There is a photograph in the Philharmonia Orchestra archive of Lorin Maazel and Otto Klemperer together at the Royal Festival Hall in London, engaged in deep conversation. It is an image that in many ways defined both Maazel’s life and that of the Philharmonia Orchestra itself: Maazel’s career spanned virtually the life of the Philharmonia, and his deep respect for the middle European musical tradition that Klemperer embodied, remained at the foundation of his music-making, as it remains at the heart of the Philharmonia’s approach and “sound”.
The Philharmonia formed an important part of Lorin Maazel’s early career, initially thanks to Walter Legge. Maazel first conducted the Philharmonia in concert on 20 June 1959 and was a regular guest from the early 1960s onwards, which led to his appointment as Associate Principal Conductor in 1970 towards the end of Klemperer’s tenure with the Orchestra. During this time his music-making became renowned for its clarity, control, integrity and sheer brilliance, achieved through his absolute command of the Orchestra.
In the decades that followed, Maazel took his place among the greatest Maestros of the age, leading many of music’s greatest institutions with characteristic panache. He set himself the highest standards, refusing to suffer fools; but no-one could be more generous to musicians in their time of need, or more supportive to young musicians – or in my case, young orchestra managers. He was extraordinarily generous to me professionally over many years, giving of his time and sharing his wisdom and his knowledge of the Philharmonia’s history. He would invite me to his box at La Scala and talk to me about the Legge era in particular; these conversations gave me a profound respect for and understanding of what the Philharmonia stood for in history.
His prodigious intelligence and total recall is well known; but both qualities were always put to good use, and combined with his staggeringly clear conducting technique, creating total confidence among the orchestral musicians he worked with. They knew exactly what he wanted. He was also astonishingly well-read, and one of the greatest pleasures for me was to find a novel that he didn’t know as a thank you gift for another fabulous series of concerts with the Philharmonia. And then to receive an email letting me know how much he had enjoyed reading it. He was passionate about the theatre, and whenever I met him at the airport the first thing he would say to me was, “David, what should I see?”
We were fortunate enough to be with Maazel for his last Mahler Cycle in 2011, which travelled to major international concert halls across Europe and the Far East, as well as to UK venues from Hull to Manchester and from Bristol to Basingstoke, Maazel giving 100% of himself to every single performance, and treating every audience with the utmost respect. It is intensely satisfying that we were able to capture the Cycle on CD – the first six symphonies were released earlier this year to wide acclaim, and symphonies 7-9 will follow later in 2014.
Maazel was one of the great conductors of Richard Strauss and it was natural that we turned to him when we started planning the Philharmonia Orchestra’s celebrations for 2014. I felt that the three works that stood out for me were the Alpine Symphony, with its extraordinary grandeur; Also Sprach Zarathustra – no-one understood the monumental Strauss better than Maazel; and Till Eulenspiegel, in which his virtuosity as a conductor would be matched by the virtuosity of the Philharmonia musicians. The performances, at the end of March, were everything we hoped for, and received standing ovations in the Royal Festival Hall. After the performance of the Alpine Symphony and Also Sprach he sat backstage analysing tone rows in the third part of the latter, comparing them by playing them on the piano alongside Berg and Schoenberg’s use of the same technique. Then he started analysing and demonstrating the final movement of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony. His intellectual thirst was as strong as it had ever been.
With so many recent memories of Lorin Maazel at his most intellectually curious, searching and altogether vital, it goes without saying that it comes as a huge shock to all of us at the Philharmonia Orchestra to learn of his untimely death. I was in direct correspondence with him by email just 48 hours before we heard the news; he was discussing the Orchestra’s planned visit to Castleton next year, and his concerts planned for the Royal Festival Hall with us in 2015 and 2016 - which were all to be of epic proportions, the like of which only Maazel could have programmed. There was no musician quite like Lorin Maazel, and he is utterly irreplaceable, in many, many ways. We will all miss him more than we can say.
Managing Director, Philharmonia Orchestra
The Philharmonia Orchestra and Esa-Pekka Salonen will be dedicating the opening concert of their 2014/15 London season on Thursday 25 September, a performance of Berlioz’s Grand Messe des Morts, to the memory of Lorin Maazel
As I write these words I have just finished listening to a recording of the performance of Mahler's 9th Symphony given by the Philharmonia with the late Lorin Maazel at the Royal Festival Hall during the Mahler cycle given in 2011-12. It has left me with an indelible impression of the "Maazel effect". Huge, broad tempos that stretch the possibilities of orchestral sostenuto but elicit playing of superhuman power. Middle movements with irony, beauty and savagery in equal measure.
