The Kennedy Center

André Previn


André Previn
(composer/conductor/pianist, born April 6, 1929, Berlin, Germany)
André Previn is a complete musician, perhaps the most successful crossover genius since George Gershwin and the most generous in the reach of his voracious musical tastes. "He is a born opera composer," said Lotfi Mansouri, director of the San Francisco Opera, where Previn's own A Streetcar Named Desire will have its world premiere September 19, 1998. Yet opera is only Previn's latest and most ambitious musical adventure.

Before coming to opera, Previn has excelled in virtually every field of composition from symphony and concerto to chamber music and song cycles. Previn's masterful touch as a conductor and music director of the world's leading orchestras has been marked by a self-effacing respect for the score that is at least as intense as his natural way with orchestral phrasing.

André Previn has been the principal conductor or music director of the Houston Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Royal Philharmonic, and the London Symphony Orchestra, where he was named Conductor Laureate in 1993. He appears regularly as conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic, both in Vienna and annually at the Salzburg Festival, as well as with the Boston Symphony and the Munich Philharmonic. In 1996, he was knighted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

His popularity among musicians from New York to Paris and Vienna, from London to Los Angeles is legend. "Pierre Monteux used to say to me that it is very simple, in a position of authority, to make an orchestra play," said Previn recalling his old mentor's advice, "but much harder to make them want to play. I have never forgotten that." Indeed he has not: Previn makes musicians want to play, and he makes us all sit up and listen.

With more than 400 recordings to date, Previn already has a musical legacy as composer, conductor, and pianist that ranks among the most impressive of the century. As a conductor, his repertory ranges from Bach to Zappa and from Mozart to Vaughan Williams and Penderecki. As a jazz pianist, he sat in with Charlie Parker, accompanied Ella Fitzgerald and Doris Day, and jammed with the best. As a film composer and arranger, a gig that earned him four Oscars in four years between 1959 and 1963, he wrote ballets for Gene Kelly and brought to musical fife unforgettable characters ranging from Lassie to Gigi. He gave the musical theater Coco and The Good Companions, collaborated with Tom Stoppard in Every Good Boy Deserves Favor and with Toni Morrison in Honey and Rue, and tailored vocal compositions for a veritable rainbow of different singers ranging from Katharine Hepburn to Dame Janet Baker.

Andreas Ludwig Previn was born in Berlin in 1929 and was a precociously promising student at the prestigious Berlin Hochschule fur Musik, and later at the Paris Conservatoire after his family made its initial escape from the Nazis. In 1939, the family moved to Los Angeles, where his great-uncle Charles Previn was music director of Universal Studios. The young musician continued his studies with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, became an American citizen in 1943, and began making a living as a jazz pianist and later as an orchestrator for MGM before finishing high school. He was soon appointed MGM's music director, with his first original film score devoted to The Sun Comes Up--Jeannette MacDonald's last picture.

Stationed in San Francisco during his army service in 1951, Previn began studying conducting with Pierre Monteux, the San Francisco Symphony's venerable music director. Young Previn made his conducting debut in 1963 on the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra podium, and the panorama of his ever-widening musical horizons since that time has been one of the music world's most dazzling spectacles. The populist Previn hardly renounced his Hollywood connection: He won Oscars for his work on the scores for "Gigi" (1958), "Porgy and Bess" (1959), "Irma La Douce" (1963) and "My Fair Lady" (1964), with major original scores composed for other motion pictures including "Bad Day at Black Rock" (1955), "Designing Woman" (1957), and -- perhaps his finest orchestral film score -- "Elmer Gantry' (1960).

With A Streetcar Named Desire, the first operatic adaptation of Tennessee Williams's masterpiece, Previn enters the world of American opera. It takes no seer to predict that he will be at home there too, because the spirit of music in all its variety and glory always has been at home in the hands of this Berliner turned Californian.
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