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Kurt Masur, for the past 20 years conductor of East Germany's Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, has been named the next music director of the New York Philharmonic.

The 62-year-old Masur will succeed Zubin Mehta, who in November 1988 annnounced he would leave after the 1990-91 season. For a time the management of the orchestra was reportedly considering a troika of leaders, including not only Masur but also former NYPO music director Leonard Bernstein and Colin Davis.Masur's appointment, announced Wednesday, is for five years and begins in the 1992-93 season, the Philharmonic's 150th-anniversary season. He will conduct for 14 weeks that season and spend four weeks in New York in other activities. The preceding season he will serve as music director designate.

Born in Silesia, now in Poland, Masur studied at the famed Leipzig Conservatory. From 1960 to 1964 he was senior director of music at East Berlin's Komische Oper and from 1967 to 1972 was chief conductor of the Dresden Philharmonic. As a member of New Forum, the East German pro-democracy movement, he was additionally hailed as a hero for averting bloodshed during last year's anti-communist revolution.

Philharmonic officials said Masur will remain principal conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra through the 1993-94 season, its 250th anniversary, and will maintain some association there. He first conducted the New York Philarharmonic in June 1981 and has conducted 22 concerts since, most recently in January 1989.

For the first time a six-musician committee from the Philharmonic took part in the selection process. Mehta, who is retiring after a record 13 years, said he was delighted by the choice and Bernstein said, "I couldn't be happier. I have nothing but esteem and affection for Masur both as musician and as human being." Oboist Joseph Robinson said that when the orchestra was told of Masur's appointment, its members burst into applause.

- BY CONTRAST members of the Philadelphia Orchestra were reportedly left stunned and silent when conductor Riccardo Muti announced his decision to leave as music director when his contract expires in 1992.

The announcement came following a March 29 rehearsal with the orchestra. The Italian-born Muti said he was not leaving Philadelphia to accept another post but wanted to avoid the constant travel that is an aspect of the modern conductor's career. He is also music director of the famed La Scala opera in Milan and his wife and three children still live in Italy.

Muti, 48, said he would return to Philadelphia once a year to lead the orchestra and continue recording projects. The board of directors named him laureate conductor upon his resignation as music director. He was appointed principal guest conductor in Philadelphia in 1977 and succeeded the aging Eugene Ormandy as music director three years later.

Muti is credited with expanding the orchestra's repertoire with works by contemporary composers, especially Americans, and with making classical music more accessible to the public, whose attendance increased during his tenure.

He said Philadelphia audiences do not always show their appreciation but he knows they love the music because his concerts were nearly sold out.

"Of course the Philadelphia Orchestra audience is a little bit like Philadelphia. I cannot expect from the audience of the Philadelphia Orchestra the reaction that you expect in Buenos Aires or in Milano or in cities where people naturally are much more outgoing. They express themselves with much more soul," Muti said.

He declined to suggest a successor but said that person must be able to "keep the family happy" and added he expected his successor to "keep the emphasis on the 20th century."