Saturday, May 29, 2010

We Can't Expect to be Accepted Even by the Experts

Lorin Maazel is a musician of the highest order.  He is what might be termed a "musician's musician."  If he had been a conservatory student, he would have graduated at least third in his class.  (Pardon the sarcastic reference.)

Boisterous timpani, joined in the fray by blazing brass, set the scene for the riotous fifth movement, presented above. Here is quasi-film music, pomp and pageantry and great dramatic gestures all rolled into a piece that demands intense orchestral display. Formally, the movement is a rondo that acts as the theme for a set of eight variations, capped off by a dramatic coda. There are parodies of Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Franz Lehár's The Merry Widow, as well as of Mahler's own Fifth Symphony and the famous Lutheran Hymn "Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott", not to mention other ironic and sarcastic references.  Little wonder that of all the Symphony's movements this has come in for the greatest amount of criticism and puzzlement.

Mahler conducted the premiere of his Seventh Symphony in Prague in 1908. A few weeks later he conducted it in Munich and the Netherlands. Both the audience and the performers at the premiere were confused by the work, and it was not well received. It remained for a while as one of Mahler's least appreciated works, often accused of incoherence.

More recently, scholars and conductors have experimented with a range of interpretations of the work, especially the tempo of the finale, and the work has thrilled more audiences worldwide and has since become more popular.


Gary Freedman said...

In 1960, Maazel became the first American to conduct at Bayreuth. He was chief conductor of the Deutsche Oper Berlin from 1965 to 1971 and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra from 1965 to 1975.

In 1972, Maazel began his tenure as music director at the Cleveland Orchestra, succeeding George Szell. Maazel's emotional, rich interpretation of music greatly differed from Szell's characteristic crisp, defined precision in performance. One of his most notable recordings during this time was the first complete stereo recording of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, using an all African-American cast (except for the chorus). He held the post until 1982. He has not conducted the Cleveland Orchestra since his departure, although a scheduled return engagement in 2006 did not occur because of illness.

Maazel then served at the Vienna State Opera from 1982 to 1984 as general manager and chief conductor. In 1980, he had succeeded Willi Boskovsky as conductor at the Vienna New Year's Concert, which he conducted each year until 1986. Since then, Maazel has conducted the Vienna Philharmonic's New Year's Concerts four times, in 1994, 1996, 1999 and 2005.

From 1984 to 1988, Maazel was the music consultant to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and its music director from 1988 to 1996. From 1993-2002, he was chief conductor of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Munich.

In 1989, expecting - but failing - to become successor to Herbert von Karajan as chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Maazel suddenly and publicly severed all connections with the orchestra when it was announced that Claudio Abbado was to take over.

In 2000, Maazel made a guest-conducting appearance with the New York Philharmonic in two weeks of subscription concerts after an absence of over twenty years, which met with positive reaction from the orchestra musicians. This engagement led to his appointment in January 2001 as the orchestra's next music director, starting in 2002, succeeding Kurt Masur. Maazel conducted the New York Philharmonic on their landmark visit to Pyongyang, North Korea on February 26, 2008. He led the orchestra in renditions of the North Korean and United States national anthems, Dvorak's New World Symphony, George Gershwin's An American in Paris, and closed with the traditional Korean folk song "Arirang". Maazel stepped down from the New York Philharmonic after the 2008-2009 season.

In 2004, Maazel became the music director of the Arturo Toscanini Philharmonic. Since September 2006, he has been the musical director of the orchestra of the opera house of the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències (City of Arts and Sciences), Valencia, Spain. In March 2010, Maazel was named the next chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, effective with the 2012-13 season. Although the orchestra did not officially designate the length of the initial contract, one preliminary report in February 2010 indicated an initial contract of 3 years.

Maazel has conducted the music for three operatic films - Don Giovanni (1979), Carmen (1984), and Otello (1986). His own compositions include an opera, 1984, based on the George Orwell novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. He was depicted conducting Vienna's New Year concert on an Austrian postage stamp issued in 2005. Maazel and his wife Dietlinde Turban operate a summer music festival at their Castleton, Virginia residence.

Gary Freedman said...

From a Time Magazine article dated July 14, 1941 about the 11-year-old child prodigy Lorin Maazel:

The orchestra looked at him—plump, mop-haired, about the size of a cello and eleven years old. And this was to be the conductor of the NBC Summer Symphony—the same orchestra which veteran Arturo Toscanini had whipped into one of the world's finest. It was like a crazy dream.

Before their first rehearsal under Lorin Maazel, the NBC players gagged about bringing lollipops along, about a forthcoming concert under a trained seal or under Dominick the porter in an all-Verdi program. With precocious composure, Conductor Maazel called his tough situation to order. In a variable treble, prefacing most requests with "Could I ask" or "Might I have," he told the men the way he wanted diminuendos and crescendos. He chided a clarinetist for an altered beat. Gently he pronounced the NBC strings first "messy," then "much better."

All this he did without consulting a score except to refer to numbered sections; Lorin Maazel knows 22 symphonic works by heart. When the first rehearsal was over, he said: "I hope I got the men with me. I tried to." Conductor Maazel had acted the terrible child just a trifle, but so do many full-sized conductors, and the NBC Symphony was with him.

Many a critical listener to the first of his two Saturday night broadcasts was amazed and confounded by Lorin Maazel. Prodigious children are musical commonplaces, but leading a man-size orchestra is something else. The almost legendary child Mozart and twelve-year-old Fritz Reiner (now the Pittsburgh Symphony's grownup leader) are among the few who accomplished it. Conductor Maazel proved him self much better than good-for-a-kid. With real musicianship and understanding he put the NBC men through Wagner's rip-roaring Rienzi overture, Mendelssohn's twirling Italian Symphony, and a piece written by a girl-friend of his when she was 9, Dika Newlin's Cradle Song.

Lorin Maazel was born in Paris' suburban Neuilly to U.S. parents. His father, a singing teacher, later moved Lorin to an appropriate place for a wonder child, Los Angeles. Lorin studied piano and violin, took an interest in the orchestra when Papa Maazel gave him a Haydn score four years ago. So his parents took him to Vladimir Bakaleinikoff, assistant conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony, who is still his teacher.

In the past three years Conductor Maazel has waved a stick over seven orchestras, of which the best before the NBC Symphony was the Los Angeles Philharmonic. His beat is precise and his gestures graceful. He has one gift from the gods: absolute pitch, i.e., he can place a note without help from an instrument. Glib, articulate beyond his years, Lorin Maazel says: "I still have a lot of hard work ahead of me. I am constantly studying. I have yet to prove my mettle."

Gary Freedman said...

In the Jewish religion, there is the character Moses. Even his brother thought he was a nut case. I'm used to rejection, even by members of my family.