How to conduct? Watch Lorin Maazel

How to conduct? Watch Lorin Maazel

Daily Comfort Zone

norman lebrecht

January 02, 2022

A New Year’s greeting video clip from Angela Gheorghiu serves as a reminder of the phenomenal technique of an irreplaceable maestro.

Just watch those opening bars with the New YorkPhilharmonic.

What else do you need to know?

Lorin Maazel died in July 2014.


  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    I’ve always loved her voice since seeing her with Domingo at the Garden….. ages ago?

  • Jk says:

    Quite a bit

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Moments like this kan make people lament that Lorin Maazel did nod succeed Claudio Abbado in the Berliner Phil two decades ago (he was one of four ‘finalists’). The public would get more music and less ‘hype’.

  • Amos says:

    Extraordinary stick technique and musical memory, mastery of the violin, and fluency in 5 languages rarely if ever led to great music-making in part due to LMs ability to alienate orchestras and idiosyncratic performances for his sake alone. In Cleveland, he completely lost the respect of the orchestra when he stopped a rehearsal of a Brahms symphony and asked Principal oboe John Mack to play a phrase in A when it was clearly marked differently. When Mack politely asked why he was told because it is a beautiful sound. Their recording of the Shostakovich 5th should be listed as Shostakovich-Mazzel because it is almost unrecognizable as the composers. In Pittsburgh, he started the first rehearsal of his tenure by telling the orchestra he intended to teach them a new sound profile to which their superb Principal trumpet supposedly said oh due tell us. He desperately wanted to lead the BPO but pretended otherwise. It has been said that he easily lost interest in a piece sometimes mid-performance. I can easily do without ever listening to one of his performances.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      Lorin Maazel was not more ego-tripped than Wilhelm Furtwängler. Bu he was sincere about his wishes to the point of being taken for naive.

    • I agree completely und Leinsdorf in his best yrs also had a superb technique.

    • Monsoon says:

      The Maazel/Cleveland/Brahms story is over told and blown completely out of proportion. For all of the pearl clutching about Maazel ignoring Brahms’ meticulous notations, his legendary predecessor wouldn’t just ignore the score when it suited him, he’d make his own edits, most notably the infamous cut in the last movement of Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra.

      Maazel was never well-respected in Cleveland because management selected him without any consultation or input for the musicians, and without any search process.

      Whatever internal problems there may have been, their recordings clearly show no drop in the quality of the orchestras playing

      • NYMike says:

        There was a conductor search committee – my late friend was on it. Their first choice Kertesz was disregarded when management chose Maazel. In some ways, Maazel did improve the orchestra’s sound.

        • Ilio says:

          Talking to some Cleveland O players at the end of Maazel’s tenure, the opinion was that he warmed up the sound of the orchestra.

          On the other hand, engineer of the orchestra’s broadcasts during the Szell and Maazel eras said that during the Szell era, broadcasts never had to be edited. After he died, lots of editing had to be done before broadcasts were distributed.

          There was an article in the British press that Kertesz had to be whisked out the US due to problems with a minor. I’ve always wondered if that had to do with why the board passed him up.

      • Amos says:

        No drop in the quality of the playing merely a meteoric drop in the quality of the interpretations. The misogyny of your pearl-clutching comment speaks volumes. As for ignoring the composer’s directions Szell never arbitrarily made edits to create a beautiful sound. In the case of the Bartok, I would suggest you read the liner notes from the Sony CD re-issue of the Bartok & Prokofiev 5th to get the account of Michael Charry and/or google Szell Bartok Concerto and you will find Szell’s thinking directly. Last, for many reasons I wish Mr. Bloom was here to weigh in but to suggest that LM wasn’t respected merely because he wasn’t the musician’s choice is to denigrate the memory of an extraordinary ensemble.

      • Amos says:

        I meant to add that if you find the article in which George Szell addresses the cut you will find that after hearing the Kousssevitzky/BSO premiere that he wrote Bartok a letter in which he discussed his reservations regarding the ending. Bartok apparently thought enough of Szell’s critique that he composed a second ending. When Szell was still not satisfied he came up with his own solution based on a different Bartok piece.

