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A maestro for the masses

Andy Stonehouse
Maazel, Lorin BH 7-19/Monday's Photos
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Living a life that only a few of us could imagine, New York Philharmonic Orchestra music director Lorin Maazel has spent more than a half century traveling the globe to create some of the world’s finest music.

And when his already busy schedule came to include a nine-day stay in the Vail Valley – part of the New York Philharmonic’s longest away-from-home musical residence in history – Maazel packed his bags and made the eight-hour flight from his summer home in Monte Carlo (the Monte Carlo) to be part of the local action.

A little fatigued from his rigorous travel schedule, Maazel, 73, says he’s still very much looking forward to his orchestra’s Bravo! experience.



“It’s always fun to go places that you’ve never played before,” says Maazel. “From what I’ve seen of (the Ford Amphitheater), I like the configuration and the facility. It’s also been nice that many of the orchestra members have been able to bring their families to Vail.”

Maazel’s musical career reads like the stuff of legend. A life-long musician, the Paris-born performer excelled at violin and piano as a child and, depending on which version of the story you hear, made his New York Philharmonic debut at either age 8 or 12, helping to lead an orchestra performance at New York’s Lewisohn Stadium.



In the years to follow, Maazel led more than 150 orchestras around the world and conducted more than 5,000 individual performances, not to mention nearly 100 appearances with the New York Philharmonic. And while he’s had a long and illustrious career as a guest with the orchestra, 2002 marked his first year as an official employee – a position he says came as something of a surprise when it was offered to him.

“I already thought they had a musical director, and when I was asked to take on the job, I was quite astonished and taken aback. I actually took a few months to think about it, although now I’m glad I said yes.”

Maazel’s role as music director for one of the world’s premier musical institutions might seem like a well-earned pinnacle for a life spent dedicated to music, but Maazel prefers to see it as a lucky accident – as he’s viewed many of the wonderful opportunities he’s had over the years.



“I don’t feel like I’ve grabbed the reigns or reached the top … I haven’t been thinking about this position in that way. I never really think about things in terms of a career – I’m always thinking in terms of music. Will I be working with a good orchestra with good venues … that’s what first turned me on to music,” Maazel said.

With the New York Philharmonic’s season recently coming to a close, Maazel is planning on spending more time working on an equally auspicious project – his first opera, set to debut on May 3, 2005. Stuck for a subject, Maazel did some deep soul-searching and eventually settled on creating a piece based on George Orwell’s groundbreaking 1984.

“It’s truly the story of my life … I end up doing something I didn’t plan to do,” Maazel laughs. “I’d been searching for a title that hadn’t been used yet, so I thought about what novel or play had the greatest impact on the thinking of the 20th Century … and out came 1984.”

Composing an opera – even for a seasoned musical genius –is apparently as challenging as one might imagine. But Maazel says he’s up for the test.

“It’s very difficult … I get up every morning and face a blank manuscript. But if the fates are good, I’m able to fill that page. I’ve already spent several months on the project, and since computers don’t work for me, I need a big sheet of manuscript paper in front of me. I have 55 staves to fill, from bass to piccolo, and I have to think about filling all of that space.”

Maazel says he plans to spend plenty of time working on the piece at his ranch in Virginia and at his Mediterranean home before settling into a very busy 2003-2004 season with the New York Philharmonic.

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A mix of repertoire favorites on tap for orchestra’s week in Vail

Not many American musical institutions boast a history that stretches back 160 years – nor do they have the staff and resources to stage a schedule featuring more than 180 performances per year.

The New York Philharmonic orchestra, which recently celebrated its 13,500’s concert, comes to Vail with a slightly different mission than its traditional on-the-road engagements.

Music director Lorin Maazel says this week’s shows in Vail represent the orchestra’s longest individual performance series, outside of New York City, in the organization’s history.

“We get to offer Vail an astounding amount of music,” Maazel says. “Normally, we repeat our programming when we do out-of-town shows, but this week is a bit different. Luckily, we’ve built quite a large repertoire of music, and that’s important for a longer engagement such as this week.”

Maazel describes this week’s remaining offerings – including performances Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at the Ford Amphitheater – as a good introduction to some of the orchestra’s favorites.

“We’ve built a list of light, romantic music with a gorgeous wall-to-wall sound, with the possible exception of Mendelssohn’s “Reformation’ (a piece being performed during Friday’s all-Mendelssohn evening). It’s great big band music.”

Wednesday’s concert, “Festive Classics – Mythical Journey,” features excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake Suite,” Grieg’s “Peer Gynt Suite” and Bizet’s “Carmen,” while Saturday’s New York Philharmonic finale focuses on Verdi and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5

Tickets to this week’s performances (and future Bravo! shows, which continue through Aug. 4, are available by calling 827-5700.


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