Lorin Maazel as your mentor?

Lorin Maazel as your mentor?


norman lebrecht

August 10, 2011

That’s the headline on a Classical Music advertisement for Malko, the upcoming Copenhagen competition for young conductors.

Don’t ask what attracted Mr Maazel to Denmark. Business as usual, is my guess.

Lorin Maazel, President of the

But I’m not sure that, for all his many qualities, I’d count Lorin Maazel as the ideal role model for an aspiring music director. Maazel, 81, has been head of many big orchestras and opera houses in his time – Deutsche Oper Berlin, Cleveland, Vienna State Opera, Pittsburgh, Bavarian Radio, New York Philharmonic, Valenica Orchestra, Arturo Toscanini Philharmonic, Munich Philharmonic (from 2012) – too many, some feel, to leave a strong personal imprint on the profession. He has enjoyed immense success without embedding a visible creative legacy. His hard-drive was ego.

But that’s just my interpretation. Here’s what the maestro himself has to say on the Malko website:

By Lorin Maazel

“Competitions, like every undertaking designed to identify tomorrow’s leaders, are only worth the effort expended if they are well-organized, honest and produce winners who show the requisite potential for an enduring success in their chosen field.

When asked to be President of the 2012 Malko Conductor’s Competition Jury, I accepted only after becoming convinced that the competition indeed meets the above criteria.

What defines a conductor as opposed to a baton-wielder escapes definition but all of us know a real conductor when we see one. To spot one in the making, however, is not that straight forward? I have joined with the administration of the Malko Competition in selecting jury members who have the experience and instinct to perceive that ephemeral, elusive conducting talent that is a pre-requisite for a worthy career.

Everyone wants to conduct…not many can. Today, excellent orchestras abound but there are woefully few truly great conductors. Eighty years ago, the situation was just the reverse…scores of brilliant conductors, few really top-grade orchestras. In the 1930s there were Toscanini, Furtwaengler, Walter, De Sabata, Reiner, Monteux, Klemperer… to mention but a few… who set stunning standards of excellence that endure to this day.

Our task at the Malko Competition will be to ferret out true young talents as opposed to the clever hacks so many hopefuls eventually become. We will eschew the slick in favour of the genuine. But let there be no mistake. Simply loving music, being devoted to it and being well-versed in its technicalities, will not suffice. We will be on the lookout for the conducting instinct that sets aside the well-meaning music-loving baton-waver from the true conductor who… with a look, a gesture, a thrust… makes music come alive from the printed page, presides over a performance that becomes a vibrant, palpable artistic experience no one in the orchestra or attending public can ever forget.”


  • Eduardo Monteiro says:

    Dear Norman, I hope this guy won’t find any follower among conducting students. After he willingly agreed to conduct today’s fake concert with a fake orchestra here in Rio de Janeiro, while he confirms he is aware of everything that is happening here since seven months, he became the perfect example of a master, who should never be a mentor.

  • dlcello59 says:

    Anyone who thinks Maestro Maazel is not leaving a legacy or giving back in the form of mentoring must not be familiar with his own Castleton Festival. Each summer he personally invites young artists to come together and work with him for two months– I have had the great honor of going for the past two years. This interaction with him is the ultimate form of mentoring. At age 81, he invites 200 young musicians, conductors, stage directors, singers, etc. to form this great festival. This summer nine operas and five symphony programs were presented. Instead of spending the summer at Salzburg or Tanglewood, instead he has chosen to spend two months working with young artists. This is true mentoring. What other major conductor does anything like this? What other major conductor literally opens his house to young people from all over the world and works with them so intensely and with such devotion? The festival also has become a big success, in just three years of existence. He is a great mentor to all of us and this is shown in the quality and enthusiasm that pervades the festival and the concerts.

  • Ubiratã Rodrigues says:

    “We will eschew the slick in favour of the genuine.”
    Is it genuine what he is doing in Brazil at this very moment?
    He came to help Mr. Minczuk to go on with that internationally reproved project.
    It is nasty.
    Please, don’t learn his lessons.

  • To Danny Boy says:

    Are you expecting a job for all your sycophancy for Maazel? Perhaps the festival was much different this summer from last, but the conductors weren’t “mentored” as I recall. The festival was set up more like an ad hoc orchestra with the student conductors, and Maazel would just watch. I’d think the students would be just as well off watching videos of great conductors and going to concerts.

    That said, I did learn quite a few new things from Maazel that I have never before experienced with another conductor. 1. The best way to get your executive director to retire is to chastise him in front of the entire orchestra. 2. It’s acceptable to stomp on the podium and curse at the orchestra if your ego is large enough. 3. Union rules and regulations don’t apply as long as you work as master/students so you don’t need to worry about things like rehearsal breaks and temperature control.

    All that said, please allow me to answer your questions.

