One of the most prominent American conductors, Lorin Maazel, died today at age 84. He died at home at Castleton Farms, Virginia, from complications stemming from pneumonia. His death was announced by the Castleton Festival, the annual summer series founded by the conductor.
Though born in Paris on March 6, 1930, Maazel was a second-generation American — and was recognized very early on as a musical prodigy and later as a composer as well. After beginning violin lessons at age five and conducting just two years later, he had conducted most of the major American orchestras before he was 15 years old.
Maazel was one of the most internationally prominent conductors in both Europe and the United States in the post-World War II era. Over the course of his lengthy career, he conducted more than 5,000 live performances of both concert and operatic music, and made more than 300 recordings. At various points, he served as artistic director of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, the general manager of the Vienna State Opera, and as music director of the Radio Symphony of Berlin, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Munich Philharmonic and the New York Philharmonic, as well as co-founding the Castleton Festival in Virginia with his third wife, Dietlinde Turban Maazel, in 2009.
Controversially, he lead the New York Philharmonic to a very widely covered visit to North Korea in 2008, which at the time of the tour was heralded as a potentially big breakthrough in the country’s relations with the wider world.
Though he was known primarily as a conductor, Maazel’s prominence allowed him the occasion to premiere his own compositions in very high-profile venues. His first opera, 1984, based on George Orwell’s allegorical novel, had its world premiere at London’s Covent Garden and was revived at La Scala in Milan.
Along with his wife, he is survived by seven children (four from previous marriages) and four grandchildren.