    • Rabengeraun says:

      I couldn’t agree more – his arrogance was mind-blowing and he needed a really “crack” orchestra to carry him through. How the Vienna Phil respected him so much is beyond me, unless they just knew his name would flog lots of records for them.

    • Kenny says:

      Kleiber had a joke that there was a conductor fluent in every known language but that of music… (I was there.) Could easily have been DB, but wasn’t.

      • Alberto says:

        I’m sure he have been talking about DB. Didn’t you see the last Neujahrskonzert? I don’t remember anything worst in my life.

    • Novagerio says:

      Amos: how does an oboe play in A? It’s not a clarinet…

      • Barry Guerrero says:

        Sounds to me that Maazel wanted ‘an A’ from the oboe for re-tuning the orchestra (not “in A”). That’s not that uncommon to do if a conductor thinks the tuning is getting a bit out of whack. The ‘shock’ of that episode would be that the Cleveland Orchestra isn’t exactly known for playing out-of-tune, ever.

  • Amos says:

    Sorry, do tell us!

    • Novagerio says:

      Amos: The oboe doesn’t “play a phrase in A”, because there’s not such thing. An oboe gives the orchestra an A for tuning (pitch standard 440 Hz), before the conductor walks in to a rehearsal or a concert, that’s all that concerns an oboe’s A.
      I suggest you google the orchestra’s transposing instruments – the clarinets in B flat and A in particular, and cut down on your agressively arrogant whiny boohoo-attitude.
      Some of us here a musicians, you know 😉

  • BrianL says:

    Since Gheorghiu, since I first saw her in Boheme at Covent Garden and then in many other performances, no other soprano has been able to convey so many emotions and such high, natural class in opera and in her concerts… I am always astonished by her spellbinding voice and technique and her instantly identifiable velvety timbre… found this video from a few weeks ago and I am amazed:
    As for Lorin Maazel, an outstanding maestro, sorry to see that today we don’t have such artistry anymore…

    • Musicman says:

      It was really classy of her to jealously walk out of a performance of Tosca when Jonas Kaufmann got an encore of “e lucevan le Stelle” and then miss her next entrance!

      • Nikolaus D says:

        Oh “Musicman”… I think people forget that Gheorghiu became a huge star in ‘94, while Kaufmann was an unknown tenor, one of many, until his Met debut in 2006 when he became sort of a star tenor (opposite Gheorghiu in Traviata)… he managed to be sincere in his first book, thanking her for his Met debut, his Royal Opera debut… after that, stardom got too much into his head and to be honest, he is not a truly great tenor since some time, now struggling to fake that he is into Christmas carols…
        As for his encore in Tosca in Vienna: it was all planned before as he had a 7-8 months break before that Tosca because of big vocal problems and he needed people to talk about him… but it was not only as bad as the first time he sang it, it was also a total lack of respect to the composer, to (all of) his colleagues and to the real audience (not some women heated up because of his looks), his remark on stage only seconds after his aria showed his low character and how little he was actuallly “in” his stage role.

        • Musicman says:

          I am not defending Kaufmann. I do not think he is a great singer either. Just saying that it was classless and unprofessional for Gheorghiu to walk out and miss an entrance. She shouldn’t have gone down to his level.

  • Prof says:

    I must be missing something. I see Maazel conducting simply in four.

  • J Barcelo says:

    I remember the first time I saw him conduct in person: I was mesmerized by the fluid and precise baton skill – and the results were breathtaking. I’d heard some great orchestras, but the Cleveland played the Tchaikovsky 6th in a way I still remember these 45 years later. Maazel made some terrific recordings, even in Pittsburgh: that Roman Trilogy is fantastic. I wish he didn’t switch labels so often, and there’s no denying he got less interesting and more frustrating as he got older. Anyway, his baton skill is something that many younger conductors should study. His and Boult’s. too.

