Conductor  Lorin  Maazel
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


He is an American who has enjoyed a world-wide career.  He has lately returned to the US for directorships in Pittsburgh and New York City.  He has made a significant number of recordings with the great orchestras and opera companies.  He has given his time and effort to Classic Aid. 
Even with all the tension in that part of the world, he took the New York Philharmonic to North Korea for a concert that was very well-received.  The list could go on and on, but even then it would only be a sample of the accomplishments of Lorin Maazel.

Way back in October of 1986, he was in Chicago to conduct two weeks of programs with the Chicago Symphony, and we met at Orchestra Hall after a rehearsal.  The conversation, like his career, ranged back and forth among the expanse of repertoire.  He was very genial; I often felt he was just musing to himself about various details, and was allowing me to eavesdrop on his reveries.  This is not to say he was not aware of the interview, but he appeared very comfortable and treated me as a trusted colleague for our hour together.

Bruce Duffie:    How do you divide your schedule, opera and concert?

Lorin Maazel:    Actually, I will not be conducting opera, with the exception of a kind of holdover, for the next four or five years.

BD:    Why is that?

LM:    The reason is that I have conducted so much opera for the last twenty-five years.  Don’t forget, I was Artistic Director of the Berlin Opera for six years, and then guested there many times.  I also appeared at the Paris Opera, Covent Garden, and La Scala an ongoing basis.  I wound up opening La Scala for three seasons
’81, ’83 and ’85.  Last season, the ’85-’86 season, I opened with Aïda, followed by Butterfly and then Luciano Berlio’s Un Re in Ascolto, which was the Italian world premiere.  I’d given the actual world premiere of the work in Salzburg the year before, but it had been in German.  I asked La Scala to take out an insurance policy on me, because I was the only conductor holding up an entire opera company for two months, conducting every performance!  By that time I had three operas in hand, and someplace along the line I said, “That’s enough.”  I had spent a vast number of hours, yet again, with the stage director and the singers in eighteen hour days.  I’ve put in so many eighteen hour opera days over the years that I felt what I’ll settle for now is simply to record for video — or exceptionally audio — what I’ve done, for better or for worse.  So I filmed and recorded Aïda, and filmed and recorded Butterfly.  I knew the recording for the film of Otello’s come out, though what I stand by is the complete recording.  As opposed to Don Giovanni and Carmen, I backed away from the film in the beginning stages.  So winding that up, I’ve agreed to go with La Scala to Japan in September 1988 because I have the major portion of the current repertoire in hand.  I said I’d do the Turandot that I opened ’83 with in Japan, and that’s it!  Then I’ve simply decided not to do any more opera in the opera house for the foreseeable future.  Most conductors — de Sabata, Toscanini, Fritz Reiner, George Szell — people who love doing opera finally came to the same conclusion at a certain point.  That is not to say that I won’t go back and do a production some place, some time, but not for the foreseeable future.  Maybe in the nineties someplace I’ll get the yen again to do something someplace, probably films.  I’ve made three films now, two of which I collaborated on very closely with the film director.

BD:    You feel that opera works well on film?

LM:    Yeah, yeah, it can.

BD:    Better than in the opera house?

LM:    Well, it’s a different art form.  Comparisons are odious in this case as well.

BD:    With all the recordings you have made, do you ever feel that you’re competing with your recordings when you perform the same works live in the theater?

LM:    No, I think that music is a live experience.  I like to make recordings, and I listen to other people’s recordings when I’m at home and have some leisure time.  But I like to go to concerts, too.  I like the feeling of being with a crowd, especially open air concerts.  I think those are great to attend.  And I like giving concerts as well.  I see no competition.  For me, when the performance is over, it’s over, including the recording.  Then the next day you start again.  It’s like living!  You just pick up where you left off.

BD:    Do you conduct differently in the recording studio than you do on the stage?

LM:    I wouldn’t think so, no, because the audience is always there, starting with yourself.  Any interpreter worth his salt performs for himself, though not in any sense trying to be self-indulgent, because usually that thought is twisted out of shape.  People have this odd feeling that interpreters are mad egomaniacs.  In fact, if we’re any good we can’t be, because we’re always extremely critical of what we do ourselves, and we’re always trying to improve every moment.  When you’re performing, you’re listening and you’re correcting.  It’s a constant on-course correction.  You’re not quite happy with that phrasing, and you’re listening to that tempo, and there’s shadings that bounce.  You’re always listening.  And after a performance, if you’ve tried very hard, you’re pleased that you’ve done as well as you can that evening, and looking forward to doing better the next day!  And that’s what one’s life is about, so there’s no end to your attempt to improve yourself.  So what you’re doing when you’re recording is listening; you’re standing in for people that are not in the recording studio.  On the other hand, all the people who are going to listen to it are with you, and you feel that.  I’ve never dreamt of giving anything except a performance when I record, and I hope the result gives that impression.

BD:    Have any performances or recordings every achieved that spark of perfection?

LM:    What do you mean by perfection?

BD:    What you’re striving for all the time.

LM:    Well, you strive for a great performance within the context of the performance venue and the situation that evening — that audience, that hall, that temperature, that mood, that day.  You simply can’t extract the musician from his context.  If it’s Symphony Hall, it’s that orchestra, that audience, and that day, that time of year.  I’m very sensitive to the weather.  I can’t imagine conducting Mahler Nine on July Fourth.  It’s just grotesque!

BD:    So then you would purposely avoid anything like that?

LM:    Oh, yeah, yeah!  I program works according to the season and to the acoustics of the hall.  There are certain halls that I think Bruckner sounds marvelous in, and if it’s the right time of year, which I think is late autumn.  Late autumn is just right for Bruckner.  If we’re talking about Carnegie Hall, and we’re talking about Berlin Phil or the Munich Phil — which play Bruckner very well — or of course, the Vienna Phil, then that’s what I would choose.  In fact, when I’m on tour with these foreign orchestras, and we play a date in Avery Fisher and one in Carnegie, I tailor the programs to the hall.  Of course, if there’s a conflict with what is being played in that season in that hall, then I’ll choose another program of a similar nature.  Carnegie, a hall I love, is marvelous for romantic music, music of great depth — depth in tonal terms.

BD:    Lushness of sound?

LM:    Yes, because there’s great clarity there.  You get the clarity that you need in a very lush score.  Bruckner sounds so well there because it’s at once cohesive and yet transparent.  Whereas if you sink Bruckner in the Concertgebouw, you’ve gilded the lily.  You’ve lost it because it’s sonic boom to supersonics already.  It’s not the place for Bruckner.

maazelBD:    Beyond these specifics of ensemble and location, how do you decide which pieces you will add or keep in your repertoire? 

