Lorin Maazel was a celebrated orchestral conductor during the second half of the 20th century. He served as the fifth Music Director of the Cleveland Orchestra. Other positions of prominence included that of General Manager of the Vienna State Opera and Music Director and Artistic Director of the Deutsche Oper Berlin and as Music Director of the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Pittsburgh Symphony. In addition, he co-founded the Castleton Festival with his wife. Maazel was also a talented composer, a polyglot and a multicultural icon.
Lorin Maazel was born to American parents in Paris on 6 March 1930. The second-generation American was raised and educated in the United States. By the age of four it was obvious that he had special talent, as he demonstrated both a perfect pitch and a photographic memory. At the age of five, Maazel began studying the violin and piano. At the age of seven he began conducting lessons in Pittsburgh with Vladimir Bakaleinikoff. Maazel attracted the attention of Arturo Toscanini and gave his debut at the age of eight. By the age of 10 he had already conducted the NBC Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Interlochen Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. With the Los Angeles Philharmonic, he shared a programme with Leopold Stokowski. In 1943, he made his conducting debut with the Cleveland Orchestra.
Maazel entered the University of Pittsburgh at the age of 16. There he studied languages, mathematics and philosophy. It is worth noting that he became fluent in seven languages! He also served as a violinist with the Pittsburgh Symphony during his student years. In the 1949-50 season, he was appointed apprentice conductor. That same year, he organized the Fine Arts Quartet of Pittsburgh. Maazel was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship which allowed him to study Baroque music in Italy in 1951. After returning to the US, he conducted the Cleveland Pops in two concerts during the summer of 1952.
Maazel appeared with more than 150 orchestras and gave no fewer than 5,000 opera and orchestra performances during his 75 years of music making. In the 1972-73 season, Maazel was appointed the fifth Music Director of the Cleveland Orchestra, a position he held for a decade. Together with the Cleveland Orchestra, he gave approximately 700 performances and made seven international tours. They performed in Australia (1973), Japan (1974), Latin America (1975), Europe (1976 and 1979), Mexico City (1977) and Asia (Hong Kong, Korea and Japan, 1978). During his tenure with the orchestra, he brought opera back to Cleveland’s Severance Hall with the 1974 performance of Richard Strauss’Elektra.
Following great success in Cleveland, Maazel was appointed as the first American General Manager and Artistic Director of the Vienna Opera, where he remained from 1982 to 1984. From there, he went on to become Music Director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra from 1984 to 1996. Other highlights from his conducting career include being the first American and youngest conductor ever to conduct at Bayreuth and performing in North Korea. He also made appearances and international festivals such as Salzburg, Edinburgh and Lucerne and opera houses including the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, Paris Opera and Covent Garden. In 1985, Maazel was named an honorary life member of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra during their 40th anniversary concert, which he conducted.
He made more than 300 recordings during his career, including the complete orchestral works of Beethoven, Brahms, Debussy, Mahler, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Richard Strauss.
Maazel used his position as an international conductor to bridge various cultures. He appeared in East Berlin, the former Soviet Union and even North Korea. His visit to North Korea took place in February 2008 with the New York Philharmonic. They travelled to Pyongyang, where they performed a concert that was broadcast live on North Korean state television, and also internationally. According to the North Korean defector singer Ji Hae Nam, the concert was ‘an opportunity for North Korean people to realize that America is not as bad as they’ve learned’. Maazel summed up his take on such experiences for theWall Street Journalin 2008, writing, ‘I have always believed that the arts, per se, and their exponents, artists, have a broader role to play in the public arena. But it must be totally apolitical, nonpartisan and free of issue-specific agendas. It is a role of the highest possible order; bringing people and their cultures together on common ground, where the roots of peaceful interchange can imperceptibly but irrevocably take hold’.
In 2009, Lorin Maazel and his wife, Dietlinde Turban Maazel, founded the Castleton Festival, which holds annual summer performances and training arts on his Virginia farm. Maazel described the festival’s mission as a ‘vista-opener’, giving young musicians a chance to nurture their talents through performance and mentoring. He also attracted large audiences to music performed by the younger generation, encouraging them by allowing them to play alongside established artists such as Denyce Graves and Sir James Galway. In a concert, he told the public that working with the young musicians was ‘more a labour of love—a labour of joy’.
In addition to his great success as a conductor, Maazel was also an accomplished composer. His diverse catalogue of compositions was composed primarily in the last 15 years of his life. He based his first opera,1984, on George Orwell’s well-regarded book. The world premiere took place in the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden and enjoyed a sold-out revival at La Scala in Milan.
Outside of his work, Maazel enjoyed many hobbies including literature, philosophy, astronomy, mathematics, films and was also known as a ‘fierce ping-pong player’. He watched as much tennis as possible and listened to a variety of music, especially that of Tony Bennett.
Maazel remained active until the end of his life, conducting more than 100 concerts in 2013 alone. He won a number of awards throughout his career, including 10 Grand Prix du Disque awards. He received the Commander’s Cross of Merit from the Federal Republic of Germany, the Legion d’Honneur of France and the Commander of the Lion of Finland. Additionally, he was awarded the title of Ambassador of Good Will by the United Nations.