    What other major conductor does anything like this? Claudio Abbado at Lucerne

    What other major conductor literally opens his house to young people from all over the world and works with them so intensely and with such devotion? I can’t name any conductor who has students stay on his property, but I recall it was mostly the men and women of Rappahannock County who offered their homes for the musicians’ use. And THOSE were some amazing people; they’d let out their homes for free, and they’d cook for the festival (without pay). Oh, and Maazel didn’t actually socialize or eat with the musicians, much less have them stay with him in his mansion….

    Of course, the festival is successful. There’s a big name and a lot of money in Washington and its suburbs. Once you throw in the fact that the people of Rappahannock work for free, how could the festival NOT be a success?

  • dblbassist says:

    “Are you expecting a job for all your sycophancy for Maazel?” Hilarious!
    Yes, clearly Maazel has had an illustrious career and is not the first successful musician to have quite an ego. dlcello59 will also not be lonely among the company of those who wish to kiss their a#@es.

    I agree with Maazel that the state of conducting among students and aspiring youths is not what it used to be, but I think that has much more to do with the current educational practices than some “ephemeral, elusive conducting talent” that has somehow been manifesting itself less frequently since the days of Toscanini…
    Most of those conductors mentioned by Maazel come from a time when an aspiring conductor had to work themselves up through the opera houses as opposed to being educated in a musical vacuum and handed an advanced degree that is supposed to make them qualified to lead an orchestra or dominate an opera podium. Perhaps Maazel could have given himself more credit by alluding to this rather than indulging his ego by perceiving some rare instinctual virtuosity.

    That all being said I do not personally know what Maazel’s inspiration for the establishment of Castleton was, but he has certainly not been among the forefront of musicians wishing to enlighten the younger generations of performers in the past.

  • formercastletonmusician says:

    Musically speaking at his best Maazel has earned his reputation as a great conductor, although he sometimes disappoints and does not live up to his potential. That’s my opinion as a professional musician who has worked with quite a few conductors of his caliber, and as someone who once attended his Castleton Festival and played in the orchestra.

    From a personal standpoint…oh boy… Maazel can be incredibly charming when he wants to be, but…more often…he is a pompous asshole. In my opinion his is a TERRIBLE mentor -still at 81 more of an ‘enfant terrible’, He may be able to help the careers of certain conducting students of his because of his well established connections. But…beyond that…my God – I wouldn’t let my worst enemy be mentored by Maazel! He threw temper tantrums all summer long, which rocked the confidence of many of my younger colleagues. I felt lucky because I was somewhat older and more experienced so I knew that much of his bullshit was…bullshit. Castleton is primarily an ego boost for a conductor who is professionally semi-retired.

  • A friend of mine who studied with Maazel told me that he was more bully than teacher. That was some time ago, though; I’m sure he must now be the kindliest of men….

  • Dadblasted says:

    Maazel, by virtue of the witnesses here, is hardly the most worthy of mentors. His statement, however, does have merit. Too many of our finer orchestras are led by “metronomes in tails.” An ability to communicate verbally and impress an orchestra’s board of directors often wins the day for such lacklustre talents. The days of a Reiner or a Toscanini ranting and raving at his orchestra are mostly finished, Maazel obviously being the exception here. Today’s conductor must be an amalgamation of talents aside from the musical. He/she must also socialize with ease, be willing to personally fund-raise, be a public spokesperson, be familiar with orchestral budgets and business administration…it takes so much more today than simply the ability to read a score and wield a baton. It is difficult for symphony orchestras’ boards of directors to identify the musicianship in conductor candidates because so few directors are acttually musically educated. They do know the business side of their orchestras and can single out the individuals who show exceptional abilities in those talents that are not musical yet required of a potential music director. Then, too, the symphony orchestra members who are on conductor search committees often will point out a conductor to the board who “plays nice” with their orchestra during guest candidacy concerts. The “nice guy,” in these instances does not finish last but first. He does so because the orchestra perceives him as someone easy to deal with and not any sort of a taskmaster. A competition may identify the strictly musical ability of a conductor but it will not thrust a multi-tiered, multi-talented into the limelight. Only time and experience can do that job.

  • ariel says:

    There is nothing worse in the world of music than the so called “competition” which supposes to
    find the best conductor , violinist , pianist etc . It degrades the art and uses it as a stalking horse
    on which to build a career – it is based on second guessing what the so called judges want to hear.
    And most judges being 2nd. rate has beens(otherwise why would a person lend oneself to this travesty ) a clever
    discerning competitor can come away winning the day . The only thing a competition cannot
    tolerate is the “light” of originality , the very thing they profess to seek . Can you imagine judges giving
    an award to the likes of Fritz Kreisler .??

  • Anne S says:

    As along term New Yorker, my impression of Maazel is one of a “colorless odorless” conductor.