LM:    I worked very hard as a youngster and as a performing young musician, to embrace as much repertoire in an extremely consistent way as possible.

BD:    Was it too much for you?

LM:    No.  No, no, I went about it quite methodically.  For example, Wagner.  When I was the Music Director of the Berlin Opera, I simply started with Flying Dutchman, and ended with The Ring.  Then I took The Ring to Bayreuth.  I was actually the first foreigner ever to be given that privilege, to conduct The Ring in Bayreuth.  Several non-Germans have followed me, but it had traditionally never been done.  And having been the youngest conductor, and the first American to conduct there in 1960 — which is back twenty-six years ago when I did Lohengrin — I was more or less of a known factor.  The Wagner that I had wanted to conduct in Bayreuth was something that I’d worked on many years.  That completed a term in my life.  And so it was with Mozart; I was very keen to do a great deal of Mozart in Salzburg, which I did.  Then I was very keen to conduct Verdi in La Scala.  In fact, one of the dreams that I finally fulfilled was to conduct Aïda in La Scala. I was happy to do that for the opening new production, which, as I said, was filmed and recorded.  I’ve gone about that consistently, so that at a certain point — when I was getting towards fifty — I could say, for better or for worse, I had really digested, that is, lived with the major repertoire; Beethoven, Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, all the way back to Bach and all the way forward to Berio.  I’ve not certainly conducted all of Berio, but a good portion of it.  Now in my fifties, I have the luxury of saying, “All right, what do I really feel I can do well now?  What do I really enjoy doing?”  And being basically a very romantic person with a romantic nature, it was inevitable that I would fall into a repertoire which has color and overtones, symphonic romanticism, if you will.  It just suits my frame of mind.  Even Rachmaninoff; I’ve developed a great passion for Rachmaninoff symphonies.  I think his Third Symphony is a true masterpiece, but a very difficult piece to play.  He wrote it for the Philadelphia, and they could barely play it in 1936.  It’s a very, very tough piece.  I’ve recorded it — all the Rachmaninoff symphonies, for that matter — with the Berlin Phil.  The two programs that I’m doing here with the Chicago, I chose them, one, because I like to do this music, and two, because it’s such a magnificent orchestra with unlimited possibilities.  When you have an orchestra like that, you think about doing the Sinfonia Domestica of Strauss, which is a very much underrated piece; it’s been much maligned by people who are too word-oriented.  They say, “This is just too much a man writing about his weekend and the kiddies, and the visit of the aunts and the uncles.”  I think that’s really quite unfair because the man had an enormous sense of humor, a lot of wit, and what he was doing was writing a piece that he probably added a program to later, just for the fun of it.

BD:    [Laughs]

LM:    You could add all kinds of programs to it.  I think he was very amused that everybody took it so seriously, and that it created such an uproar!  In a sense, he was the George Bernard Shaw of music.  He was always doing things to épater le bourgeois [shock the middle classes].  He was just trying to stir up a storm, which he did very well!  So it’s a good piece, and I’m doing it next week. That’s the way I’m choosing repertoire — just concentrating on three or four programs for three or four months.  The life of the itinerant guest conductor being what it is, you end up by doing much more anyway, for one reason or another.  But since I have an ongoing repertoire with orchestras I like to work with — such as the National Orchestra of France and the London Symphony and the Berlin Phil — I just sort of pick up where I was before.  And if I tour with any of these orchestras, then I’ll pick up repertoire that we have done in the past, and add something if it seems appropriate.

BD:    Are there any concert pieces or operas that you would like to have done, but couldn’t — things that are close to your heart, but were not possible for either budget or artistic reasons?

LM:    Well, I’ve had the honor of being either artistic director or general manager of the opera houses I’ve worked with.  Then, as a flattered guest of Covent Garden or the Paris Opera, they just say, “What would you like to do?”  So in Paris, of course, I couldn’t resist saying Pelléas.  I was very happy with that new production, and very curious.  I arrived at the first rehearsal and I said, “Gentlemen, of course you know this opera by heart, and so I shan’t worry you too much about it.  I’ve come with my prepared parts and will see that it will move along quite quickly.  I’ll be interested to hear what you do with it, as well.”  There was a great, barren silence, and the finally someone stood up and said, “I’m terribly sorry to tell you this, Maestro, but we’re playing Pelléas for the first time in our lives.”  I said, “But that’s not possible!” and they said, “If you look it up, you will find that the opera was always performed at the Opéra Comique.”  And it never, ever had been performed at the Paris Opéra, and in fact, that was the purpose of that production — to introduce Pelléas into that theater.  So I found myself actually teaching this opera to very willing and marvelous musicians who’d just never seen it before!  [Both laugh]  That was one of those shocks.  I suppose I should have done my administrative homework, but I just was unaware of that fact.  Of course, they neglected to tell me...  Then at Covent Garden, I accepted to do Luisa Miller because I wanted to record it with Luciano, who happened to be there in that period.  I was on a Verdi kick at that time; I was convinced I was going to work my way through the whole Verdi repertoire, which in fact I decided not to because I discovered there are several operas I don’t like by Verdi.  

BD:    What don’t you like about them?

LM:    Since I’m a Verdi nut, I feel I’m in the position to say that certain operas just don’t suit my taste.  For example, Trovatore, which I love to listen to, I would never dream of conducting.  Wozzeck’s another opera that so depresses me if I were to really work in the material.  I just won’t conduct it.  I love to listen it; I’ve heard more performances of Wozzeck than operas that I have in my repertoire.  That’s a marvelous opera, a great work of theater, but the charge is too great.  It’s just an emotional charge I don’t think I could handle, because I really take the story very seriously.  I’ve always died every night with Tosca and Cavaradossi, and fainted with Violetta.  I really take all of this terribly literally!

BD:    And how long does it take you to throw that off?  Have you returned to being yourself when you get back to the dressing room, or when you get home after the performance?

LM:    It generally takes several hours.  There’s another reason I decided to give up opera — I just can’t take it emotionally.  I’ve conducted Traviata probably seventy-three or seventy-five times, and it was just as painful at the last performance as it was at the first!  I never got used to the story, and you start again every evening!  Of course, it was made all the more bitter because somehow you see the first scene through the lenses of the last.  It was just too much for me, so I’m happy with that decision.  I’ll probably end up doing what Arturo did — if I live that long — just take maybe those five or six operas I’m really crazy about — like Simon Boccanegra — and simply do them in concert form with the ultimate cast, and sometime, someplace, just call it quits.

