My summers with Maestro Maazel: a cellist’s talemain
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!
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.
Principal Violoncellist; Castleton Festival