Lorin Maazel nears 80 at 100 mphJan 15, 2010
Hardly the retiring type, the veteran conductor fits the L.A. Philharmonic into his busy schedule.
By:Barbara Isnberg - LA Times
As Los Angeles Philharmonic musicians take the Disney Hall stage to rehearse, guest conductor Lorin Maazel hangs back almost shyly in the doorway. But there is no hanging back when he takes the podium a few minutes later to lead the orchestra through Sibelius' Second Symphony.
Within a few minutes of music-making, it is very clear who's in charge. The conductor has bowing suggestions for the strings and timing ideas for the woodwinds. He singles out entire orchestra sections and individual musicians, working with the violins one moment, players on oboe, timpani and trumpets the next. "I have no doubt this will be the way we want it to be," Maazel says early on in this first rehearsal, "and by we, I mean you and me."
Few musicians are as confident at the podium as Maazel, whose conducting career spans 70 years and most major orchestras, and who figures he has probably performed Jean Sibelius' Symphony No. 2 in D major, Opus 43, as many as 40 times. It was among the final pieces he conducted at the New York Philharmonic, winding down his seven-year tenure last year as music director.
This weekend he leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic through performances of not just Sibelius but several works by Richard Strauss, including soprano Nancy Gustafson in the final scene from Strauss' opera "Salome." Next weekend he takes on Anton Bruckner's complex Eighth Symphony.
Maazel has been conducting publicly since he was 9, and among his first appearances as a conductor was the Hollywood Bowl in 1939. Being in Los Angeles now, Maazel says, is "in a sense like coming home, because, in fact, I am. I spent the first years of my life here. I heard my first concert here, conducted by Otto Klemperer."
It was also in Los Angeles that he started his musical career. Born in Paris into a musical family in 1930, he moved here with his New York-born parents in 1932, and at 5 played violin with the Karl Moldrem Baby Orchestra. At 7, the young violinist also became a conducting student of Russian maestro Vladimir Bakaleinikoff. Between the ages of 9 and 12, he conducted several major U.S. orchestras, including Arturo Toscanini's famous NBC Symphony Orchestra.
He swears he had what is considered a normal childhood. But the importance of music was always clear, and when his teacher Bakaleinikoff moved to Pittsburgh, so did the Maazels. While at the University of Pittsburgh, Maazel was a violinist and apprentice conductor at the Pittsburgh Symphony -- which he later led as music director from 1988 to 1996 -- before heading off to Italy on a Fulbright.
Unlike many child prodigies, Maazel hit adulthood and just kept going. He has been artistic director of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, music director of the Cleveland Orchestra, general manager of the Vienna State Opera and music director of the Symphony Orchestra of the Bavarian Radio. He has conducted more than 150 orchestras in more than 5,000 opera and concert performances in the last half-century.
About to turn 80 in March, Maazel looks considerably younger. His actor father, Lincoln Maazel, died in September at 106, so his genes are apparently good. So are his instincts to keep up to date with younger generations. Besides launching an annual teaching festival last summer at his Virginia estate, he posts occasionally to his website and has attracted more than 600 followers on Twitter. His two Facebook pages have drawn more than 1,500 fans.
He also has been conducting long enough to have some time-honed theories about what makes a good conductor. "Phrasing a musical line is like a stage director telling an actor how to say 'to be or not to be,' " he says. "The art of conducting is to incorporate in every motion all the aspects of the music that you would ordinarily have been discussing -- tempo, dynamics, inner balances among the choirs of the orchestra.
"The moment a real conductor takes charge of an orchestra, the sound of that orchestra changes. Each musician needs to know what is required of him in terms of rhythm, phrasing and dynamic balance. When that happens, the musician is put at his ease and can think about beauty and sound, intonation, inflection -- all the other things he would like to think about."
Maybe so. "Articulating what he wants with the baton is something he's extremely good at," observes Los Angeles Philharmonic bass trombonist John Lofton. "He is a consummate maestro, and I like having somebody in that circumstance take charge and really direct the music."
That's apparently what Maazel also did, to both criticism and applause, while he was at the New York Philharmonic. "I felt when I arrived there that the orchestra had lost its self-confidence to a certain degree, and it was my job to restore the musicians' pride in themselves. During my tenure, I appointed about a third of the musicians, and the average age dropped considerably. These young virtuosos came in and strengthened the orchestra in terms of technical ability. When I left, it could be said, without my being immodest, that it could be considered an orchestra without peer. Second to none."
Remarks like that surely have contributed to some of the barbs Maazel has received from the New York press. A very charming man in person, he makes no attempts at false modesty, stressing his pride and determination to master whatever he's doing, whether surfboarding (which he did, briefly, in his 30s) or Bruckner.
While Maazel says that being musical director of the New York Philharmonic was "the ultimate position," he indicates no plans to retire. He has stepped in for ailing conductors, most recently James Levine at the Boston Symphony Orchestra in November, and says he is now considering "major positions" to work with young musicians.
Until then, he remains busy. He celebrated his 70th birthday with guest appearances in many international venues, often playing his own compositions, and he plans similar outings for his 80th. There will be more touring with the London-based Philharmonia, which recently did a retrospective of his work. Next month, he also embarks on a long tour with the Vienna Philharmonic through Europe and the Middle East, culminating in the world premiere of his new orchestral suite in Vienna on March 6, his 80th birthday.
In 2012, he adds, he will take the Vienna Philharmonic on a world tour and is also committed to guest conduct at the New York Philharmonic. He and his wife, the German actress Dietlinde Turban Maazel, have hosted about 100 performances since 1997 at their 550-acre Castleton estate about 68 miles from Washington, D.C. In July, they launched the Castleton Festival, where Maazel and other professionals mentor promising young musicians.
"I never thought conducting could be a career," Maazel insists. "It became one. It's been a long and interesting road, and I've had a very full, rich and marvelous life doing things I wanted to do. I took four sabbaticals, learned many languages, traveled extensively, and had a very rich personal life. I've had seven children -- the youngest is 17 -- by three marriages, and I'm proud of them all."
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