by Anastasia Tsioulcas
Lorin Maazel conducing the Vienna Philharmonic in March 2010.
One of the most prominent American conductors, Lorin Maazel, died today at his home at Castleton Farms, Va. He was 84. His death was announced by the Castleton Festival, the annual summer series he founded. The festival officially attributed his death to complications stemming from pneumonia; however, the Washington Post reports that Nancy Gustafson, the festival's executive director, said Maazel had been suffering an "unexplained illness following a kind of collapse from fatigue" due to heavy travel and work engagements across Europe, Asia and North America, despite having cancelled several appearances, including performances at Castleton and with the Munich Philharmonic and Boston Symphony Orchestra this spring.
Though born in Paris March 6, 1930, Maazel was a second-generation American who was recognized very early on as a musical prodigy. After beginning violin lessons at age 5 and conducting just two years later, he conducted most of the major American orchestras before he was 15. Yet he did not neglect academic studies. He studied languages, mathematics and philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh and, in 1951, went to Italy as a Fulbright scholar.
Soon after that he began appearing on many of the world's most prestigious podiums — not universally beloved as an artist or a personality, but recognized as brilliant nonetheless. He appeared at the Bayreuth Festival in Germany in 1960 — the first American to lead a performance there, and Jewish to boot — and made his debuts with the Boston Symphony in 1961 and the Salzburg Festival in Austria in 1963.
Maazel was one of the most internationally prominent conductors of the post-World War II era. Usually conducting from memory and heralded for his precise technique, his performances themselves were often wildly uneven. As Alex Ross wrote in The New Yorker in 2002, "He is unpredictable: Performances of his that I have heard over the years have ranged from the propulsive to the repulsive, with few subtle shades in between."
Nevertheless, over the course of his lengthy career, he conducted more than 7,000 performances in concert halls and opera houses, and made more than 300 recordings. He served as artistic director of the Deutsche Oper Berlin (1965-1971), general manager and artistic director of the Vienna State Opera (1982-1984), music director of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (1993-2002), Pittsburgh Symphony (1988-1996), Cleveland Orchestra (1972-1982), Munich Philharmonic (2012 until his death) and the New York Philharmonic (2002-2009). He founded the Castleton Festival in Virginia with his third wife, Dietlinde Turban Maazel, in 2009 as a full-scale, 500-acre music festival and summer school for rising young musicians.
Controversially, Maazel also lead the New York Philharmonic in a very widely covered 2008 visit to North Korea. At the time, the tour was heralded as a potential breakthrough in that cloistered country's relations with the wider world.
Though Maazel was known primarily as a conductor, his international prominence allowed him the occasion to premiere his own compositions in very high-profile venues. His first opera, 1984, based on George Orwell's allegorical novel, had its world premiere at London's Covent Garden and was revived at La Scala in Milan. He also made his own concert arrangement of Wagner's Ring cycle, The Ring Without Words.
Along with his wife, Maazel is survived by seven children (three from his marriage to Dietlinde Maazel and four from previous marriages) and four grandchildren.
by NPR Staff
Weekend Edition Sunday
Richard Reed Parry is best known as a core member of Arcade Fire. His classical solo album, Music For Heart And Breath, comes out July 15.
Richard Reed Parry is famous for making music sound big. As a core member of Arcade Fire, the Grammy-winning indie rock group from Montreal, he wields multiple instruments to help create deep, layered textures in which strings and synthesizers, slow ballads and disco dance tracks are all at home.
Parry's first solo album is a departure even from that broad sound. It's a collection of classical compositions featuring Nico Muhly, the yMusic ensemble and the Kronos Quartet. The album is called Music for Heart and Breath, and as Parry tells Weekend Edition Sunday, the title advertises the daring concept that holds the album together: the musician's body as metronome.
"Every note, and everything that any of the musicians plays, is played either in sync with the heartbeat of that player, or with their breathing, or with the breathing of another player," Parry explains. "You have a stethoscope and you have an Ace bandage. The Ace bandage is wrapped around your chest, and it presses the stethoscope to your heart."
From there, the players do their best to keep track of their internal rhythms with one ear and their instruments with the other — quite the challenge, Parry says, especially in live performance, wherein simply stepping on a stage tends to speed a performer's pulse.
"It's definitely an un-intuitive way of playing music," he says. "Which is funny, considering that it's in some ways it's the most intuitive musical reference point that anybody could have."
Hear the full interview with NPR's Arun Rath at the audio link.
by Tom Huizenga
Tenor Carlo Bergonzi as Radames in Verdi's Aida in 1956, the year of his Metropolitan Opera debut.
