The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Famed child prodigy conductor Lorin Maazel has died at age 84. To the end, he was surrounded by controversy and contradiction.

July 19, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Last Sunday. as you may have already heard, the distinguished conductor Lorin Maazel (below, in a photo by AFP-Getty Images) died at his summer festival grounds and home in Virginia from complications of pneumonia. He was 84. Many expected him to live much longer — since conducting is such aerobic exercise, since extreme longevity ran in his family, since  conductors are a very long-lived group as a rule. 

lorin maazel AFP Getty Images

Here is a specially posted tribute video, with Maazel conducting music by Gustav Mahler — the famed Adagietto from the Symphony No. 5:

I read a lot about outstanding and searing performances by Maazel, who had a truly international career, but never heard any first-hand.

I also read a lot about his mechanical and uninspired approach to conducting, despite his mastery of “stick technique” with the baton. I never heard that in person either.

When I did hear him, usually conducting the New York Philharmonic on the PBS program “Live From Lincoln Center” or the Vienna Philharmonic  “New Year’s Day in Vienna,” he seemed perfectly competent and acceptable, if never outstandingly original or impressive or inspired. (You can hear him conduct in Seoul, Korea, the dramatic and moving “Egmont” Overture by Ludwig van Beethoven in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Born in France, Maazel as a major talent who started as a violin prodigy and then went on to conducting major orchestras before he reached the age of 10. Later, he also turned to opera, including appearances at the Metropolitan Opera. And he often talked about how lucky he had been to have parents who did not exploit his talent during childhood. And he was full of forward-looking plans to the end.

Maazel’s death was all over the media -– including media that don’t normally care to give much coverage to the arts, especially to the current arts and to living artists. Perhaps the fact that he made history by taking the New York Philharmonic to Pyongyang, North Korea, where he also performed our national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner” to applause, had something to do with it.

Nonetheless, here are some stories to help you catch up:

Here is a story, with sound clips and a fine appreciation, from the classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence” on NPR:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/07/13/331148634/conductor-lorin-maazel-who-brought-america-to-the-podium-dies

Here is an exhaustive and comprehensive obituary from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/14/arts/music/lorin-maazel-brilliant-intense-and-enigmatic-conductor-dies-at-84.html?_r=0

Here is a story from the Wall Street Journal:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/conductor-lorin-maazel-dies-at-84-1405273033

Here is a fine memorial from The Washington Post critic Anne Midgette:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/style/wp/2014/07/13/lorin-maazel-1930-2014/

Here is a fine summing up by The New Yorker magazine of the contradictions and controversies that surrounded Maazel’s conducting. I love the headline – “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” which is a timely reminder of the balance needed between intellectualism and emotional directness, the latter of which is, for The Ear, the heart of making music:

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2014/07/lorin-maazel-the-man-who-knew-too-much.html

Did you hear Lorin Maazel?

Do you have a favorite memorable performance or recording by him?

A least favorite one?

What do YOU think of Lorin Maazel?

The Ear wants to hear.


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