My summers with Maestro Maazel: a cellist’s tale

My summers with Maestro Maazel: a cellist’s tale


norman lebrecht

July 14, 2014

Daniel Lelchuk has played principal cello at the Castleton Festival for the past five years. Here are his thoughts on the maestro’s death:


Maestro Lorin Maazel died yesterday, Sunday July 13th 2014. In the afternoon the Castleton Festival Orchestra performed a concert with three of his compositions on the program. Playing as soloist in ‘The Giving Tree’ hours after his death with his whole family in the front row in the splendid theatre he had built on his own property was an intense, almost surreal experience.
That Maestro Maazel was one of the great gifts to the music world and the larger cultural world of the past century is obvious; what might be less so was his commitment to the future of our profession. He did not simply say he cared about the future after his death like so many casually do– he actually did something, and created a place on his farm in rural Virginia where young professionals could come and work with him daily preparing operas and symphonic concerts to his exacting standards.

Unlike other festivals where big-name conductors jet in for a dress rehearsal and concert, Maestro Maazel conducted almost every single rehearsal and performance up until this summer. Often one would spend five hours daily with him; his rehearsals were a marvel of efficiency, his knowledge and expressive abilities supreme.

I am beyond lucky not only to have played with him for the past five summers, but also to have been given the opportunity to play some of the great operatic ‘cello solos. The ‘cello solo at the end of Act I of ‘Otello’ is engraved in my memory– he was so linked to the singers and orchestra at the same time that he made the solo ‘cello line seem as if it were bound to the love of Desdemona and Otello.

Every gesture he made had musical significance. The ending of ‘Il Tabarro’ brought out a terror and desperation in his face that was shocking– it was as if he was witnessing the murder in real life. He was so beautiful and interesting to watch conduct one could hardly look away!
maazel lelchuk



I also got to know him personally over the years. Last March after a chamber performance I spent all afternoon with him and my colleague Eric Silberger (above, left) talking, listening to him tell stories, watching videos on Youtube and listening to Sarah Vaughan sing ‘Poor Butterfly.’ He had not heard the song before but adored it at once.

When I saw him first this summer, looking thinner and a little tired, he said “If only we could play duets together, even just the Handel/Halvorsen duo” (He, a super violinist, used to play that piece with the late Janos Starker at Castleton Farms, Virginia).

He elevated music making to incredible heights– when he looked up into the sky with his arms outstretched holding a fermata longer than anyone thought possible and somehow brought everyone up with him and down again, together!!– that was magic.

Daniel Lelchuk

Principal Violoncellist; Castleton Festival



  • Stephen Cera says:

    This is a beautifully-expressed tribute. I remember meeting Daniel Lelchuk after the Castleton Festival Orchestra and Maestro Maazel performed at our open-air festival in Toronto in the Summer of 2011. The program was “Music Inspired by Shakespeare” including Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet”; and a new performing version of the incidental music to Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, with dramatic readings by Jeremy Irons and Dame Helen Mirren. It was an unforgettable evening.

  • Alexander Hall says:

    My thanks also for this moving tribute. I have been quite appalled at the vituperation expressed towards Lorin Maazel so soon after his death from musicians and the lay public alike. I have been told that he was actually quite a shy man – quite unlike Bernstein or even Previn, for that matter – and such people are always likely to be seen as aloof, stand-offish and even arrogant by a superficially minded public. After decades of attending his concerts, I know what my ears consistently told me, and I would claim to recognise quality when I see and hear it. His stick technique was phenomenal and you could always follow his beat without any difficulty. There are not many you could say the same thing about.