BD:    You don’t feel that opera loses a dimension being done in concert?

LM:    It certainly does, unless you’ve seen it twenty or twenty-five times.  I conducted Walküre in concert form at the Vienna State Opera, believe it or not!  It was Wagner’s birthday, and I wanted to pay my respects to the old man.

BD:    The whole thing, or just the first act?

LM:    The whole thing!  We went out there at five o’clock in the afternoon, and I can’t begin to tell you how happy everybody was not to be burdened with a staging they’d rather not see.  Everybody knows the opera by heart, anyway.  It was an amazing evening!  That morning we had a reading of the text.  It took about two hours.  We had actors read through the whole text, and most of the people that came to the performance also came and listened to the text.  That, of course, whets your appetite for great staging, but musicians are notorious for not needing the visual; they don’t need visual aids.  When I started to do these Classic Videos some years back, it was difficult for me to imagine what a visually-oriented person would need to see in order to understand a piece of music.  I really tried very hard to do that, and I think I was perhaps fairly successful.  For example, I did The Planets of Holst, which was recorded in a blackout studio from one of those revolving lenses about two hundred feet above the stage.  Everybody was dressed in black and the studio was painted in black, and all you saw was the stand lights.  All the lights were out.  We played to a playback.  We recorded it and then played to the playback, and all you would see was these stand lights.  Since the lens turned very slowly, it was as if you were looking at the stars in a black sky, the firmament.  I had about ten thousand feet of NASA documentation, and I went into simulated eruptions of craters on Mars for “Mars,” which is the first piece in the Holst suite.

BD:    Should this be taken one step further and have the viewers sitting in a small chair that will move, or have simulated weightlessness while they’re watching?

LM:    If you want to turn it to the ridiculous, you can, and I can see where it sounds ridiculous, but that’s the whole point.  I was stretching out to see whether a program could be made using those visual elements to extend the music in another dimension, in a way that would be commensurate with the quality of the music, rather than superimposing images which have no connection with the music and don’t follow its logic, and you don’t have a feeling of what that music is about.  For a musician, however, it’s very tough to do, because he doesn’t need any of these aids.

BD:    Does the public need those aids?

LM:    Certain kinds of visually-oriented people are aided, undoubtedly, by having these graphics which are abstract.  If you’re playing Romeo and Juliette, you certainly don’t need a scene of two lovers in a garden, or Juliette on the terrace.  That kind of literal video is great in the pop world, but if you look carefully at the latest videos, some of them are quite amazing because they’re existentialist.  And they’re very helpful because they’re not talking, they’re not illustrating; they are reflecting a mood.  Some of them are very, very good, and I think the same can be done with classical music if it’s done by someone who understands that kind music — who’s sensitive to the music — preferably a classical musician who has that feeling for visual.  I did a show; it’s fifty-three minutes, and in fact I sold it to MGM Video.  They were very keen about it, and it’s now on the market.  I also did The Seasons of Vivaldi, which was filmed the spring in Paris, summer in New York, autumn in Venice, and in Moscow for the winter scenes.  It turned out to be a very pretty film.  It is possible to do.  [As if coming back to reality]  We’re now sort of sidetracked from the subject of this conversation...

BD:    [Laughs, but sincerely reassures the Maestro]  That’s quite all right!

LM:    ...but what I’m trying to say is that we’re into a world now where we cannot ignore the fact that we are dealing with people who have grown up in front of a television set.  We have people who are less and less word-oriented, people who are speed readers and can’t spell, people who are assaulted by such a vast amount of noise from their first month in a baby carriage walking down the street!  The noise factor is unbelievable.  That was not the case up until about a hundred years ago.  Now people are half deaf, they are half illiterate, and they are visually-oriented, and computer-oriented.  So where is music going to take its place?  How are you going to have people who are half deaf react to music through their ears?  And if they are half illiterate, how are they going to understand programs?  Every kind of music has a program.  Even a fugue is a program; it’s a conversation.

BD:    Are there answers to these questions that you raise?


LM:    Yeah.  By using the visual media as well, you see.  I’m quite convinced that I’m on the right track, and the reaction has been very, very good.  You’re not substituting the visual; what you’re doing is using another channel to bring them to the music.  As an example, my Don Giovanni was the first real opera film, as opposed to filmed opera.  It was the first opera conceived as a film, and filmed as a film.  And it was quite successful.  For the four or five years after that film came out, there was not a performance of Don Giovanni in any opera house in the world that was not instantly sold out!  It increased the interest in the opera to such a degree that Don Giovanni became the most played, the most performed, the most staged opera in those subsequent years.

BD:    Then were the people who had seen the film happy with what they saw in the theater, with the old-fashioned restrictions?

LM:    I don’t know.  And why must the theater be synonymous with an anachronistic approach to staging?  There’s no reason why one can’t use every technical means available to us — from holography to lasers — to bring the theater into a visual world which the audience today can react to.

BD:    Are the new scores of today being written with some of these ideas in mind, to kind of bridge the gap?

LM:    I can’t speak for composers.  I don’t think anyone would presume to identify a school or a general pattern.  It’s every man for himself, and has been that way for some time.  There’s a lot of pretension out there, but people are somewhat fed up with music that they’re told is marvelous, yet they can’t understand and can’t react to.  So having to come back and write music that’s somewhat accessible, the men are being divided from the boys.  In short, the guys that have been pulling the wool over our eyes by scratching chalk on glass for the last thirty years are in trouble because it’s terribly boring and it’s not new; it’s old by the time it’s performed.  It’s like Brasilia — all these architects told us that it was going to be the city of the future, and when they were halfway through building it, the stuff looked like something out of the Stone Age simply because architectural concepts had jumped forward, taken a quantum leap in those three or four years.  The same thing happened with the so-called “music of the future” that we were told out of Damstadt in the sixties would invade the world by today.  Now the stuff sounds so old and tired that we’re embarrassed even to put it on tape and then play it for a public allegedly interested in what’s happening today.  So, what is happening today is that these guys are trying to write music that other people can really react to because audiences are growing and growing.  You have these mammoth audiences now in parks and in stadiums, and what have you.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    We’re getting that opera by Berio here in Chicago next year.  You conducted its premiere, so let us talk a little bit about his style.

