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

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


norman lebrecht

October 09, 2015

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


  • Az Opera Fan says:

    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.

    • Olassus says:

      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.

      • Marty says:

        He’s also one of the great conductors. His Vaughan Williams cycle is superb. His early RCA recordings has tremendous excitement and drive. For me his Prokofieff Romeo and Juliet, Tchaikovsky Manfred and Rachmaninoff 2nd are unmatched. And the Tchaikovsky ballets – just marvelous. Such a brilliant musician.

      • John says:

        I agree. He’s definitely been one of the major high-profile artists of my generation that hasn’t received his full due.

      • Daniel F. says:

        A genius? A memorable figure? Please……

  • Gary says:

    Holy cow! Previn is 86? Where does time go?

  • Simon Evnine says:

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

  • jaypee says:

    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.

    • Olassus says:

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

  • harold braun says:

    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….

  • M2N2K says:

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

  • Holger H. says:

    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.