Lorin Maazel: Prodigy with a Stick

We live in a world of instant, inexpensive communication.  Our inboxes are clutter with debris, as though some giant digital dustpan has been emptied into our computer.  On YouTube, anyone with a phone can post video of the “Best _______ Ever,” whether it is or not.

Many of those “Best Ever” postings involve younger and younger musicians playing classical music.  While there is the rare moment the use of the word prodigy is justified, (such as describing Gavin George - a prodigy by any definition of the word), it is too often overused.

The music world lost a conducting prodigy recently, with the passing of Lorin Maazel.  Prodigy is not often used with conductors.  Maazel, however, was just that.  At the age of eight, after demonstrating an incredible understanding of the score to Haydn’s Surprise Symphony, he was introduced to a conducting teacher by the name of Vladimir Bakaleinikoff.  The instructor was so amazed by what he saw, that he immediately arranged a conducting debut.  At the age of nine, Maazel conducted the Interlochen Youth Orchestra at the New York World’s Fair, followed closely by a shared conducting date in the Hollywood Bowl with then 57-year-old Leopold Stokowski.

Fast forward about 35 years and Lorin Maazel is at the helm of the Cleveland Orchestra, hired to pick up where George Szell left off.  Where Szell was a stern, rather abrupt man, Maazel took a different approach, saying he was not a “fearsome man.”

I believe he also would have loved to see all of the orchestras sprinkled across Central Ohio.  While speaking to a group of college students in Cleveland, the then 45-year-old conductor said, “I’d like to see the day when there is much more music made, but on a much less pretentious level. I think it’s better when a lot of young people get together in city-block orchestras, or duets or trios.”  A community getting together to make music was what would keep that music alive, according to Maazel.

His legacy lives on in his numerous recordings, as well as in the way he touched the lives of music-lovers the world over.

Read a 1976 conversation with Lorin Maazel, Forget That Little Boy with the Baton—Lorin Maazel Is 45 and the Pride of Cleveland

Above is a performance from the early 1960′s in which Lorin Maazel was both soloist and conductor.

Below is a bit of boogie with another prodigy…then nine-year-old Gavin George.

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