Lorin Maazel (1930-2014)

I think most of us are aware of our hometown heroes, and as a kid growing up in Pittsburgh Lorin Maazel’s presence was huge.  Starting in fifth grade I attended a free Saturday music school for public school students called “Centers for the Musically Talented” that took me every week to Peabody High School in East Liberty, from which Maazel had graduated decades earlier.  His mother, Marie Maazel, helped to reorganize the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra in the 1950s.  I played in PYSO during high school at Heinz Hall (where I also ushered three to six days a week for three years).  Following his child prodigy conducting years (We’re talking conducting the NBC Symphony while still in the single digits.), Maazel attended Pitt, a place I called home from 1998-1999.  Many critics have noted that Maazel played second violin in the Pittsburgh Symphony while he attended Pitt, but none of the recent obits I’ve come across have mentioned that the conductor of Pittsburgh in the 1940s was none other than Fritz Reiner.  And we wonder where some of Maazel’s immaculate technique came from!  Maazel returned to his Pittsburgh roots, leading the Pittsburgh Symphony (with various titles) from 1984 to 1996, culminating in its centennial world tour.  And just in case the hometown connection was not clear enough, the block of Sixth Street in front of Heinz Hall is also named Lorin Maazel Square.

It seems every discussion of Lorin Maazel must include examples of his “distant” or “mercurial” demeanor and his “perfectionistic” and “demanding” style.  In Pittsburgh we were certainly aware of his hiring of 37 new PSO musicians, and there was lore about his personal Maazel-only elevator backstage.  But as young musicians some of these stories took on lives of their own.  Did he really shout out “Silence!” from the stage when one of his grandchildren made noise during a rehearsal of the Mother Goose Suite?  Certainly he didn’t really have a red telephone in his sixth floor suite with a direct line to Moscow….  (Or did he?)

Maazel has left us with an incredible discography (including his own compositions) from the world’s greatest orchestras and opera companies spanning a lifetime of music making around the globe.  For my part I will recommend his cycle of Sibelius symphonies with the PSO.  Maazel was all about instrumental balance and building drama through the large-scale architecture of the piece, and these are qualities that work especially well for Sibelius’s unique forms and characteristic orchestrations.  In these recordings you will hear not just Sibelius, but Lorin Maazel’s Sibelius.  And you will hear everything very, very clearly.  Bravo, Maestro!

Here he is conducing the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Mahler 5.