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Maazel, Lorin

Lorin Maazel

Conductor, violinist

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.

Child Prodigy

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.

Adulthood and New Horizons

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.

Conducting Opera

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.

For the Record . . .

Born Lorin Varencove Maazel on March 6, 1930, in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. Education: Studied violin with Karl Moldrem; studied piano with Fanchon Armitage; studied conducting with Vladimir Bakaleinikov; attended University of Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, violinist and apprentice conductor, 1948-51; Deutsche Oper, artistic director, 1965-71; Berlin (West) Radio Symphony Orchestra, principal conductor, 1965-75; New Philharmonia Orchestra of London, associate principal conductor, 1971-72, principal guest conductor, 1976-80; Cleveland Orchestra, music director, 1972-82; Orchestre National de France, principal conductor, 1977-82, principal guest conductor, 1982-88, musical director, 1988-91; Vienna State Opera, artistic director and general manager, 1982-84; Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, music consultant, 1984-86; music advisor and principal guest conductor, 1986-88, music director, 1988-96; Bavarian Radio Symphony, principal conductor, 1993-2002.

Awards: Sibelius Prize; Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit (Germany); Légion d'Honneur; Edison Prize (Netherlands); ten Grand Prix du Disque; several European awards (for popular film and television presentations of works of classical music), including Bambi, Fantastico, and Sept Jours.

Addresses: Office Z. des Aubris, Tal 15, D-80331 Munich, Germany.

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.

Beyond the Auditorium

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 Gram-mophon, 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 Gram-mophon, 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.



Sadie, Stanley, editor, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Macmillan, 2001.

Slonimsky, Nicolas, editor, Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Schirmer, 2001.


New York Observer, February 5, 2001.

New York Times, September 19, 2003.

Opera News, February 4, 1995, p. 43.

Zoran Minderovic

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Maazel, Lorin Varencove

Lorin Varencove Maazel, 1930–2014, American conductor, b. Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. A musical prodigy, he spent his childhood in Los Angeles, where he made his conducting debut at nine and his violin debut at fifteen. He debuted as an adult conductor leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood in 1951 and began his adult career when he conducted at the Teatro Bellini in Catania, Italy, in 1953. He went on to conduct with more than 20 European orchestras, and in 1960 became the first American to conduct at Bayreuth. Beginning in the mid-1960s, Maazel held many important directorships in Europe and the United States, including those of the Deutsche Opera (1965–71), the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra (1965–75), the Cleveland Orchestra (1972–82), the Vienna State Opera (1982–84), the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (1988–96), and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (1993–2002). He succeeded Kurt Masur as music director (2002–9) of the New York Philharmonic and finished his career as principal conductor (2012–14) of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra. Known for the breadth of his orchestral and operatic repertoire and for the rigor, depth, and sometimes idiosyncratic nature of his musical interpretations, Maazel also was a composer, e.g., Music for Violin and Orchestra (1997) and the opera 1984 (2005), and sometimes performed as a violinist.

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Maazel, Lorin (Varencove)

Maazel, Lorin (Varencove) (b Neuilly, 1930). Amer. conductor and violinist. Cond. at NY World Fair and Hollywood Bowl 1939 when a child, leading Amer. orchs., incl. NYPO, NBC SO, Chicago, and Cleveland, from 1941. Violinist in Pittsburgh SO from 1948. Cond. in It. from 1953. Mus. dir. Deutsche Oper 1965–71; Berlin Radio SO 1965–75. Débuts: Bayreuth Fest. 1960; NY Met 1962; Salzburg Fest. 1963; CG 1978. Ass. prin. cond. New Philharmonia 1970–2; cond. and mus. dir. Cleveland Orch. 1972–82; chief cond. Orch. Nat. de France 1977–82, mus. dir. 1988–91; prin. cond. Pittsburgh SO 1986–96; Bavarian Radio SO from 1992. Dir., Vienna Opera 1982–6 (first Amer. to hold post) but left amid controversy in 1984.

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"Maazel, Lorin (Varencove)." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

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Maazel, Lorin

Maazel, Lorin (1930– ) US conductor, b. France. In 1960, he became the first American and the youngest-ever conductor at the Bayreuth Festival. He was director of Deutsche Opera (1965–71) and Vienna State Opera (1982–84). A lively performer, Maazel was music director of the Cleveland Orchestra (1971–82), and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (1988–1996). He became music director of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in 1993.

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