  • Achim Mentzel says:

    I don’t find anything special in these opening bars. But that is not the point. Show this video to any conducting professors, especially at German universities, and they will tear the guy apart with some completely useless hints, comments and instructions. In the end, they’ll find out that he’s doing everything wrong. And that is exactly the problem. That all universities form seemingly perfect conductors, but then they completely disappear into oblivion because they can’t do anything except beat a bar correctly. Conducting is so much more. We also often encounter the complete opposite. People like Harnoncourt, Currentzis, Manacorda, Yoel Levi, Mirga or Alondra have a disastrous technique, yet they are extremely succesful.

  • E says:

    “MUSICA!” she sings.

  • Brian Bell says:

    And the commentary here is by none other than Martin Bookspan. He passed away last spring just short of his 95th birthday. His knowledge of music was encyclopedic, and he had no rivals, only colleagues. Arguably America’s finest classical music radio personality of all time. A true mensch. RIP Marty.

  • DorothyT says:

    I remember sitting in the second row, off to the side a bit, during a Loren Maazel NYPhil dress rehearsal. His technique was not showy, but he knew every nuance of the score perfectly. Every eye in the orchestra was following him. His programming was varied and exciting. Very pleased to see this remembrance of him.

  • Dan says:

    I heard stories about him conducting from memory at rehearsals. Can anyone verify that?

    • Grabenassel says:

      Yes, that’s true. He memorized a lot of scores including bar/rehearsal-numbers.

    • Antony Beaumont says:

      Sure. But sometimes he blew it. Sibelius 7 was a case in point. He forgot the 3/2 bar in a long passage of 2/2, which eventually caused the run-through to collapse. Then he blamed it on the orchestra. I remember another occasion when he literally blew it: Till Eulenspiegel. Someone asked him to check a pitch, so he demonstratively lifted the closed score from his stand and demonstratively blew the dust away. Arrogant. But a remarkable conductor.
      I also recall Haitink rehearsing Zarathustra by heart – including rehearsal numbers. And Nello Santi, who rehearsed the entire Italian operatic repertoire without using a score.

    • Dan says:

      My old trumpet teacher in Philadelphia told me this in 1971. I went to the concert. Daphnis & Chloe and Rite of Spring.

  • MacroV says:

    If you don’t count Klieber, who conducted so little, Maazel was probably the best “athlete” of his generation – amazing stick technique, complete mastery of a score. And I like many of his compositions – Music for Flute and Orchestra is a particular favorite. And on occasion he could deliver a world-beater performance or recording – Romeo and Juliet in Cleveland, a concert performance of Elektra with the NY Phil, also Schoenberg’s Variations. Or Die Walkure at the MET. But a lot of his work was “lots to admire, little to love.” I think the Berlin Phil made absolutely the right call in selecting Abbado.

  • BigSir says:

    auld lang syne with a boom-chuck beat?

  • M2N2K says:

    He was a very talented baton technician, but unfortunately a profoundly unpleasant human being, which prevented him from being a really great conductor, because that profession depends on the ability to maintain genuinely respectful attitude from a large group of other talented musicians, and his phenomenal self-centered egotism made it virtually impossible to achieve.

  • An anecdote: Maazel always conducted with a long baton (and everything was at the tip). Mine was shorter. I had the opportunity to loan the maestro my baton once for a rehearsal of Beethoven 6. He took it between his two fingertips as if it were diseased and his facial expression clearly said, “You actually conduct with this thing?”. He was, however, very cordial, albeit somewhat his curmudgeonly self with the orchestra. He rehearsed the symphony from memory while referring to things measure numbers, rehearsal letters and pitches accurately without score whenever he stopped to make corrections. I was most impressed by his consummate musicianship.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Yes, Maazel had all the prerequisite skills: phenomenal stick technique, perfect pitch and perfect score memory. Yet – and YET – Maazel made his fair share of dull recordings over the decades. I’m sorry to say that he was yet another one who got slower and slower in final decades.

  • Patrick Gillot says:

    Extraordinary talented but what is left of his mostly liveless recordings ? L’enfant et les sortilèges ” perhaps?