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Home > Orchestra : Orchestra


Das Philharmonische Tagebuch

Tue, 15. July 2014

Dr. Clemens Hellsberg



In Memory of Lorin Maazel

With the passing of Lorin Maazel on July 13,2014, in Castleton, Virgina, the world of music has lost one of its most fascinating and eclectic personalities and the Vienna Philharmonic must bid farewell to one of the most faithful friends it has ever had. The Maestro's affinity for our orchestra constitutes one of the most unique as well as touching chapters in our 172-year history.

In the 52 years since his debut in May 1962, Lorin Maazel has been a fixed star of the Vienna Philharmonic's musical firmament. Including the 79 evenings in the Vienna State Opera, he conducted our orchestra in a total of 513 performances; among these are 83 subscription concerts (40 each in a Saturday-Sunday cycle as well as three Philharmonic Soirées), 165 concerts in foreign countries, over a hundred appearances at the Salzburg Festival and eleven New Year's Concerts.

This collaboration over the duration of more than half a century is associated with enduring memories - such as major tours (Japan/Korea 1980, Europe 1985, South America 1985 and 1999, Europe 2010, Europe and USA 2012, Europe 2013), exemplary opera performances at the Salzburg Festival, the eleven New Year's Concerts between 1980 and 2005, and the premiere of two compositions ("Farewells - Symphonic Movement" and the orchestral suite "1984"), which the Vienna Philharmonic commissioned from Lorin Maazel on the occasion of his 70th and 80th birthdays respectively. The 2013 Summer Night Concert in Schönbrunn was equally unforgettable, which took place in rain, wind and an initial temperature of 11 degrees centigrade, after which the Maestro admitted that he couldn't feel his fingers anymore - "it was that cold". He was astonished as we played for ninety minutes with clammy fingers and emphasized on his blog: "I loved every minute of this crazy, marvelous evening."

Lorin Maazel bei einer Probe mit den Wiener Philharmonikern im Musikverein Lorin Maazel bei einer Probe mit den Wiener Philharmonikern im Musikverein | + When reviewing the collaboration of a conductor (or soloist and composer) and an orchestra it is the artistic accomplishments which first come to mind, and of course the phenomenal conducting technique of the Maestro fascinates us equally as much as his musical creativity, his intellectual brilliance, the extraordinary dedication to his work and his unwavering interest in philosophical, political and socio-political questions. However, in the account of the relationship of Lorin Maazel and the Vienna Philharmonic a further category must be moved to the forefront - and that is the faithfulness mentioned at the beginning. "Coincidence is blasphemy. Nothing under the sun is coincidence". This famous quote from Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's play "Emilia Galotti" may often be applied when approaching the history of the Vienna Philharmonic not only from a factual but also emotional standpoint. And also in regard to Lorin Maazel do the words of the great German poet and humanist ring true. It is no coincidence that the collaboration commenced when Lorin Maazel twice stepped in at Philharmonic subscription concerts, on May 7 & 8, 1962, and on May 4 & 5, 1963 respectively, for the opera director at that time, Herbert von Karajan. Lorin Maazel would continue to rush to our aid even long after having established his international reputation.

In December 1982, when Carlos Kleiber, twenty minutes before the end of the fourth and final rehearsal for two Philharmonic subscription concerts, stormed away amid doubts about his own standards - certainly a tragic moment - Chairman Alfred Altenberger called Lorin Maazel, who agreed at once to conduct the program with only one rehearsal an Saturday morning in order to save the weekend concerts, even though he had at the time an opera premier in Paris.

Following cancellations by Claudio Abbado,  Lorin Maazel conducted a sensational concertante performance of Richard Strauss' "Electra" in New York's Carnegie Hall in 1991, and a production of Richard Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" at the Salzburg Festival in 2000.

Lorin Maazel demonstrated his close bond with our orchestra on a quite different level and in a very individual manner in 1996. Following some quite public differences of opinion, the future participation of the Vienna Philharmonic at the Salzburg Festival had been seriously called into question. In this unsettled situation, Maazel stated that his future participation at the Festival was contingent upon our orchestra's continued presence there.

Lorin Maazel bei einer Aufnamesitzung mit den Wiener Philharmonikern im Musikverein Lorin Maazel bei einer Aufnamesitzung mit den Wiener Philharmonikern im Musikverein | + "Coincidence is blasphemy": Our last meeting with Lorin Maazel was when he once again stepped in as a replacement and demonstrated his close affiliation with our orchestra. In February 2014, Daniele Gatti suddenly fell ill and was forced to cancel on short notice a series of concerts in Vienna and the USA which extended intermittently over a period of several weeks. Some of these concerts were taken over by Franz Welser-Möst and Christian Eschenbach. Following a detailed telephone conversation on February 11th, Lorin Maazel - who had a matinee to conduct in Munich on March 2nd, wrote the following e-mail confirmation only 40 minutes later under the heading "Done": "Dear Clemens, On March 2nd I will leave Munich on LH458 to San Francisco. I arrive at 22:20 on that same day. Need a charter to Costa Mesa. Under these circumstances I can rehearse the entire program on March 3rd (around 11 AM). This means that I can accept the concerts for the 3rd, 5th and 7th.  Sincerely, L." And in fact the Maestro, who celebrated his 84th birthday on March 6, 2014, flew to California immediately after the concert in Munich and conducted Franz Schubert's "Unfinished" and Gustav Mahler's Fourth Symphony in Costa Mesa, Santa Barbara and Berkeley on March 3rd, 5th and 7th.

