E00710. Maazel, Lorin - 6.5x9 BW photo
“Every conductor, even a great one, has his strengths and weaknesses, but Mr. Maazel’s seem oddly out of sync. He is a consummate musical technician whose control of the musical phrase often seems arbitrary; a committed liberal humanitarian whose reputation is that of an aloof loner; a man who has lavished money and attention on his own mini-festival in Virginia, but was never a notable presence in the life of the city from which he won, by his own admission, the ‘ultimate’ job. If he seems to be a paragon of the overpaid superstar conductor, it not so much the amounts involved (Toscanini, at the height of the Great Depression, was also more than generously compensated) but frustration at a musician who too often seemed to think that allowing us into his presence was an achievement in itself.
For most of us in music, technique, whether with the baton, the voice, an instrument, or the composer’s pencil, is something we strive and strain to acquire, hoping that we’ll gain enough of it to give wings to whatever artistic insights we can muster. For Maazel, a child-prodigy conductor, it was just the opposite: musical matters were so easy for him—so were business negotiations; he had no agent—that he could readily become bored, fussing with the music when he should have been shaping it lovingly and giving it life….a performance of Mahler’s First Symphony that I heard during his tenure was…garish and shallow: he made the work sound like the most accomplished youth-orchestra piece ever penned.
For the greatest conductors - masters like Bernstein, Tennstedt, Monteux, Levine - technique is a bridge to greatness, to the special place where perfection of spirit and execution combine, not just an end in itself. Maazel’s visits to that realm were rare but memorable, and with his passing only a handful of the big maestros of the postwar era—principally Riccardo Muti, Zubin Mehta, Bernard Haitink, and Christoph von Dohnányi, in addition to the great Russian survivor Gennadi Rozhdestvensky…remain. Such men have not always lived up to their larger-than-life reputations, of course. But, more than any of them except Herbert von Karajan, Maazel made his way in the music business by his own rules, which made colleagues and critics uniquely unsympathetic to those instances when his performances failed to live up to the legend.”
- Russell Platt , THE NEW YORKER, 14 July, 2014