Thursday, March 25, 2010

Maazel Makes his Life more Interesting

It would be unfair to say that it took the PBS telecast of the visit of the New York Philharmonic to North Korea to bring Loren Maazel to my attention. While I frequently tended to take a ho-hum attitude towards opportunities to hear him conduct, there would always be exceptions to my expectations that tweaked my attention. These often came in my car, when I found myself drawn into a new take on music that tended to be given routine readings (Pyotr Tchaikovsky being the most frequent victim of such negligent practices); and I would then discover, to my surprise, that the conductor who could "find the beauty" (as David Amram had put it) and rescue the music from its middle-brow doldrums was Maazel.
Thus, I was eager to read Dave Itzkoff's post to the ArtsBeat blog of The New York Times to learn about Maazel's appointment as Chief Conductor of the Munich Philharmonic. The Munich Philharmonic was the only visiting symphony orchestra that my wife and I heard while we were living in Singapore. Sergiu Celibidache was still alive, and he was their conductor. The event was unforgettable. He could not have chosen more popular selections: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's K. 550 G minor symphony before the intermission, followed by Ludwig van Beethoven's fifth symphony (Opus 67 in C minor), the sort of music that was probably internalized by just about everyone in the audience. My guess is that "just about everyone in the audience" also had their expectations shattered that night, as Celibidache teased out new rhetorical strategies through which we all felt we were (again) experiencing this music for the first time.
From this point of view, I very much appreciated the final sentence of Itzkoff's post:
Mr. Maazel, who was a highly visible figure in Munich when he served as the chief conductor of the Bavarian Radio Symphony, added in his own statement that “the quality of the orchestra is unsurpassed,” and that following in the footsteps of such previous conductors as Sergiu Celibidache, who conducted the Munich orchestra until his death in 1996, “represents a challenge” that he will take on “with joy.”
The "unsurpassed" quality of the Munich Philharmonic owes much to Celibidache's leadership; and I was glad to see that Maazel recognized the challenge that would face him. I am also willing to take at face value his statement that he will confront that challenge with joy, because I can think of no better way to honor Celibidache's legacy. After all, Celibidache committed his career to getting beyond middle-brow appeal and was always ready to dismiss those who lacked such commitment in the interest of cultivating popularity with nouns like "idiot." If Maazel sees his challenge as continuing that commitment, he should be joyous about confronting it!

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