LM:    He’s someone who, through his experience with the Swingle Singers, learned a great deal about jazz and so-called “popular” music.  He had also done a great deal of research in the popular music idiom, and as a researcher on Monteverdi, he was very keen about baroque music and his Italian past.  In short, he is a very able person who can write a fugue in the classical sense at the drop of a pin, and does!  On the other hand, he has had every imaginable kind of experimental experience, and spent a long time with Pierre Boulez in Paris at IRCAM, that new center, playing around with the computers and the screens.  And haven’t we all?  I spent a couple of days there myself.  That satisfied me, but I’m not a professional composer.  Though I’ve joined ASCAP, I pretend not to be a composer.  Perhaps not always, but Luciano, I think, has found a voice which is very accessible, and to which people do react positively.  Curiously enough, he doesn’t like opera; he doesn’t like writing operas, and gets very anti-opera.  He doesn’t say that he writes operas; he says that he writes — what does he call them?  Music dramas.  Well, not even music dramas.

BD:    Music-theater pieces?

LM:    No.  I can’t remember the term he uses.  Anyway, it’s certainly not opera and it’s certainly not theater.  It’s something that’s performed in the theater, but it’s really a musical experience.

BD:    It isn’t a throwback to the sixties, a “happening” is it?

LM:    No, it’s not much of a happening, either.  When you expect him to pull out all the stops and give us a good opera, he doesn’t.  He just sort of passes over it and gets on to what he believes to be the true dimension — that is the music filling out the spaces behind an articulated thought.  A thought is articulated, and then he fills out that space in musical terms so that we know what a person is thinking; perhaps not what he’s thinking, but what he is and how that person sees himself in a greater human context.  A lot of words to really say it’s mood music, and very effective mood music.  I’m thinking about the latest opera, Un Re in Ascolto, (The King Who Listens), based on the Prospero figure in Shakespeare’s Tempest, which is his latest effort.  You’ll find that it’s not operatic in any accepted sense of the word.  It is a theatrical experience, I suppose.

BD:    Should it be done at the opera house, or should it be done on the Broadway stage?

LM:    Do you think that Beckett is theatrical?  It’s a borderline case, isn’t it?  Waiting for Godot — going back to his classic — is that a theatrical piece or isn’t it?  Barely, and yet I’ve read it, as we all have, and I find it works better on stage, much better, because of the pauses and the spaces and the sound of the words — the overtones, the connotations, implications of certain vowels — which is really what he’s doing.  And I think Berio can be likened to it.

maazelBD:    Is it good that so many people now are blurring lines between operas and musicals, and between serious music and popular music?

LM:    Probably what’s happening is that people are coming back to the realization that all these categories were artificially established some hundred and fifty years ago, and not much more.  I really don’t think that Bach thought that he was writing unpopular music!  [Both laugh]  To the extent that people performed music or sang music, they’d sing Bach as well as anything else.  He liked tunes, and like anybody else he’d pick up a few and fit them into the cantata.  It finally became rather cubby-holed simply because composers felt that the popular idiom couldn’t support their fantasies.  There wasn’t sufficient sophistication there.  The written word in music is the sound as they heard it, and it would have to take the place of improvisation as expressed by the musical rap session, where the guys get together and blow a mean trumpet, and it’s great.  I think we’ve come all the way around now; we’ve done the complete circle and have gotten to the point now where we can see it, thanks to people like Gershwin and Ravel.  Beethoven helped, too; certainly his Eroica sounds very much like a few peasant dances we’ve heard.  And thanks to Mussorgsky and Mahler, who were not loathe to using so-called popular elements, that if you play this music for a big crowd of people, they feel very comfortable because it sounds more or less like the kind of music they would probably write if they could.  So I think what we’re going to see is a lot of music being written in a style that can be accepted by those who think they only like popular music, and by those who believe that they can only respond to classical music.  You have some phenomenon like Andrew Lloyd Webber, who in fact has been writing operas for years.  Evita is an opera; Jesus Christ Superstar is an opera.  His new one, Phantom of the Opera, is an opera.  Cats is an opera.  All right, he’ll throw a bone at the public in “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” or whatever, you know, a popular tune.  But in fact, he’s writing opera.  Whether it’s good opera or bad opera is another story, but it is opera!  Bernstein’s West Side Story is popular and serious at the same time.  A lot of incompetent, pretentious people have tried to distance themselves from the so-called manifestation, on the assumption — very elitist, I must say, and very stupid — that if something is popular and accessible, it can’t be of any value.  They spent years wasting a lot of energy hating Puccini and Tchaikovsky and a lot of other geniuses; really hating them because they knew they’d never be able to write one of those great tunes if they wanted to!  I can see writing a great tune, and then standing back and saying, “Now I’ve done it.  I can do it, and I still think it’s disgusting.”  Well, fine!  Let them do it first.  It’s just general envy and incompetence and mediocrity and lack of inspiration.  They may have good brains, but then they ought to go into electronics and leave the world of music alone!

BD:    Are you optimistic about the future of music?

LM:    Oh, yeah!  Music’s here to stay.  Long after we’ve blown ourselves up for the second or third time, there will be people making music.  We need music because it’s a true language of people.  Words don’t really express anything; they’re impediments.  They mean different things to different people, but sound is something that floats from soul to soul and creates a bond there, an instant understanding.  All of us who travel about the world see that.  Communication is instant, and it goes right through cultures and states of mind.  It’s unbelievable!  It’s our language, our true language.  It’s the only language the human race really has.

BD:    You’ve traveled all over the world.  Is the public for an opera or concert different from one part of the world to another?

LM:    The difference between the public that goes to Carnegie Hall and the public that goes to Avery Fisher Hall is enormous; it’s just immense.

BD:    Is the public that goes to Fisher Hall and Carnegie Hall different from the public that goes to the Met and the City Opera?

LM:    Oh yeah, oh yeah.  They are different publics entirely, not to mention the ballet, because that’s another problem.  I’ve never understood why people who like ballet don’t like opera, and people who like opera don’t like chamber music, and people who like chamber music wouldn’t dream of listening to a Strauss symphonic poem, and so forth.  Very odd; I’ve never understood that.  But I think that you’ll find that audiences really vary because of their background, their idiosyncratic prejudices, their biases, their profiles.  They respond to particular disciplines in which they’ve grown.  There’s no point in talking about a French audience as opposed to an Iberian audience, if within each one of those countries you have so many different kinds of audiences!  In Italy you’ve got about seventeen theaters.  In each city, you’ve got a different audience.  The Parma audience is totally different than the Florence audience, which is totally different than the Trieste audience.

BD:    Let me see if there’s a link another way.  Is the audience that goes to opera in one city the same as the audience that goes to opera in another city?  And is the symphony crowd the same from one city to another city?

