Lorin Maazel (1930-2014)

Charismatic US conductor dies aged 84


Lorin Maazel, one of the highest profile, most influential and at times exciting conductors of his generation, has died at the age of 84.


Born in France to Russian parents, but brought up in the US, Maazel will be chiefly remembered in his home country as the former music director of the Cleveland, the Pittsburgh Symphony and the New York Philharmonic orchestras. His posts abroad included those of chief conductor of the Vienna State Opera in Austria and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Germany, while British audiences will fondly remember him for his close association with the Philharmonia in London.

Maazel’s style was unashamedly Romantic and his manner on the podium distinctly autocratic, but at his best the results could be thrilling. His recording of Respighi’s Roman Trilogy, for instance, remains something of a benchmark.

He was also a rare case of a conductor who also went on to enjoy a career as a violinist – most violinist-conductors do it the other way round. Picking up the baton at a very young age, by 11 Maazel was already conducting orchestras and it was Arturo Toscanini, no less, who secured him his first conducting position at 12. As his conducting career gathered pace, he also found time to play as a violinist with both the Fine Arts Quartet and in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Maazel’s first important conducting post came when he was made chief conductor of Deutsche Oper Berlin in 1965, though by this stage he had already become the first American to conduct at Bayreuth. Over the following decades, his forceful personality ensured that his career would have both its share of triumphant ups and controversial downs.

The downs included falling out with both the Vienna State Opera and, later, the Berlin Philharmonic, the latter over the appointment of Claudio Abbado as chief conductor in 1989 (an appointment that Maazel believed should have been his). Among the ups, however, was a groundbreaking tour of Pyongyang, North Korea, with the New York Philharmonic in 2008 that gained worldwide coverage and no little praise.


Away from the podium, Maazel also ran his own Castleton Festival at his large estate in Virginia – he was by no means poorly paid – as well as finding time to compose. Sadly, 1984, his one opera to make it to the big stage, received lukewarm reviews when it was premiered at Covent Garden.