When, only a short time after this amazing accomplishment, Lorin Maazel developed health problems, he remained highly concerned about his plans with our orchestra. His last e-mail on June 3, 2014, stated: "My dear Clemens, On June 5th there will be a press release stating that I am taking a year's leave in order to do some composing […]. When my strength returns, I will conduct here and there, but I am forced to resign my position as Principal Conductor of the Munich Philharmonic. However, I hope very much that our mutual plans for the future concerts for me to conduct the Vienna Philharmonic can be realized, assuming that by the beginning of 2015, I can count on my usual energy once again. With warmest greetings! Lorin."

Neujahrskonzert 1986 mit Lorin Maazel ©  Terry Linke Neujahrskonzert 1986 mit Lorin Maazel | + This inviolable fidelity to the very last is an expression of the sense of belonging together which was a result of our mutual musical experiences, and our personal associations away from the podium. As an independent and democratic self-governing association, the Vienna Philharmonic is in the fortunate position not only to perform concerts with "its" conductors, but also in partnership to discuss projects to be developed and dreams to be realized. It is on this basis that several decades-long associations have developed. One of the closest of these, our partnership with Lorin Maazel, has come to an end forever.

However, this perspective would be too specious, too narrowly defined by our own limitations of space and time. The love which the Maestro shared with us for over half a century will not come to an end, but will live on in the collective memory of the Vienna Philharmonic as long as the orchestra exists. In the past we showed our appreciation to him by the presentation of the Honorary Ring, the Nicolai Medal in Gold and an Honorary Membership, along with
four "Philharmonic celebrations": for his 70th and 80th birthdays in 2000 and 2010; the presentation of Honorary Membership in 2002; and the 50-year anniversary of our collaboration in 2012. Now our appreciation is found on another plane: in our memory of how often he helped us in difficult situations; how often he publically aligned himself with us; in memory that on March 6, 2010, he celebrated his 80th birthday not only with his own family, but with his "Philharmonic" family as well. And he did so in Vienna, the city which he loved so very much even though it did not always return his affection in like manner. We know that in doing this he was expressing feelings which "penetrate into the depths of the heart", as in the opera "Fidelio". Yet we also know that we share an eternal bond with him.

Jugendkonzert mit Lorin Maazel ©  Terry Linke Jugendkonzert mit Lorin Maazel | + Upon the occasion of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of our collaboration we performed three concerts as part of the 24th Vienna Philharmonic Week in New York with the Maestro on March 2, 3, & 4, 2012. For the Carnegie Hall concert program he publically expressed his love for the Vienna Philharmonic in a very unique manner. His words should now also serve to close this eulogy, the expression of our deepest appreciation for everything he has given us in the last 52 years.

“Of the many honors bestowed upon me by good fortune – Germany’s Bundesverdienstkreuz, the Legion d’Honneur, the Kentucky Colonel, and so on – none are as dear to my heart as being elected by the Vienna Philharmonic as a lifetime Honorary Member.

Since the day they asked me 50 years ago to step in to replace an ailing Herbert von Karajan, I have been privileged to make music with an august ensemble second to none. I am in debt to them for what they have taught me, for the way they gently guided me through the repertoire for which they are most known, for what I learned from an ongoing musical experience with an ensemble that is music itself. Every phrase breathes, every note has meaning, every sound a color.

And what opportunities they have offered me over the last half-century: 415 performances of symphonic and opera repertoire, including 111 at the Salzburg Festival; 281 different works by 51 composers; 64 recorded compositions, including the Tchaikovsky, Mahler, and Sibelius symphonic cycles; 11 televised New Year’s concerts. I have also come to know them as the peerless opera orchestra … since my Vienna State Opera debut conducting Fidelio on November 11, 1964, on through my years as general manager at the Vienna State Opera (1982–1984), and my long association with the Salzburg Festival that began in 1963 with Figaro.

Lorin Maazel ©  Bill Bernstein Lorin Maazel | + They bestowed the ultimate honor upon me as well: an august ensemble of virtuoso players who engaged me to appear as violin soloist, including five New Year’s concerts. And most flattering of all, two commissions to compose music: a symphonic movement entitled “Farewells” (February 26, 2000) and in 2010, a symphonic synthesis of my opera 1984.

The three concerts we give in Carnegie Hall (memories ... the VPO in Carnegie Hall in 1991 in a concert performance of Elektra ...) review in synopsis our 50 years together. We begin with Mozart’s G-Minor Symphony, the first work I conducted with the VPO when I replaced von Karajan. We continue with The Ring Without Words, which we have performed so often, three of the seven Sibelius symphonies we recorded, and a review of Richard and Johann Strauss works we have presented around the world on so many happy occasions (Japan, South America, the US, Europe).

How can I ever express my gratitude, the depth of the debt I owe the VPO for the unwavering support they have tendered me since Day One of our musical bonding?

Bless them all. Lorin Maazel“



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