LM:    No, no.  No, no, no.  I’ve seen performances of opera right here in the United States that, if performed in Parma, they wouldn’t have gotten past the thirtieth bar.  The people would have actually jumped out of their seats and strangled the conductor and shot the singers and tried to riot.

BD:    Then why do we put up with it?

LM:    Because we have this odd idea that going to opera is something we should do.  It’s a good thing.  The real Italian opera lovers — the people that just grow up with it — don’t feel that way at all!  They feel it’s a matter of life and death.

BD:    Like the way we feel about baseball here?

LM:    Precisely!  “Kill the umpire!”  That’s the feeling they have, so if it’s not to their liking, you’re in trouble, you’re really in trouble!  There have been scenes.  In Parma they’ve had to call in the police, and singers have had to barricade themselves in the dressing rooms and snuck out of the theater at four in the morning through the roof!  Incredible things!  And still they’re waiting for them at the airport!

BD:    That far away and that much later???

LM:    That’s how bad it can get.

BD:    Are you ever afraid of the public?

LM:    One takes a deep breath before conducting at La Scala, because the Milanese — oh, boy!  I’ve been at performances where they have just torn the performers to shreds to such a point where the performance has come to a stop!  I remember Karajan conducting Traviata, and for some reason they didn’t like the Violetta.  Even with the authority of von Karajan — and I’m talking twenty-five years ago, when he was in his fifties — the audience was just vicious!  And I thought quite unjustifiably so.  As a polite American, I just couldn’t understand because I was much younger then and took everything terribly literally.  Now I’m a battered performer myself, and do understand this and respect it.  I rather look forward to it.

BD:    Should music be an athletic contest — Christians versus lions?

LM:    Yeah!  Well, there’s a certain sporting element to it, I suppose, which is rather fascinating.  I am perfectly happy not to be a part of it, because basically I’m an introverted person and not too happy about getting involved in these frays.  If it’s part of my profession I’ll go out and do it!  I remember when I was Artistic Director in Berlin, they just hated the production of Don Giovanni.  And since the producer wasn’t there to boo, they decided to start booing me — not really as the conductor of the evening so much as the Artistic Director; someone more or less responsible for what was happening onstage.

BD:    They were booing you as the collaborator of the production?

LM:    Yeah, so I got awfully tired of that!  It was at a time in Germany when everybody was protesting, because opera was supposed to be the plaything of the rich.  Everybody was protesting, and that seemed to be part of the protest.  Almost all performances were being booed in western Germany as well.  I was in Berlin, but ours was a particularly bad case.  I had just come back from Sydney, Australia.  I opened the opera house there with the Cleveland Orchestra.  It was 1972, and I came back for a second series of Don Giovanni.  I walked out, and again, “Boo!”  Mind you, if I were conducting Wagner or La Traviata or Elektra it would not have happened.  It was just that production of Don Giovanni, which was, by the by, a beautiful performance with beautiful staging and great singing.  Well, I set it up with my people onstage and up in the second balcony, and at a signal from me as I walked out to conduct the second half, there was this chorus of boos, the lights went on.  I said, “Ladies and gentleman, as you probably know, we’re about to start the second act of Don Giovanni.  Apparently, if I am to believe my ears, there are a good number of people here who are not happy with the performance, and since the second act will be performed just as badly as the first, I would like to spare you this discomfort.  Because there may be a few who didn’t think the first act was so bad, maybe they’d like to hear the second half in peace, undisturbed.  So I’m opening the doors, and those of you who do not wish to stay have three minutes to leave the hall.”  There was this great silence!  Nobody left!  Suddenly everybody started to cheer!  Somebody hollered, “Finally, someone has had the courage to shut these people up!”

BD:    [Laughs]

LM:    Well, I got telegrams from every theater director and opera director in West Germany, thanking me for having had the courage to do something about it!  That evening started a trend in Western Germany, and they broke the back of the booers!  It became known as the Second Act Syndrome.  They’d go out and say, “Okay, if you don’t like it, go home!”

BD:    That stance would take a lot of courage!

LM:    It’s irrefutable logic, and no one had thought of it.  So I sort of rose to that occasion, but really I’m not the kind of person who likes to jump in, roll up his sleeves, and start slugging.  It’s just not in my character.  I’ll do it if I have to, and will take that kind of initiative.  It did strike me as being fun, actually, to a certain extent, because it struck my sense of humor as being a crazy thing to do!  But basically I’m happy to be out of that world.  None of us feel responsible for this state of affairs.  We didn’t create the theater.  We’re artists who have been brought into the theater, and we find ourselves caught up in what seems to be a way of life in the opera world.  It’s not our way of life; it was there before we arrived, so we have to deal with it.  It has nothing to do with us!  This is a world created by the public.  We didn’t create it; they created it.  It’s a way of life, so we respond to it.  The bottom line is that performances have to be given.  People really want them to be given, and basically they want them to be very good.  So you learn how to deal with it, and if you have a certain amount of humor and see it all in perspective, it’s really quite harmless, despite the fact that there might be somebody waiting for you at the airport!  I think it’s marvelous that people would get so enthusiastic about opera; more power to them.  I certainly prefer that than sitting through a very bad performance, applauding, and reading the next day in the New York Times that it was a fine, reputable performance, rather than saying it was the most horrible thing ever that walked across a stage!  People seem to have more courage of their convictions, which are true convictions.  Things aren’t torn apart just for the sake of it.  The criticism is heartfelt.  It may be big and heavy, but very often it’s quite accurate because it’s born out of enthusiasm and love, not out of a desire to tear the hardworking artist to shreds just because he has the incredible temerity to actually walk out on stage and perform, which is considered to be an insult!  [Both laugh]  So, as far as I’m concerned, it’s something that I can think about quietly because it’s a thing of the past — at least temporarily.  James Bond said, “Never say never,” and I said I would never take another job the rest of my life, and here I am Music Director-designate of the Pittsburgh Symphony!

BD:    It seems like you’re drawn back to Pittsburgh periodically.

LM:    Yeah, though it’s not periodically; it’s just about my first contact with the city since I left it almost forty years ago.  Well, I’m not quite that old!  Okay, thirty-five years ago, but it turned out to be something that I really enjoy doing.  I did grow up in that city, and it has become a lovely city.  It’s very livable, as they say, and the orchestra has not forgotten the lessons it learned working with Fritz Reiner.  Steinberg totally didn’t hurt, nor did André Previn.  It’s a very, very good orchestra!  We came back about a year and a half ago from a tour in Europe, when the farthest thing from my mind was taking that, or any other job, and the consensus was there that there was no better American orchestra, which I thought was very, very flattering, and certainly something that no one would ever dream of writing in the States, today.  We’ll see how it looks in five years — not that I have any great ambitions for this orchestra or any other orchestra; it’s just that the potential’s there.  They have a very beautiful sound, they’re very keen musicians, very experienced, and the tradition is there!

