Lorin Maazel conducted the New York Philharmonic in a Strauss program at Lincoln Center in New York on Oct. 20, 2011.

Brian Harkin • New York Times,

Obituary: Lorin Maazel, an enigmatic conductor who produced fire and ice

  • Article by: ALLAN KOZINN
  • New York Times
  • July 13, 2014 - 11:37 PM

Lorin Maazel, a former child prodigy who went on to hold the music directorships of the New York Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Vienna State Opera and several other ensembles and companies around the world, and who was known for his incisive and sometimes extreme interpretations, died Sunday of pneumonia at his home in Castleton, Va. He was 84. In recent weeks, he had been rehearsing for the Castleton Festival, which takes place on his farm.

Maazel (pronounced mah-ZELL) was a study in contradictions, and he evoked strong feelings, favorable and otherwise, from musicians, administrators, critics and audiences.

He projected an image of an analytical intellectual — he had studied mathematics and philosophy in college, was fluent in six languages and kept up with many subjects outside music — and his performances could seem coolly fastidious and emotionally distant. Yet such performances were regularly offset by others that were fiery and intensely ­personalized.

Perhaps because he grew up in the limelight, conducting orchestras from age 9, Maazel was self-assured, headstrong, and sometimes arrogant: When he took a new directorship, he often announced what he planned to change and why his approach was superior to what had come before. He knew what he wanted and how to get it, and if he encountered an immovable obstacle, he would walk away.

That was how he handled his brief term as general manager and artistic director at the Vienna State Opera, where he was the first American to wield such power. His tenures with the Cleveland Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic had their rough moments, too. The Cleveland musicians voted against hiring him to succeed the legendary George Szell. Maazel said in 2002 that “the relationship remained more or less rocky to the end.”

He was revered for the precision of his baton technique, and for his prodigious memory — he rarely used a score in performances — but when he was at his most interpretively idiosyncratic, he used his powers to distend phrases and reconfigure familiar balances in the service of an unusual inner vision. “I don’t think I ever make the same motion twice in the same bar of music,” he said in 2002. “The aim is to find a motion that responds to the need of a particular player at a particular moment. The player must be put at ease, so that he knows where he is and what is expected, and is free to concentrate on beauty of tone. There is no magic involved.”

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