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In Memory Of Lorin Maazel, The Maestro Behind The Castleton Festival


A week ago, my wife and I drove deep into the Piedmont region of Virginia to Rappahannock County in the lush foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Our destination was a chamber concert at the Castleton Festival, a showplace for young musicians.

The festival is the brainchild of Lorin Maazel. It was the main focus of his work when he retired from conducting the New York Philharmonic five years ago. I interviewed him then and became a Castleton fan in the process. So yesterday's news that Maazel died of pneumonia at the age 84 was especially saddening. He was an American born abroad to parents who were singers studying in France. His career conducting the world's greatest orchestras began when he was a child. He was called to the podium and handed the baton by the great Toscanini when he was just 7. Back in 2009, he talked about being a prodigy.


LORIN MAAZEL: I had the good fortune of not being exploited as so many "child prodigies," in quotes, were. By keeping the number of concerts to a reasonable limit, I could go to school like everybody else and play baseball and football, which I did.


SIEGEL: That's from the New York Philharmonic's recording of Stravinsky's "Firebird" with Maazel conducting. He ran the Philharmonic for seven years. Maazel was also a violinist. He was a composer, and he was fluent in several languages. If his conducting was faulted for anything, it was for being too cerebral, not engaged enough with his orchestras. I asked him about his repetition for being remote. He took pride in the fact that he didn't lecture his orchestras or lose his temper with them.


MAAZEL: I'm very firm about what it is that I feel I want for myself and for the orchestra. And I am quite stubborn. I keep at it. But if you respect the people you are working with, you don't start shaking your fist at them. That's also true at home. I mean, no child - and I've had seven of them - has ever felt my hand. An intelligent parent learns very quickly about the alternative. Rather than saying, don't do that, you say, why not do this? And so it is with conductors.

A conductor must lead, and people want to be led; that's why they're there. And in fact, they fault a leader for not being able to lead. You know, when a conductor walks to the podium, says, well, I'm here to learn from you - forget it. Many of my colleagues don't know that. They begin to start explaining the music and projecting themselves as interpreters and talking about phrasing. You don't talk, you do. And you do by having a hand which has been trained to express everything that it should express at any given moment, such as a kind of sound that you would like, a tempo, a lot of things. You could express all of this in one motion, if you can - if you're a proper conductor. If you have to stop and look around and say, it's not together, just walk off the podium and go home because that's your job, to get it together.


SIEGEL: This is a recording of Maazel and the Philharmonic getting it together on Revel's "Daphnis Et Chloe." Lorin Maazel, even in blue jeans he favored in rustic Virginia, wore the title maestro with grace. He died yesterday at his home in Castleton, Virginia, where his festival is underway. It runs through next weekend, and he was still rehearsing some pieces.

Perhaps it was just having seen the vitality of the musicians he nurtured on the stage he had had built in the patch of Virginia that he had chosen that made his death on Sunday seem somehow improbable to me. He was a creative man, and his creation is still bursting with life.


You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.