BD:    Do you want the people who watch the Steelers play football on Sunday to come to Heinz Hall to hear you on Saturday?

LM:    I don’t know.  I’m doing these mass concerts, probably more than anyone.  People, I think, ought to be given the opportunity to go to a concert in a venue where they feel comfortable.  People who go see the Steelers are probably not going to come to Heinz Hall.  But if you were to give a concert in a large downtown auditorium where they’re accustomed to seeing basketball, probably they would go!  And they may watch it on television.  I don’t think that number is terribly important.  That’s what democracy is all about — opening the door, and anybody that wants to walk through may.  I can understand people being somewhat put off, especially people who don’t get comfortable in a suit and tie and wandering around gilded foyers.  I can understand that.  A lot of people just don’t feel comfortable in that kind of world, but they are musically inclined.  They like music.  Why shouldn’t they be given the opportunity?  Bring music to them!  I’m doing that now more and more often, and it’s fun to do.  I think the ultimate will be the concert I’m giving with the World Philharmonic, which is a non-existent orchestra, playing for the second time in its short-lived history.  It’s an orchestra formed from a nucleus of about a hundred and ten musicians from sixty different countries around the world.

BD:    All first chair players?

LM:    Not necessarily, no, but all good players that are requested and then sent by their countries — two or three Americans, two English, one French, two Germans, that sort of thing.  We have people from Nigeria and India and Nepal.

BD:    Where do you play?

maazelLM:    I’m conducting its second concert on December 16 in Rio de Janeiro.  We have about thirty-five television stations lined up, and we expect about a half a billion people to watch a program.  I’m giving a pre-concert concert in a park for — now take a deep breath — three hundred and fifty thousand people!  It’s a whole port which is roped off.  It’s not the first concert I’ve given there, but it’s the largest group that I’ve had to contend with.  My record so far is a hundred thousand, but three hundred and fifty thousand is quite a bit.  I’m working a lot now for United Nations.  They’re kind enough to make me Goodwill Ambassador, with a little passport and everything.  I organized the Classic Aid Concert, which you may have heard about.  We gave that on September 30.  We had about three hundred million people watching.  It’ll be shown in the States probably next October.  I was very keen to organize this concert for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees as a kind of answer to Bob Geldof’s “We are the World.”  My motto was, “We are the World, too.”  And in fact, Bob was extremely helpful to me in organizing some of the exterior aspects of it.  It was in Geneva, and I invited some people from the theater and movie world; Gina Lollabridgida, Catherine Deneuve, people like that.  Peter Ustinov was my co-host, co-moderator, and we had about thirty-five of the world’s greatest classical musicians.  It was probably the most amazing collection of violinists ever put on one stage — Itzhak Perlman, Gidon Kremer, Anne-Sophie Mutter, and about everybody else in between.  And we had Seiji Ozawa and Zubin Mehta, and Sir Georg Solti played the piano.

BD:    Did you play violin also?

LM:    No, no, I just conducted.  Each soloist was limited to about three and a half, four minutes, so that we were able to have as many people as possible.  There was Jessie Norman and Pavarotti and Ashkenazy!  They were all there, and the response was absolutely amazing!  We made a lot of money; the effort brought in about ten million dollars, so that’s good.  I’m organizing a lot of these concerts because outside of the United States, I’m terribly well-known to the television public because I’m on TV so often.  I plan to do Classic Aid Two in a much larger arena. 

BD:    Is there any danger that you would get over-exposed?

LM:    Over-exposed?  The point is that I’ve gone to a great deal of trouble to keep myself as anonymous as possible in my own country, and I’ve succeeded beyond my wildest expectations!  I don’t know whether people realize what it is to be that well-known because of television.  The last time I took a plane in Rome I was surrounded by one hundred teenage kids.  They’re soccer players on their way to some kind of meet.  They say, “Hey!  There’s that conductor!  Can you give us your autograph?”  Another time I was just sitting, reading the International Edition of the Herald Tribune, and suddenly I looked around and saw two hundred and fifty Japanese, each one asking for an autograph.  [Both laugh]  It’s absolutely crazy!  You can’t imagine!  So the idea of being that well-known in my own country would drive me really up the wall.  It would mean you can’t go to a movie with your kids, and have some popcorn and Coca-Cola without the guy who sold you the ticket and everybody knowing you.  I’ve managed to stay off the “Johnny Carson Show” and Good Morning America, and I haven’t done the American Express Card commercial and all of that!  Although, unfortunately, because of this Classic Aid project, the Rolex people got after me, and I’m afraid I’m going to be seen in the centerfold of Time Magazine or that sort of thing because they go all the way.  I really felt I had to accept that, even though it would be shown in the United States, because of this Classic Aid.  I think what we do for the refugees is so important that I was willing to give up that last bit of anonymity here in the States.

BD:    It’s almost a complete reversal from the usual.  Most people will sell out for cash; you will sell out for charity!

LM:    Yeah, for charity.  I’m not selling out; I’m just trying to stay away from that, you see.  I’ve been very successful; I suppose I’m as well-known to the music lover as much as anybody else is in the States.  But it’s the other people, the people out there who don’t go to concerts and who just think in terms of one or two names.  This is a very big country, and it’s amazing.  It’s so restful!  When I get off that plane in New York, I fade right into the shadows, and nobody cares who I am or who anybody else is, and that’s it.  But I remember watching Telly Savalas walk down the street with a girl on each arm and being mobbed by people.  That’s no life!  You have to go someplace and get away from that.  The fact that it’s my country, which I love, and where I can really be myself without having to fend off people, or hire private planes all the time, is really very helpful.  So I’m very grateful, and I think I’ve been very successful in keeping as unknown as possible.  [Note: As this interview is being prepared for the website, it is nearly a quarter-century after he made these remarks.  Since the meeting, Maazel has not only continued his music and charity work, he was Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, with its special notoriety and publicity.  Television features about the conductor and his work have been plentiful, so perhaps he is not as unknown as he was in 1986 . . . . .]

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    You’ve been involved with music for a long time.  Are the young musicians today better than the young musicians of twenty or thirty years ago?

LM:    Yeah, I think so.  The quality of playing is so high now, it’s just amazing!

BD:    Is this technical, or musical, or both?

