with the Philharmoniker’s concertmaster Ulrich Grehling, and Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. On the podium stood the 46-year-old conductor Leo Borchard, the first post-war conductor of the orchestra. 

A promising talent

Lew Ljewitsch (Leo) Borchard was born in Moscow on 30 March 1899. He came to Berlin to study in 1920 and became a pupil of Hermann Scherchen, one of the most important conductors of the day. He began his career as chorus master and repetiteur at the Städtische Oper and as assistant to Otto Klemperer at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden. But more than opera, he was interested in the symphonic repertoire. He conducted several radio orchestras before making his début with the Berliner Philharmoniker on 3 January 1933, with works by Haydn, Beethoven and Brahms. 

The collaboration turned out to be promising: as early as November 1933, records were made with him conducting the orchestra. In the December, he conducted his second concert with a “colourful programme”. From 1934 to 1937, he often conducted the orchestra, especially the “popular concerts”. Borchard’s performances were very popular, and he received good reviews. But his emerging career stagnated in the mid-1930s for alleged “political unreliability”. Artistically, Leo Borchard kept himself mostly out of the spotlight and only conducted abroad. At the same time, he became a member of the resistance group Onkel Emil.

The man of the hour

The Berliner Philharmoniker clearly got in contact with Leo Borchard very soon after the war. He was the man of the hour. The municipal authorities of Berlin entrusted him “with the artistic direction of the Berliner Philharmonisches Orchester, pending a final decision.” He was a board member of the newly formed Chamber of Artists, whose responsibilities included participation in reviewing the Nazi activities of artists. Borchard took up his duties with enthusiasm and vigour, but his life came to an abrupt end. In August 1945, he was shot by mistake by an American soldier after a dinner with the music-loving British Colonel Thomas RM Creighton.