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Understanding the Music: Wagner/Maazel - The Ring without Words
For over five decades, Lorin Maazel has been one of the world's most esteemed and sought-after conductors. He currently holds two prominent music directorships, which together with a wide range of guest conducting engagements, encompass an extraordinary breadth of activity. He is in his seventh and final season as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, which is not only the oldest symphony orchestra in the United States but also the world's most prolific, having given over 14,000 concerts since its founding. At the other end of the historical spectrum, Maestro Maazel is also Music Director of a newly created musical organization: the spectacular, Santiago Calatrava-designed opera house in Valencia, Spain, the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia (which opened with the start of the 2006-07 season).
Maestro Maazel's 2007-08 season was highlighted by his third Asian tour with the New York Philharmonic, including a historic concert in Pyongyang, North Korea; a Tchaikovsky Festival in New York, a nationally televised New Year's Eve concert with Joshua Bell as soloist, among a full subscription schedule. At the Palau de les Arts, he led productions of Carmen (directed by Carlos Saura to open the season in Valencia), Don Carlo and Madama Butterfly, as well as a number of concert programs, including the Verdi Requiem. As guest conductor, he returned to the Metropolitan Opera for the first time in 45 years to lead performances of Wagner's Die Walküre, and gave concerts with the Vienna Philharmonic, the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, DC, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the orchestra of the Norwegian National Opera to help inaugurate the new opera house in Oslo. In June 2008, he embarked on a series of concerts with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London devoted to Brahms, the first of several consecutive annual collaborations with the Philharmonia.
In the current season, he has led a new production of Parsifal at the Palau de les Arts, directed by Werner Herzog, as well as a revival of Luisa Miller that was new to the house. In October, he also inaugurated the new Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra in a nationally televised concert in Doha. With the New York Philharmonic, which is undertaking a season-long salute to Maestro Maazel, his programs are highlighted by concert performances of Elektra, a valedictory United States tour, Britten's War Requiem and Mahler's Symphony of a Thousand. He also tours with the Vienna Philharmonic, the Philharmonia and the Symphonica Toscanini.
Maestro Maazel is also 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 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). Through his Châteauville Foundation, in Castleton, Virginia, he has created a new festival/residency program for young artists, centered around fully staged productions of chamber operas, bringing together aspiring singers, instrumentalists, conductors, designers, directors, and stage management personnel to work in an intensive, collaborative environment, with guidance from senior artists/mentors, Maestro Maazel included. This program has met with such immediate success that it will be expanded into a full-fledged Castleton Festival, beginning in July 2009.
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).
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, 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.