LM:    Technical.  The musical problem there is that there are very, very few conductors who can really teach and inspire young musicians in musical matters.

BD:    Are we not getting the young conductors along with the players?

maazelLM:    You have a lot of people.  The technical level of conducting is much higher, but who is around who can phrase like Bruno Walter or Furtwangler or Fritz Reiner?  Who has a fantasy of de Sabata?  Even our best people would be second-rate fifty years ago.  Obviously I exclude myself, as each one of my colleagues would, and I say that in jest, because what else can one say?  Your next question will be, “Do you consider yourself to be a second-class musician?”  The point I’m making is that, staying away from the labels or the comparisons or the evaluations, the music making is by and large inferior because it’s so standardized and so set.  People are further and further away from the kind of breathing that music making is really all about.

BD:    Have recordings contributed to this sameness?

LM:    No, I just think it’s the world we live in, and the fact that most people around today really never heard the greats live.  I was very fortunate because I grew up in this country, and the first concert that I heard was conducted by Klemperer.  I was five, and the soloist was Fritz Kreisler!  While other people were dying in the Second World War, I was listening to Toscanini every week.  I was listening to Fritz Reiner every week.  And the soloists who came by in Pittsburgh were Rachmaninoff and Heifetz and the young Milstein; just the greatest people!  I heard Bruno Walter and met him.  I heard Furtwangler on tour with the Berlin Phil about a year and a half before he died.  I crawled into the pit in Bayreuth when Knappertsbusch was conducting.  I heard all these people.  It was twenty years of uninterrupted listening, whereas guys even five or six years younger than I am — I’m fifty-six — missed all of that.  The people they started to hear were Cantelli, the musical grandson of Toscanini.  The people they looked up to were already lesser lights.  I played sixteen programs under Victor de Sabata in the Pittsburgh Symphony.  Imagine what that meant to me; the greatest of the greatest, de Sabata!  I consider myself just to have been immensely fortunate in having had all of that in my ears.

BD:    Can’t you bring that, though, to your concerts?

LM:    I try!  Whether I do or not is another story, but I certainly try.  Not consciously; I’m not trying to re-evoke Bruno Walter, but I’m very keen about phrasing.  Music making, to my mind, must be alive and something that’s very vital at all times.  The intellectual approach, whatever that is, is something which is anathema to me.  I just can’t grasp that.

BD:    Thank you for spending this time with me.  I hope these concerts go well.

LM:    I’m looking forward to them very, very much.  I’m enjoying working with this band.  There are a few advantages of growing older.  One of them is that if you’re well-disposed toward the world, everything gets to be a hell of a lot more fun!  When you’re young, you’re very keen and you’re very single-minded.  I always tried to enjoy my life as I went along, but that takes practice.  You have to learn how to enjoy it.  Somehow, certain parts of the day were unenjoyable, and other parts were enjoyable.  Then you gradually discover that you’re wasting a lot of time.  What you’re doing is marking time.  You’re just ignoring the bad parts.  You can very well say that standing in line in the Post Office is bad, and sitting in the subway and getting kicked in the ass is bad.  Well, it is.  But if you somehow work against the dullness of certain things that happen to you in the course of the day, it can work!  In my life, it’s travel.  The travel is a disaster.  If you look at one more plane or one more cabin attendant, you’ve seen it all a thousand times.  And they get ruder and ruder, and the seats get smaller and smaller, and everything gets more and more unpleasant.  Everything gets noisier, dirtier, and tougher.  It never gets better; it always gets worse.  So you learn how to ignore all of that, and to read a good book.  Imagine whipping out some poems of Rimbaud while you’re waiting for your luggage!  [Both smile, amused at the idea]  You’re disappointed when you see the bag.  Ordinarily you’d be a basket case; your nerves would be just torn apart as the luggage comes by and your isn’t there.  This way, you don’t mind!  You just want to put your foot up and read through it all.  But it takes a while to learn this!

BD:    So you don’t eliminate the bad times, but rather you enjoy the bad times?

LM:    You enjoy; you learn how to enjoy them, how to make them work for you.  I do all kinds of studying, and on planes, when somebody taps you on the shoulder and wants to tell you his life story, “Oh, hi!  What’s that you’re reading there?  That looks like music.  Yeah, well my cousin was a very talented pianist, and...” off he goes!  Somehow you discover how to disengage yourself gently from such conversation, and you really do study!  I’ve learned a lot of scores on planes, especially those long trips — which can be absolutely endless!  And they’re lying to you from the moment you get on the plane to the moment you get off.  There hasn’t been a true word said on an airplane in the last fifty years!  Even when they tell the truth, it’s not true!  [Both laugh]  It’s unbelievable, these people!  You know too much about them, and you don’t want to hear it again!  So you just have to learn how to ride with it.

BD:    I hope this has been an enjoyable hour for you.  It has been a wonderful hour for me!

LM:    Thanks a lot.  It’s been very good for me, too.

For over five decades, Lorin Maazel has been one of the world’s most esteemed and sought-after conductors. In 2010-11, he is completing his fifth and final season as the inaugural Music Director of the spectacular, Santiago Calatrava-designed opera house in Valencia, Spain, the Palau de les Arts "Reina Sofia." Music Director of the New York Philharmonic from 2002-2009, he assumes the same post with the Munich Philharmonic at the start of the 2012-13 season. He is also the founder and Artistic Director of new festival based his farm property in Virginia, the Castleton Festival, launched to exceptional acclaim in 2009 and expanding its activities nationally and internationally in 2011 and beyond.

Maestro Maazel’s 2010-11 season is highlighted by productions of Aida and his own opera 1984 at the Palau de les Arts; two concerts with the newly formed resident orchestra of China’s National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing, a New Year’s Eve marathon concert of all nine Beethoven Symphonies in Tokyo, and return appearances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He embarks on a Mahler cycle in London with the Philharmonia (for the Mahler centennial year of 2011) in additional to touring extensively with the orchestra in Europe. In September 2010, he marked the centennial of the premiere of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony at the Ruhr Festival conducting the work with forces numbering in excess of one thousand performers. In March 2011, he takes two Castleton Festival Opera productions to Berkeley, California (Cal Performances) for the West Coast debut of the company, with Britten’s Rape of Lucretia and Albert Herring.

