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Lorin Maazel

Date of birth : 1930-03-06
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Neuilly-sur-Seine, France
Nationality : American
Category : Arts and Entertainment
Last modified : 2011-12-12

Lorin Varencove Maazel is an American conductor, violinist and composer.To say that Lorin Maazel's career is brilliant is an understatement: entering the conducting arena at the age of eight (leading the University of Idaho Orchestra in a performance of Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 8), he has conducted the world's greatest orchestras, establishing a legacy of unforgettable performances and stellar recordings of the standard repertoire, with particular emphasis on opera. His recordings of Puccini's operas, for example, have set a new performance standard, bringing out the elemental power and emotional richness of Puccini's music.

While many opera conductors tend to perform as accompanists, Maazel treats the orchestra as an integral element of the performance, as an instrument which adds a crucial dimension to the singing. Exemplifying the critical response to Maazel's work as an opera conductor is Robert Croan's review, in Opera News, of a 2000 production of Verdi's La Traviata under Maazel's direction; Croan asserted that "Maazel brought a new degree of energy and refinement to the ensemble, sculpting phrases with endless subtleties of color and nuance." Yet Maazel is also a great symphonic conductor, with exceptional recordings of symphonies by Beethoven, Mahler, and Sibelius.

Born to American parents in France in 1930, Maazel was the kind of prodigy that science has yet to explain: possessing perfect pitch and a prodigious memory, he absorbed music, in its immense complexity, seemingly without effort. Having started with violin lessons at the age of five in Los Angeles, where the family moved not long after his birth, he quickly attained an enviable level of proficiency, eventually becoming a true virtuoso. However, Maazel's favorite instrument, from the very beginning, was the orchestra, and his earliest music lessons included sessions with Vladimir Bakaleinikov, associate conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

In 1938, when Bakaleinikov accepted the post of assistant conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Maazel family moved to Pittsburgh so that the young conductor could continue working with his teacher. Maazel was only nine when he performed at the World's Fair in New York. Two years later, he conducted Arturo Toscanini's NBC Symphony Orchestra, impressing the great maestro. Following these early successes as a conductor, Maazel appeared on the concert podium as a violinist, making his debut in 1945 and leading the Pittsburgh Fine Arts Quartet.

Like many musical prodigies, Maazel excelled in other fields, mastering languages and other areas of knowledge. In his late teens, he attended the University of Pittsburgh, taking courses in modern languages, mathematics, and philosophy. In 1948, Maazel got a job with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra as a violinist, soon becoming the orchestra's apprentice conductor. A Fulbright fellowship (to study Baroque music) took him to Italy, where he entered the international musical scene. A noted performance as a conductor in Italy in 1953 led to engagements in Germany and Austria.

In 1960 Maazel made his London debut, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra in a remarkable performance of Mahler's music. Following his London triumph, Maazel made history, that same year, as the first American to conduct at the Bayreuth Festival, the original home of German composer Richard Wagner's operas and in many ways a shrine to Germanic musical art. His interpretation of Wagner's opera Lohengrin received such critical acclaim that he returned, in the 1968-69 season, to conduct the entire Ring of the Nibelungen cycle of four operas.

After his New York Metropolitan Opera debut in 1962, when he conducted Mozart's Don Giovanni, Maazel became one of the world's most respected opera conductors. While he remained interested in a wide array of music, maintaining professional ties with a variety of highly regarded orchestras, Maazel seemed to have found his vocation as an opera conductor. In 1965, the year he produced and conducted Tchaikovsky's Yevgeni Onegin in Rome, Maazel joined the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, West Germany, as artistic director. At the Deutsche Oper, Maazel not only created distinguished productions of standard operas but also ventured into the less familiar field of twentieth-century opera, conducting the premiere, in 1968, of Luigi Dallapiccola's Ulisse.

