Andre Previn: ‘My problem is… I just don’t rewrite’

The veteran composer-conductor, 86, is in sparkling form in conversation with Frank J. Oteri for NewMusicBox. To read the full text, click here.


AP: My problem and my flaw, if I can pinpoint just one, is that I don’t re-write. I hate re-writing. Once I’m done, I put it away, and it’s over with for me except if I make a mistake in terms of the technical use of the instrument. I once wrote an impossible double stop for viola. I just suddenly wasn’t thinking; the player would have to cripple his hand. So then I’d re-write it—or leave it out; that’s even better! I can’t take myself that seriously. I love writing and I’m very serious about it, but when it’s over, it’s over. It’s not for the ages.

FJO: Really?

AP: Really.

FJO: Not for the ages?

AP: No.

FJO: So the reason you’re fighting against time to write all this music isn’t to ensure a legacy.

AP: Well, that’s an interesting point. When I say not for the ages, I can’t visualize anybody doing my pieces 50 years from now. I’m just glad if they do them Wednesday, which is why I can only write for someone specific. I don’t like to write into the void. I like to know who’s going to play it and where and all that. Then it helps me; it helps me a great deal. I wrote an awful lot for Anne-Sophie Mutter. I know her sound and I know what she can do best. That makes life much easier. I wrote a piece last year—a concerto for trumpet, horn, tuba, and orchestra, which was a commission from Pittsburgh because they had three big stars. That was great fun for me because I don’t play any one of those things. I couldn’t tell you the positions of the trombone and all that, but I have them in my ear, and it helps a great deal that I’ve conducted so much because the sound of instruments and the sound of the combination of instruments are not alien to me at all. I know what I’m doing at the piano, but I don’t write piano music very much.

andre previn at home

photo (c) NewMusicBox

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  • Well Mr. Previn, I have to agree with you to an extent: I don’t find a lot of your concert music all that compelling. But, there are three film scores that are top-notch masterpieces and will be heard for a long, long time. Dead Ringer, Bad Day at Black Rock, and Elmer Gantry are flawless scores for which you will never be forgotten.

    • He hasn’t written much orchestral concert music, except for concertos. He writes chamber music, songs, and there are two fine operas.

      He’s a genius, and will be remembered as one of the most broadly representative voices of the second half of the 20th century.

  • Thanks for sharing this ! The interviewer was highly skilled and got some excellent comments from Previn. More of a dialogue really.

  • André Previn is one of the very few musicains if not the only who can call himself a jazzman AND a classical performer. And I don’t mean the c-word (“crossover”), I mean “real” jazz and “real” classical music.
    I still love his recording of Messiaen’s Turangalila-Symphonie.

    • You did of course read down in the “full text” link Norman provides to Previn’s story about his Chicago Turangalîla … .

  • What a brilliant, versatile,cultivated,self deprecating,witty,charismatic, fascinating, non pompous man!There are not many left today….only media hyped and styled so called specialists, often woefully devoid of technical skills and imagination….

  • Versatile multi-talented musician, engaging storyteller, intelligent conversationalist – absolutely. A great conductor? Not even close.

  • People, those of you who sink so low to bad mouth a distinguished artist: get a life! Create something yourself that gives other people joy and inspiration!
    Oh, you’r impotent? Sorry.

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