Maazel was not a conductor that anyone ignored.
His technical mastery of the physical gestures that are the subtle means of communicating with an orchestra were honed over decades by an analytical mind of extraordinary acuity. There will never be another baton to match it. His technique was also an insight into his musical priorities, his obsessions and his passions. He loved clarity, articulation and precision both in tempo and rhythm. When you add that to the famous depth of sound he encouraged from orchestras then you have a marvellous combination. These qualities are all there whenever and whatever he was conducting. As a composer himself he was constantly aware of the conductor's responsibilities - he was looking after the composer's intentions and over the long years of his career he had memorised every note and every detail of every score he conducted. During rehearsals he would often comment on the composer's intentions and also express unconcealed and unreserved admiration for certain passages or even whole pieces once he'd concluded a rehearsal. I will never forget the end of the Finale of Mahler's colossal Third Symphony at the dress rehearsal in the Royal Festival Hall. The huge sonority finally subsided, Maazel himself looked wrung out. (It was only 1pm and we had to do the whole thing again in a few hours). Then, in a rather subdued and resigned tone and with the famous shake of the head (which generally signified approval), he said "...have you any idea of the creative energy it must have taken to write this piece?" Genuine resect and admiration for the composer. There was real passion there but Maazel's conducting came from a highly disciplined foundation that believed in giving good clear information to enable the orchestra to play the music to the best of their ability. It's unfashionable now, it's super controlled and can appear to be cool and unemotional, but when he was on his best form the focus and concentration were electrifying. Lorin Maazel didn't throw himself around on the podium because he was too busy conducting an orchestra.
I will miss him.
Principal Bassoonist, Philharmonia Orchestra
A forthcoming patch of work with the Maestro would be accorded a sense of anticipation founded firstly, out of reverence for his outstanding career within and at the head of his chosen profession and secondly, respect for the towering intellect empowering a photographic memory capable of retaining and, if necessary reproducing a large part of the symphonic repertoire at will, with the sole exception by his own admission, of the Alpine Symphony. Furthermore, and almost as impressive in the eyes of his players legend claims the Maestro could, if diverted on his journey back from a venue order a Chinese meal, not in English but Mandarin.
However, such achievements apart the mind of this orchestral musician was focussed on the task at hand in the knowledge that the Maestro’s total commitment to a masterful, cerebral interpretation and faultless performance was matched by an expectation that his musicians were keen, and seen to share his passion entirely. His rehearsals were impeccably structured with attention to relevant detail and issues of ensemble revealing, both a comprehensive understanding of the score and acute sense of hearing. His baton technique was unparalleled giving him a peerless measure of control, facilitating an element of rhythmic vitality which underpinned the most complex of works in the repertoire.
Chairman, Philharmonia Orchestra
It was a great shock to find out a few days ago that the Maestro (he was always addressed thus, even when he was referring to himself!) had passed away. We all thought he would go on for ever - in fact in a speech to the orchestra a couple of years ago he said " my colleagues are all waiting for me to kick the bucket, but my father died at 106, so I intend to disappoint them!". It's sad that he fell much further short of that figure than we all thought would happen.
Playing for Maestro Maazel was an extraordinary experience, and it was a privilege to take part in the many great performances he gave with us, not least in the recent marathon Mahler tour. His interpretations were sometimes unpredictable, gilding the lily from time to time, and resulting in broader but enormously impressive performances, particularly recently. Of course the technical security that his peerless beat and mental control of the music gave us was never unpredictable. It meant he could achieve very polished results on very little rehearsal (very welcome on tour, when he often cancelled rehearsals altogether). I remember a Mahler 5 in Madrid when he rehearsed for about half an hour, then said " Things are looking up. It sounds fine, and we can look forward to a good dinner after the concert. Just remember that this hall is a little dry, so don't play last notes too short. Leave the rest to me, and we'll have a great concert." We did. Playing for him was a unique experience, and one I shall greatly miss.
Principal Clarinetist, Philharmonia Orchestra