Maestro Maazel twice interrupted a brief sabbatical at the start of the 2009-10 season to step in for indisposed colleagues, first leading the Verdi Requiem to open the Verdi Festival in Parma, Italy, and then undertaking the second half of a Beethoven cycle in two weeks with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, including a Carnegie Hall concert. His season in Valencia includes three productions, Madama Butterfly, a double-bill of La vida breve and Cavalleria Rusticana, and La Traviata. He led two extensive tours in continuation of long-standing relationships with the Philharmonia Orchestra (giving concerts both in the UK and on a nine-city tour in Germany/Central Europe) and with the Vienna Philharmonic (encompassing performances in Berlin, London, Paris, Abu Dhabi, Cologne, Essen, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Lyon and Brussels, among other cities). In Vienna, he celebrated his 80th birthday with the Philharmonic, conducting the premiere of a Symphonic Suite drawn from his opera 1984, commissioned by the orchestra. He also made return appearances in the United States with both the National Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. In China, he inaugurated the new opera house in Guangzhou with a production of Turandot, and revived his Valencia Traviata to culminate the National Center for the Performing Arts, Beijing, Opera Festival.

Maestro Maazel is a highly regarded composer, with a wide-ranging catalogue of works written primarily over the last dozen years. His first opera, 1984, based on George Orwell’s literary masterpiece, had its world premiere at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in May 2005, and was broadcast on radio and television by the BBC and on many other national radio networks worldwide. A high-definition video production of 1984, recorded at Covent Garden, was given a world premiere screening as one of the centerpiece events at the 2006 MIDEM Festival in Cannes, France (an occasion which prompted MIDEM to give a special award to Maestro Maazel for his lifetime achievements as conductor, composer and recording artist—only the 2nd such prize ever bestowed). A major revival of 1984 took place in May 2008 at the Teatro alla Scala (Milan) coinciding with the DVD release of the opera by Decca. Maestro Maazel’s compositional catalogue also includes a trilogy of concertos, Opp. 10, 11 and 12, “Music for Cello and Orchestra” (written for Mstislav Rostropovich) “Music for Flute and Orchestra” (written for James Galway) and “Music for Violin and Orchestra”; a symphonic movement (“Farewells,” Op. 14), premiered in 2000 by the Vienna Philharmonic, which commissioned the work; and several contributions to repertoire of narrated texts with orchestra, including two children’s stories, “The Giving Tree” and “The Empty Pot.” He enjoys orchestrating violin and piano works of 19th and 20th century masters, and created 17 Italian-song arrangements for violin, tenor and orchestra for a best-selling recording with Andrea Bocelli and the London Symphony Orchestra (for which Maestro Maazel was conductor and violin soloist). His symphonic synthesis of Wagner’s Ring cycle (“The Ring without Words”) has been performed by many of the world’s leading orchestras.

A second-generation American born in Paris, Lorin Maazel began violin lessons at age five, and conducting lessons at age seven. He studied with Vladimir Bakaleinikoff, and appeared publicly for the first time at age eight, conducting a university orchestra. Between ages nine and fifteen, he made his New York debut at the 1939 World’s Fair, conducting the Interlochen Orchestra; led the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, sharing a program with Leopold Stokowski; and conducted most of the major American orchestras, including the NBC Symphony at the invitation of Toscanini. His New York Philharmonic debut came in 1942. He was only twelve years old. At 17, he entered the University of Pittsburgh to study languages, mathematics and philosophy. While a student, he was a violinist with the Pittsburgh Symphony, where he also served as apprentice conductor during the 1949–50 season, and organized the Fine Arts Quartet of Pittsburgh. In 1951 he went to Italy on a Fulbright Fellowship to further his studies, and two years later made his European conducting debut, stepping in for an ailing conductor at the Massimo Bellini Theatre in Catania, Italy. He quickly established himself as a major artist, appearing at Bayreuth in 1960 (the first American to do so), with the Boston Symphony in 1961, and at the Salzburg Festival in 1963.

In the years since, Maestro Maazel has conducted more than one hundred and fifty orchestras in no fewer than five thousand opera and concert performances. He has made over three hundred recordings, including symphonic cycles/complete orchestral works of Beethoven, Brahms, Debussy, Mahler, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and Richard Strauss, winning 10 Grands Prix du Disques. His discography includes a range of violin recordings, often in a double role as soloist and conductor, from virtuoso showpieces to Mozart Concertos to Stravinsky’s “Soldier’s Tale.” He is the recipient of two ASCAP awards for contributions to American music and has made appearances in every major music center and at every prominent festival internationally. He has conducted numerous world premieres by both established and up-and-coming composers and performed hundreds of concerts as a violin soloist, including appearances with such orchestras as the Vienna Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Philharmonia and the New York Philharmonic, among many others.

Maestro Maazel has been music director of the Symphony Orchestra of the Bavarian Radio (1993 until summer 2002), music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony (1988–96); general manager and chief conductor of the Vienna State Opera (1982–84) — the first American to hold that position; music director of The Cleveland Orchestra (1972–82); and artistic director and chief conductor of the Deutsche Oper Berlin (1965–71). He was named Honorary Member of the Israel Philharmonic in 1985 when he conducted its 40th Anniversary concert. He is also an Honorary Member of the Vienna Philharmonic, and is the recipient of the Hans von Bülow Silver Medal from the Berlin Philharmonic. His close association with the Vienna Philharmonic includes 11 internationally televised New Year’s Concerts from Vienna (often with Maestro Maazel making an added contribution to the festivities as violinist).

Alongside his prodigious performing activity, Maestro Maazel has found time to work with and nurture young artists, based on his strong belief in the value of sharing his experience with the next generation(s) of musicians. He founded a major competition for young conductors in 2000, culminating in a final round Carnegie Hall two years later, and has since been an active mentor to many of the finalists (and instrumental in launching their international careers). He has an equally strong commitment to environmental and humanitarian causes. He has raised millions of dollars on over fifty occasions for the benefit of such entities as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), World Wide Fund for Nature, the Red Cross and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Maestro Maazel speaks French, German and Italian fluently (and has a working knowledge of Portuguese, Russian and Spanish). Among his honors, decorations, and awards are the Commander’s Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Legion of Honor of France (Chevalier), the Knight Grand Cross from the Republic of Italy, and the Commander of the Lion of Finland. He also has been awarded the title of Goodwill Ambassador by the United Nations.

An avid reader, classic film buff, and theatergoer, he also enjoys playing tennis, swimming and collecting American paintings and Oriental art.

-- From Maestro Maazel, the official website  

© 1986 Bruce Duffie

This interview was recorded at Orchestra Hall in Chicago on October 22, 1986.  Portions were used (along with recordings) on WNIB later that year and again in 1990, 1993, 1995 and 2000.  The transcription was made and posted on this website in 2010. 

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award-winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.