Carlo Bergonzi endures. Not only is the Italian tenor approaching his 90th birthday (on July 13) but for decades he sang with tireless warmth and precision, representing a certain old school approach to carefully cultivating one's vocal resources.
Bergonzi may not have been as loud or intimidating as his Italian rivals (especially Mario del Monaco and Franco Corelli), but he outlasted them all, singing at Milan's La Scala for 20 years and at New York's Metropolitan Opera for more than 30. At age 68 he gave a farewell recital at London's Covent Garden, and at 75 he returned to New York to sing the punishing title role in Verdi's Otello. (Although he had to drop out after the second act, reportedly due to irritation from the air conditioning, his voice sounded remarkably well-preserved for its age.)
Bergonzi was born in Vidalenzo, in northern Italy, just a few miles from Verdi's birthplace. The youngster who made Parmesan cheese with his father could hardly have predicted that eventually he would become one of the most important interpreters of Verdi's music in the 20th century.
John Steane, in his book The Grand Tradition: Seventy Years of Singing on Record, 1900 to 1970, describes Bergonzi's "inner fire and outgoing command" in Verdi roles. "More than any other Italian tenor on record," Steane writes, "he combines power, beauty, intensity and elegance."
With a sturdy Italianate mix of velvet and bronze, Bergonzi's voice seemed tailor-made for most of Verdi's heroic roles. But Bergonzi also excelled in quick-tempered protagonists of the verismo style in Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci and the romantic leads of Puccini's La bohème and Madama Butterfly. Some of his burnished tone comes from the fact that he made his 1948 debut as a baritone. He then retrained himself and resurfaced three years later as a tenor.
When discussing singers, opera fans often talk about musical "line." Does it flow? Is there a wobble or is the tone steady and focused? Does diction get in the way? With Bergonzi the line was supremely musical — smooth, stable and expressively phrased. There's hardly a better example than the video above, a night scene near the close of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, filmed in Tokyo in 1967. Afterward, Bergonzi received almost seven minutes of applause and 11 curtain calls. All richly deserved.
In retirement, Bergonzi turned to teaching and food. He started an academy specializing in Verdi's music and founded I Due Foscari, a restaurant and hotel (now run by his son) located in Busseto and named after Verdi's sixth opera.
New York Philharmonic principal trumpeter Philip Smith plays at New York's Park Avenue Armory in a performance in June 2012.
This Saturday evening, the New York Philharmonic is bidding a fond goodbye to principal trumpeter Philip Smith, who is retiring after 36 years with the orchestra. The NY Phil brass and percussion ensemble is putting on a special concert in his honor.
Smith joined the New Yorkers as co-principal in 1978 after being hired away from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. A decade later, he became the Philharmonic's principal — and an idolized figure among brass aficionados. True fact: The only time I have personally ever heard audience members cheer for a player by name after an orchestral concert was after one of his performances. It was Mahler 5, which opens with this solo, and the cry that rang out was: "PHIL! PHIL! PHIL! PHIL!" (Speaking of Mahler, there's a YouTube clip of the famous chorale from his Second Symphony with a delightful though very possibly apocryphal Smith anecdote in the comments section.)
But you don't have to take my word for it. Here's what the legendary Wynton Marsalis — one of his former students — has to say about Smith's artistry:
Meanwhile, here's an exemplary performance of the third movement of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 conducted by Lorin Maazel, with Smith and his colleague Sheryl Staples, the Philharmonic's acting concertmaster since Glenn Dicterow's recent retirement:
Smith has a sense of humor, too. Check out this teaser video featuring Charles Ives' The Unanswered Question:
Here's the extra punchline: The change-dropper above is Joseph Alessi, Smith's colleague and the NY Phil's principal trombonist since 1985.
And before Smith heads down to Athens, Ga. to become a University of Georgia professor, the orchestra is sending him off with one last little video, newly published. They call it The Trumpet Whisperer.
by Mark Mobley
Julius Rudel, photographed (ca. 1970) in rehearsal with the orchestra of the New York City Opera, spent more than three decades with the company.
Conductor Julius Rudel, a defining figure in 20th-century opera production, died early Thursday morning. He was 93, and died at his New York home of natural causes, according to his son Anthony Rudel, station manager of Boston classical music broadcaster WCRB. WCRB is part of WGBH and an NPR member station.
Among many leadership posts in Julius Rudel's long career, he was best known for being general director and principal conductor of the New York City Opera from 1957 to 1979. The company, which folded in 2013, was New York's second-largest opera house, but perhaps the country's most important incubator of composing and singing talent. During Rudel's tenure, City Opera produced dozens of new operas and fostered the careers of such major artists as soprano Beverly Sills and tenor Plácido Domingo.
