Friday, November 21, 2014

In Memoriam: Lorin Maazel (1930 - 2014)

No. 174 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

pcast174- Playlist


The Friday Blog and Podcast returns for two more tribute-montages by artists we have lost earlier this year. In this case, our two montages (today and next Friday) look at two conductors.

In past posts, I have often discussed the generaton of conductirs born around 1915, names like Bernstein, Karajan, Giulini ans so many nore. These me, directly or indirectly, helped mould the generation of conductors born between 1930 and1940, such as Zubin Mehta, Seiji Ozawa and Daniel Barenboim. We should add to that list two recently decease conductors: Claudio Abbado and Lorin Maazel.

Without wanting to necessarily compare these two men, there are some interesting points to consider. Both have a Berlin connecton (Maazel led the Radio Symphony made famous by Ferenc Fricsay, Abbado succeedsà Karajan at the helm of the Philharmoniker) and both left us substantial dicsographies.

However, these are two very different men, who approached their crafts in very different ways. Maazel was the autocratic, exacting task master, and Abbado is more of a "regular guy", easy going and latin in his fervor for the music. In a sense, Abbado is Stokowski, Maazel is Toscanini.
Maazel was born to AMerican parents living abroad (Paris, actually), and starts off as a winderkind: violin lessons at fivem conducting lessosn (no less!) at seven, and as a pint-sized conductor, he's invited to lead the NBC Symphony (at Toscanini's invitation) at twelve.

But the life of a child musician isn't what Maazel has in mind - playing outdoors and doing what other kids his age do is more his speed, and so he "retires" at 15. A bookworm, Maazel chooses to read literature at the University of Pittsburgh and - to make some pocket money - he enlists in the string section of the Pittsburgh Symphony.

One has to think that this second kick at msic, and encounters with some of the great consuctors and artists making t through STeeltown, give Maazel the bug, and he chooses to study early music (as a Fulbright scholar) in Italy. He moves to Europe, and from there re-launches a career as conductor.

After moving around, guesting on some of Europe's great podiums, he will finally take on his own orchestras there and later in America. Of note, stints as director of the Berlin RSO  (1964–1975), l’Orchestre National de France (1977-1990), Cleveland (1977-1990) and New-York (2002-2009).

A conductor renowned for his great ear, he was a respected and sought conductor of the Romantic repertoire -  Mahler, Sibelius, Puccini or Richard Strauss, usually conducting without a score. The Vinna Phulharonic, which doesn't have a director per se, invited Maazel regularly, and he had the honour of conducting their New Year concerts 11 times between 1980 and 2005 (nine times with a violin in hand). 

However, Maazel does have his critics - his exacting styule often criticized as favouring form over expression, and his autocratic ways alienating players (according to Dohnanyi who succeeded hin in Cleveland, musicians pointed out that Maazel often simply kept the beat rather than elicit phrasing).

The Maazel legacy is still quite impressive - Beethioven and Rachmaninov cycles (Cleveland and Berlin, respecrtively), the first complete recording of Porgy and Bess, and so many performances with so many orchestras, captured for us to enjoy.
Today, I chose Richard Strauss and George Gershwin (with the Cleveland Orchestra), the Dvořák, Eighth (with the Vienna Philharmonic) and Maazel accompanying Gidon Kremer on the violinist's debut recording for DGG.

I think you will live this music too.