The German conductor, Franz-Paul Decker, studied from 1941 to 1944 at the Hochschule für Musik in Cologne with Philip Jarnach and Eugen Papst and took classes in conducting, composition, and pedagogy at the University of Cologne.
Franz-Paul Decker began his career in Giessen in 1944 as assistant conductor at the Giessen Municipal Theatre. Having worked there from 1944 to 1946, he then spent four years as chief conductor at Krefeld until 1950, when he was appointed as chief conductor of the Wiesbaden Opera. He succeeded Carl Schuricht as conductor of the Wiesbaden Symphony Orchestra in 1953 and held the position of chief conductor at Bochum between 1956 and 1964; during this period he conducted the opening concert of the Brussels Exposition in 1958. He was Artistic Director (Chief Conductor) of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra from 1962 to 1968.
Franz-Paul Decker visited Canada in the summer of 1965 to direct the National Youth Orchestra of Canada (NYO), which engaged him again for the 1968 session. He guest-conducted the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (MSO) in 1966 and succeeded Zubin Mehta as conductor and artistic director in 1967, retaining that position until 1975. The MSO made notable progress under his energetic and disciplined leadership and appeared under his direction at Expo 70 in Osaka, Japan. Decker has directed the premieres of several Canadian works, notably Pépin's Quasars, Symphony No. 3 in 1967, Schafer's Son of Heldenleben and Garant's Phrases II in 1968, Saint-Marcoux's Hétéromorphie in 1970, Jacques Hétu's Passacaille in 1971, and Pépin's Prismes et cristaux in 1974. At the Opéra du Québec Decker directed Il Trittico (Il Tabarro, Suor Angelica, and Gianni Schicchi) in 1971, Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci in 1973, and Falstaff in 1974. He served from 1975 to 1977 as Artistic Adviser and Principal Guest Conductor of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and from 1980 to 1982 as Artistic Adviser to the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. Remaining in Canada, Decker also became professor-in-residence at the Sir George Williams University, Montreal, and was Principal Guest Conductor of the National Arts Centre Orchestra from 1991 to 1999.
In addition, Franz-Paul Decker toured extensively, conducting throughout Europe (including England with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra), the former USSR, and the USA. He has appeared with numerous major European orchestras and has toured South America in 1960, 1961, 1963, 1974, and 1975, Australia in 1967, 1975, and 1978, and New Zealand in 1966 and 1976. In 1975 he was praised in Dallas, Texas, for his conducting of Tristan und Isolde with Jon Vickers; and in 1978 after he led the same company in performances of The Flying Dutchman, John Ardoin wrote, 'His direction of Dutchman reaffirmed the luminous qualities of drama, style, and commitment he brought to Tristan, into which he had breathed life' (Dallas Morning News, December 3, 1978). Appointed principal guest conductor of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in 1982, marked the beginning of thirty-year relationship with this orchestra, of which he was to become the Conductor Laureate in 1995. In 1986 he also became Artistic Director of the Barcelona Orchestra. During the 1990’s he conducted two different complete cycles at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires: firstly of the symphonies of Gustav Mahler, and from 1995 to 1998, Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. Decker has continued to appear with Canadian orchestras such as the Orchestre des jeunes du Québec (OJQ), the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the MSO. In 1975 he received honorary LL D from Concordia.
Franz-Paul Decker is most at home in the traditional Austro-German repertoire, and has been particularly praised for his readings of the symphonies of Bruckner. He is also a noted interpreter of the orchestral music of Richard Strauss. In his uncomplicated musical vision he recalls the great Kapellmeister tradition of previous generations. Despite his extensive international career, his discography is small. Two of his most significant early recordings were of L.v. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 ‘Eroica’ with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra (Deutsche Grammophon), and of Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1, in which he accompanied Bruno-Leonardo Gelber with the Münchner Philharmoniker (EMI). More recently he has recorded two CDs devoted to major German repertoire with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra for Naxos: Max Reger’s Mozart and Hiller Variations, and Paul Hindemith’s Symphony, Mathis der Maler, Nobilissima Visione, and Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Weber. Music & Arts have issued a recording of Decker accompanying Wilhelm Kempff in L.v. Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3, with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.