Who is Lorin Maazel and what does he contribute to music?

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Karyth Cara | College Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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Lorin Maazel

Lorin Maazel (born 1930, and 84 as of 2014) is an renowned American violinist, conductor and occasional composer. Maazel began his prolific career as a conductor at the age of eight when he led the University of Idaho Orchestra in performing Symphony No. 8 of Franz Schubert. His work as a violinist began at the age of five, with his career debut on the concert circuit as an accomplished virtuoso violinist beginning in 1945 at the age of fifteen. After studying literature, languages, creative writing and mathematics at the University of Pittsburgh, while earning his university expenses by playing the violin, Maazel acknowledged that his love of and yearning for music was still his driving motivation and focused his adult energies on conducting. With his perfect pitch and rarely paralleled memory he was able to memorize complete scores and has become legendary for conducting and performing without the score on his podium.

Parents and Family

While there are exceptions in which rare, exceptional talent and greatness occurs in isolation, it is most often true that child prodigies have the benefit of parental and ancestral talent, such as is true of contemporary techno classical fusion violinist Vanessa-Mae whose mother is a semi-professional concert pianist, and such as is true for Lorin Maazel, who was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, to Jewish American parents who had Russian roots. Maazel's father, Lincoln Maazel, was a singer and a piano and voice teacher. His grandfather Issac Maazel was a career violinist with the New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.

Lorin Maazel Childhood and Youth Accomplishments

  • Violin, age five (1935).
  • Conducting, age seven, instructed by Vladimir Bakaleinikov, associate conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and, later, assistant conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (1937).
  • Conducting Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 8, age eight (1938).
  • Performed on the violin at the New York World's Fair, age nine (1939).
  • Conducted maestro Arturo Toscanini's NBC Symphony Orchestra, age eleven (1941).
  • Conducting, American tour conducting major symphonic orchestras, age twelve (1942).
  • Studied briefly with Pierre Monteux, violinist and conductor, age fifteen.
  • Violin, debut on concert circuit, age fifteen (1945).
  • Violin, led Pittsburgh Fine Arts Quartet, age fifteen (1945).
  • University of Pittsburgh - modern languages, literature, mathematics, creative writing (1947-1951).
  • Violinist and apprentice conductor, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, age eighteen (1948).
  • Fulbright Fellow, Italy, baroque music, age twenty-one (1951).
  • Conducting, Italy, age twenty-three, resulted in conducting engagements in Germany and Australia (1953).

Lorin Maazel Early Adult Accomplishments

Maazel debuted in London, England, in 1960 conducting Mahler's music. Also in 1960, at age thirty, Maazel was the first American to conduct at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus. At Bayreuth, the home of German opera composer, Richard Wagner, Maazel conducted Wagner's opera Lohengrin for which he received great critical acclaim. Two years after conducting Lohengrin, he was invited to debut in 1962 as guest conductor of the New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra conducting Mozart's Don Giovanni, which led to his international reputation as one of the world's top conductors. Five years after Lohengrin, Maazel conducted Tchaikovsky's Yevgeni Onegin--based on Pushkin's poetic novel called Yevgeni Onegin--in 1965 in Rome, then accepted two posts in Berlin, Germany, conducting for the Deutsche Oper Berlin (1965-1971) and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra (1965-1975). At the Deutsche Oper, Maazel ventured to include modern opera, such as the 1968 premier of Luigi Dallapiccola's Ulisse. Eight years after the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, Maazel returned to Bayreuth for the 1968-1969 opera season to conduct Wagner's four-opera cycle Ring of the Nibelungen

Lorin Maazel Opera Conductor

After his New York Metropolitan Opera debut and his work in Berlin confirmed Maazel as one of the world's premier opera conductors. A big break in his opera conducting career came while he was in Italy on the Fulbright scholarship. A conductor became ill during the Christmas season and Maazel was the only conductor willing to replace him. The fact that he conducted all four pieces in the musical program from memory did much to cement his reputation:

"A conductor fell ill and because it was Christmas and the concert was in Catania in Sicily, no one else was available or interested. My really lucky break was in already knowing three of the four pieces in the programme. But I took advantage of that luck by learning the fourth piece, the overture to Smetana's Bartered Bride, on the 17-hour train journey from Milan to Catania." (Lorin Maazel interviewed by Nicholas Wroe, The Guardian, 2001)

His successes as an opera conductor led to many other posts in the United States and abroad. His ability to express the composer's emotional richness is illustrated by his recordings of Puccini operas, which set a performance standard for Puccini's works. Not only has Maazel amassed a legacy of live performances, he has an equal legacy of recordings from the standard repertoire in all orchestral genres though he places a special emphasis on opera. One of Maazel's outstanding characteristics as an opera conductor, aside from his prodigious memory, is his approach to using the orchestra as an instrument that plays a crucial role in the performance of the opera. This is in contrast to the traditional approach of conducting the orchestra as though it were accompaniment and not an integral part of the performance. An example of Maazel's art in using the orchestra as an instrument integral to the opera rather than an as an accompaniment to the opera is his 2000 performance of La Traviata by Verdi.

  • 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.

Source: Zoran Minderovic. "Maazel, Lorin." Contemporary Musicians. Vol. 46. Gale Cengage, 2006.

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robyn-bird96's profile pic

robyn-bird96 | Student, College Freshman | (Level 1) Salutatorian

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Lorin Maazel is one of the world's most esteemed and sought after conductors. He was the first American conductor of the Bayreuth Festpielhaus, and he is also known for the first complete recording of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, using an all African American cast.  He has conducted orchestras for three movies, Don Giovanni, Carmen, and Otello. He has also composed works as well, including an opera based off of George Orwell's novel 1984

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