Rudel was born into a Jewish family in Vienna in 1921, a decade after the death of one of his heroes, composer, conductor and arts administrator Gustav Mahler. After the German annexation of Austria, Rudel emigrated to the U.S. when he was 17; his brother and mother followed shortly thereafter. Within five years, after studies at Manhattan's Mannes School of Music, Rudel was a rehearsal pianist at the company he would eventually lead.
Julius Rudel conducts Verdi's Otello at the 1994 Richard Tucker Gala.
Rudel made his conducting debut in 1944 with The Gypsy Baron by Johann Strauss II. "Julius Rudel, whom I hadn't seen before, took charge of things with snap and finesse," The New Yorker said of a 1946 performance of The Pirates of Penzance with the 25-year-old Rudel on the podium.
Eleven years later, Rudel began his remarkable run as head of the company with three seasons of exclusively American operas — something almost unthinkable for a major or even regional company, then or today. "I looked at more than 200 scores, some of them handwritten," he told The New York Times in 2010. "I thought in America we had an inferiority complex, and I wanted to show that we can do this, too."
Those early years included Marc Blitzstein's Regina (after Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes), Leonard Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti, Douglas Moore's The Ballad of Baby Doe, Carlisle Floyd's Susannah and Hugo Weisgall's Six Characters in Search of an Author.
For the company's 1966 debut at its new Lincoln Center home, Rudel conducted Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera's Don Rodrigo with Domingo in the title role, followed by Handel's Giulio Cesare with Sills, who would later succeed him as head of the company, as Cleopatra. Other seasons included the professional premieres of such important American operas as Robert Ward's Pulitzer Prize-winning The Crucible and Jack Beeson's Lizzie Borden.
Among Rudel's many recordings is a Grammy-winning account, with Sills, of Lehár's The Merry Widow. Rudel guest-conducted widely, leading major orchestras and opera companies in the U.S. and Europe. He received a 1963 Tony Award nomination as conductor and musical director of Brigadoon.
After leaving City Opera, Rudel looked upstate to become music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic. "My commitment to the [opera] company was a year-in, year-out, day-and-night affair," he told The New York Times in 1981. "Even if I was in Paris, I was on the telephone to New York all the time. That's one of the things I've learned to do now — to sleep through the night without waking up in a cold sweat and grabbing my notepad and saying, 'My God, I must do this or that.' The burden of administration became ever more overpowering. Now, I can steep myself in music."
Yet Rudel also was the inaugural artistic director of the Kennedy Center, as well as serving, at various times, in leadership posts at the Wolf Trap Festival, the Caramoor Festival and the Cincinnati May Festival. And he continued to keep a close eye on City Opera, freely sharing his opinions about its deepening troubles.
In 2013, the University of Rochester Press published First and Lasting Impressions: Julius Rudel Looks Back on a Life in Music by Rudel and collaborator Rebecca Paller, which includes an appendix listing the repertoire and casts of those three remarkable all-American seasons at the beginning of his tenure as head of City Opera.
"There is something to be said for longevity," Rudel says near the end of the book. "Since leaving New York City Opera, I've enjoyed my life as a peripatetic conductor. I count myself lucky to have had a career that has spanned six decades and two continents — and several worlds of music. I have conducted in the world's great opera houses and symphony halls, and I have worked with literally thousands of the greatest artists of our time. I've been involved with creating exciting productions, and have had the incredible privilege of spending my life bringing great composers' masterpieces to new audiences.
"In the end, for me, it's always about the music."
by Jeff Lunden
All Things Considered
Glenn Dicterow joined the New York Philharmonic as its concertmaster in 1980. He has performed as its soloist every year since.
Most people who attend symphony performances can spot the concertmaster. That's the first chair violinist who enters before the conductor and helps tune the orchestra. But the all important position calls for much more than that — from playing tricky solos to shaping the sound of the string section.
"Glenn Dicterow is the quintessential concertmaster, in my opinion," Alan Gilbert, music director of the New York Philharmonic, says. "The concertmaster more than any other individual musician in an orchestra can really affect not just the sound, but the whole attitude, the whole approach to music. And I don't think you'll ever hear anyone say a bad word about Glenn; he's loved by all his colleagues."
When Dicterow joined the New York Philharmonic in 1980, at the age of 31, he was the youngest concertmaster in the orchestra's history. Since then, he's played in more than 6,000 concerts with more than 200 conductors. The violinist says a big part of his job is political.
