An assistant who flourished under Georg Szell

The debate continues. From the conductor Uri Segal:

I was Szell’s assistant at the New York Philharmonic during the 1969-70 season when he served as interim MD before Boulez was to take over, and I have nothing but praise and love for the man.

Apart from his great musicianship he was a man of the highest integrity and honor. True, music mattered to him perhaps more than anything else, but once he realized you are serious about your music you gained his respect for ever. In my case it was also connected to Mahler 6.

Backstage before the first rehearsal on the piece I approached him with a question concerning two almost identical bars in the final movement (bars 110-111) where only 3rd trumpet changes note in the chord. Szell looked at the score and then raised his chrystal blue eyes and asked me in his abrupt way “where did you study”. He then went to admitt he did not notice that and did not have an answer without looking at the manuscript. His first thing to do once he was on the podium was to approach the 3rd trumpet player to make sure the score matched his part (which it did). Anyway, from this moment on we “became friends”.


Years later I met and befriended Myron Bloom at Indiana University and we spent many great evenings together sharing stories about Szell.



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  • As I said in another thread, in “Tales from the Locker Room: An Anecdotal Portrait of George Szell and his Cleveland Orchestra,” many of the musicians talked about the firing of principal oboe Marc Lifschey, and even the ones who had good working relationships with Szell felt he had been too hard on Lifschey and pushed him to the breaking point.

    For a strange reason we’re trying to look at Szell in black and white terms — he was either a good guy or bad guy. It’s possible for a person to be kind and generous to some people, and malevolent to others. The evidence shows that this was the case with Szell. There were plenty of musicians and soloists who he helped nurture, and at the same time some who he was just awful to.

    • I totally agree. It’s also possible that he evolved. Szell was in the last year of his life he worked with Uri Segal.

      Some of Szell’s recordings have grown on me over the years: Beethoven, Schumann, Dvorak, Strauss, Sibelius… At his best he had few equals and no superiors.

  • Szell should not have been a conductor! All women are far superior to Szell and all of those tyrannical men during those vaunted days. Music would have been much better if ALL conductors are women and none are men.

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