BORN PARIS MARCH 6, 1930. DIED VIRGINIA, USA, JULY 13, 2014, AGED 84
HE CONSIDERED himself the last of the Romantics, but Lorin Maazel was equally mesmerising whether conducting Beethoven or Gershwin. He was a child prodigy at the age of nine, the son of Jewish-American parents, Lincoln and Marie, of Dutch and Russian origin, who returned to their native America when Maazel was two. Clearly music was in the family blood; his father was a singer and actor, his mother founded the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra. His paternal grandfather was a violinist with the Metropolitan Opera,
At the age of five Lorin Maazel studied both violin and conducting. He made his debut at 11 with the University of Idaho Orchestra, conducting Schubert’s 8th Symphony, (the Unfinished). He appeared in a white linen suit, giving every cue on the dot, according to a New York critic.Toscanini invited him to guest conduct the NBC Symphony Orchestra when he was 12.
But chronic tonsillitis enforced rest, enabling him to read all the classics, and probably fuelled his unfulfilled desire to become a writer. He enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh and joined its Symphony Orchestra to pay his way through school. He studied economics, literature, French and Russian all night, and worked at his music all day.
Maazel won a Fulbright scholarship to study Italian baroque music and during the 1950s he established himself in Europe. He recorded Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet with the Berlin Philarmonic, and marked his Bayreuth debut with Lohengrin as the first Jewish conductor since the Second World War, and the youngest, at the age of 30. He directed the popular New Year’s Day concert in Vienna 11 times. His first London appearance, at the Festival Hall in 1960 conducting Mahler’s Second Symphony with the BBC Symphony Orchestra won critical acclaim.
Lorin Maazel married three times; to Mimi Sandbank in 1952, to Israeli concert pianist Israela Margalit in 1969 and to Dietlinde Turban, a popular German TV actress in 1986.
In the mid 1960s he became chief conductor of Berlin’s Deutsche Oper and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, later returning to Bayreuth to conduct the full Ring cycle. He enjoyed a string of musical directorships with major international orchestras and in 1996 was reputed to be the highest-paid conductor in Europe. Frequently appearing in London, Maazel became associate principal conductor of the Philharmonia in 1971 and made his Covent Garden debut with Verdi’s Luisa Miller in 1978. Known for his powerful artistic sense, and a certain autocratic manner, he was as admired as he was feared. Spats with musicians led to the curtailment of his four year contract with the Vienna State Opera in 1984, although the orchestra had squabbled with more equable conductors than him.
Maazel twice conducted all the Beethoven symphonies in a single day. Less well known was his gift for composition. His opera, 1984, based on George Orwell’s novel, was premiered by the Royal Opera in 2005 and later Milan’s La Scala In 1979 he conducted the soundtrack for Joseph Losey’s acclaimed film of Don Giovanni followed by Francesco Rossi’s Carmen in 1984 and Franco Zeffirelli’s Otello two years later. He filmed A Week in the Life of a Conductor. for French TV and his love of opera resulted in over 300 opera recordings.
An off-the-wall dream of this polymath was to become a space scientist. But his more tangible dream – of being appointed musical director of the Berlin Philharmonic – eluded him and went instead in 1989 Claudio Abbado. The appointment drew fire from Maazel who severed all connection to the orchestra.
In 1999 he performed his own concerto, Music for Violin and Orchestra at London’s Barbican. Lorin Maazal is survived by Dietlinde, their three children and four children from his previous marriages.
Lorin Maazel: became the first Jewish conductor at the Bayreuth Festival since the Second World War