During the 1970s Maazel's focus was the Cleveland Orchestra, which he led from 1972 to 1982, expanding the orchestra's repertoire and introducing new approaches to opera performance. After a decade with a great orchestra, Maazel was ready for a new challenge. That challenge came in 1982, in the form of an offer to lead the Vienna Staatsoper (State Opera), as artistic and general director. Accepting the challenge, Maazel made history again, as the first American to direct this venerable opera house. The choice of Maazel, with his impeccable German and intimate knowledge of the German opera scene, made perfect sense. In many ways, as a conductor, he was what opera companies dreamed about.

Unfortunately, Maazel's genius was no match for the ever-changing politics of Viennese opera. Frustrated by political interference, Maazel returned to the United States in 1984. He immediately accepted the post of music consultant to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, which he led, as music director, from 1988 to 1996. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Maazel maintained his ties with European orchestras, conducting the popular Vienna Philharmoni New Year's Day Concert from 1980 to 1986, and returning in 1994. In 1993, he became music director of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra; this appointment prompted considerable public comment, including remarks concerning the new director's salary, which some considered excessive. Maazel's defenders reacted to these claims by pointing to the conductor's generosity, which included giving benefit concerts for organizations such as UNICEF and the International Red Cross.

Maazel left the Pittsburgh Symphony in 1996, devoting his energies to composition (a work for cello and orchestra, dedicated to Mstislav Rostropovich, had its premiere in 1996), the violin, and various film and television projects. As a conductor, Maazel belonged by the turn of the century to a small elite of world-class musicians. As an artist, however, he had come to believe that music is not the property of any elite but rather belongs to everybody.

Consequently, he turned to the popular media of film and television, creating new forms of programming in an effort to bring classical music to a wider audience. These projects included television versions of Gustav Holst's The Planets and Antonio Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, as well as film versions of Mozart's Don Giovanni, directed by Joseph Losey, and Bizet's Carmen, directed by Francesco Rossi. And finally, it may come as no surprise that the multitalented Maazel by 2003 had served as the narrator, in six langauges, for six different recordings of Prokofiev's spoken-word children's composition Peter and the Wolf.

Selected discography:
-Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 9 CBS, 1990.
-Gustav Holst, The Planets CBS, 1990.
-Modest Mussorgsky, Pictures at an Exhibition Telarc, 1990.
-Sergey Prokofiev, Peter and the Wolf Deutsche Grammophon, 1990.
-Giacomo Puccini, Madama Butterfly CBS, 1990.
-Giuseppe Verdi, Aida Decca, 1990.
-Georges Bizet, Carmen Erato, 1991.
-Ludwig van Beethoven, Fidelio Decca, 1996.
-Sergey Rachmaninov, Three Symphonies Deutsche Grammophon, 1996.
-Camille Saint-Saëns, Symphony No. 3 Sony, 1996.
-Igor Stravinsky, The Firebird Suite Deutsche Grammophon, 1996.
-César Franck, Symphony in D minor Deutsche Grammophon, 1997.
-Maurice Ravel, Boléro, La Valse RCA, 1997.
-Maurice Ravel, L'Enfant et les sortilèges Deutsche Grammophon, 1997.
-Johannes Brahms, Ein deutsches Requiem Deutsche Grammophon, 1998.
-Anton Bruckner, Symphony No. 8 Deutsche Grammophon, 1998.
-Giacomo Puccini, Tosca Decca, 1999.
-Ottorino Respighi, Feste Romane Decca, 2000.
-Richard Strauss, Don Quixote RCA Victor, 2001.
-Igor Stravinsky, Petrouchka Deutsche Grammophon, 2001.
-Jean Sibelius, Symphonies, Violin Concerto Sony, 2002.
-Igor Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring Telarc, 2002.
-Giuseppe Verdi, Otello EMI, 2002.
-Gustav Mahler, The Complete Symphonies Sony, 2003.
-Giacomo Puccini, Turandot Sony, 2003.


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