The American conductor, Lorin Maazel has died, aged 84, from complications due to pneumonia. A child prodigy - he first conducted at the age of nine - Maazel went on to become one of the leading conductors of our time. Among his many posts, he was Music Director of the New York Philharmonic (2002-09), of the Bavarian RSO (1993–2002), and of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (1988–96); General Manager, Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of Vienna State Opera (1982–84), Music Director of The Cleveland Orchestra (1972– 82); and Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the Deutsche Oper Berlin (1965–71). At the time of his death he was Music Director of the Munich Philharmonic. He died at his home in Castleton, Virginia where he was preparing for this year's Castleton Festival.
A second-generation American, Maazel was born in Paris and started his musical life as a violinist, beginning lessons at the age of five and conducting lessons two years later. His technical facility was legendary and he rarely used a score in a career that embraced 7000 concert and opera performances.
He studied languages, mathematics and philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh and in 1951 travelled to Europe on a Fulbright scholarship. He made his European conducting debut in 1953 at Catania in Italy. In 1960, he was the first American conductor at the Bayreuth Festival and debuts with major orchestras followed: the Boston SO in 1961 and at the Salzburg Festival in 1963.
During his long career, Maazel recorded extensively for numerous different labels. His performances nearly always divided critics but his early discs with the Berlin RSO were almost unanimously praised and still astound for their technical finesse and excitement. He recorded a still much-admired Sibelius cycle - as well as the complete Tchaikovsky symphonies - with the Vienna Philharmonic for Decca. He recorded the Beethoven symphonies wit the Cleveland Orchestra for CBS (now Sony Classical) and made two cycles of the Mahler symphonies - the first, for CBS, with the VPO (which included a near-perfect performance of the Fourth that was greeted with almost universal acclaim) and, in 2011, with the Philharmonia, recorded live in London and released on the Signum label. He led 11 New Year’s Day concerts with the VPO, many of them recorded by DG.
A composer as well as conductor and violinist, Maazel’s output includes the opera 1984, based on George Orwell’s novel and which was produced at Covent Garden in May 2005.
(Home page photo: Chris Lee)