"It's how you get along with your colleagues, how you solve problems, be it a problem that involves two people not getting along or somebody not really doing their job, as far as being part of the team, you sort of have to take care of those things," he says. "And, let's say we have a guest conductor who, basically, rubs people the wrong way — it's my job to make peace. Everybody needs to get along to make gorgeous music. That's the bottom line."
Dicterow came to New York from Los Angeles, at the invitation of Zubin Mehta. The orchestra then was mostly made up of men and had a reputation for being somewhat cantankerous.
"The 'old guard,' as they called them. They said what they felt right away," he says. "And if somebody was on the podium that they didn't quite like they would tell him off. Sometimes they didn't get along and there were some pushing and shoving matches."
The longtime concertmaster says there are maybe three or four people left from those days. Now, it's a more diverse group and the orchestra is more than 50 percent women. He thinks these musicians are more flexible and open; several of them, including conductor Alan Gilbert, are his former students.
"I don't have an exact body count, but I think it's, I would venture to say it's about 11," he says.
One of those former students, Lisa Kim, is associate principal second violin. She says Dicterow taught her more than just musical lessons.
"The positive energy that he has really affects the whole orchestra onstage," she says. "And I didn't really realize it at the time; I mean, you play well and that's fine, you know, that's all you need. But it's more to it than that."
Dicterow has a fondness for all four Philharmonic music directors he's played under, but he holds a special place in his heart for the late Leonard Bernstein, who was the Philharmonic's music director emeritus during the 1980s.
"I just heard a sound coming out of the orchestra that was magical and I don't know where it was coming from; it was like from heaven," he says.
Bernstein's Serenade has been one of the violinist's signature pieces over the years, and Dicterow first played it with Bernstein conducting. The composer initially felt Dicterow's playing was too romantic for a work he thought of as neoclassical.
"Meanwhile, there's nobody emoting more on the podium than he. In the tutti sections, he's jumping up and flailing and, you know, neoclassic my butt!" the concertmaster says.
After he retires from the Philharmonic, Dicterow will move to Los Angeles to teach at USC's Thornton School of Music, while continuing to play chamber music and perform as a soloist with orchestras. But he says he'll miss his colleagues.
"It got to be a family. I'm gonna miss it, but now I'm gonna be coming to the concerts and not have to practice," he says.
He still has a little more practicing to do yet — Dicterow will be performing the Beethoven Triple Concerto, with principal cellist Carter Brey and Philharmonic artist-in-residence Yefim Bronfman through this Saturday.
David Aaron Carpenter plays the 'Macdonald' Stradivarius viola at Sotheby's auction house for NPR in April.
Update Wednesday, June 25, 2014: A representative from Sotheby's tells NPR that the instrument did not sell "at this time."
Wednesday, Sotheby's auction house plans to announce the sale of a rare viola made by Antonio Stradivari. The minimum bid is $45 million. If it sells, it will be the most expensive instrument of any kind in history.
Here's an old musician joke: How do you keep your violin from getting stolen? Put it in a viola case.
The viola has long played second fiddle to its far more popular, higher-pitched sibling, the violin. But if any instrument can break the curse, it just might be this one.
"This instrument was made in 1719 by Antonio Stradivari, who is the greatest violin-maker of all time," says Tim Ingles, the director of Ingles & Hayday, an English auction house and dealership specializing in musical instruments. His firm is working with Sotheby's to sell the viola, nicknamed the "Macdonald" Strad after one of its previous owners. "It was made towards the end of what is called his 'golden period,' when he made his best instruments," Ingles says.
The last time it was on the market was 1964. It was sold to the Philips record label, which bought it for Peter Schidlof, the violist for the Amadeus Quartet. At some unknown point, ownership of the viola passed to Schidlof himself. He died in 1987, and his family is now selling it.
Back in 1964, it went for $81,000 — which, accounting for inflation, would be equal to about $613,000 today. So what makes it worth $45 million this time?
Ingles says that among rare instruments, this ranks among the very rarest: "It is really the holy grail. There are approximately 650 Stradivari instruments in existence today, but only 10 of these are complete violas, and the Macdonald is the best of these violas by some distance."
Not surprisingly, Ingles & Hayday and Sotheby's have been doing their best to drum up the chatter surrounding this sale. Sotheby's vice chairman, David Redden, says that now they're hoping for more than $45 million.
"We're actually doing a combination, really, of private sale and auction," Redden says. "We're doing a sealed-bid sale. We have a floor price, and beyond that, people can bid that or any other price they wish to bid."
To help goose that price up, Sotheby's took the viola on a roadshow this spring to New York, Hong Kong and Paris. And it enlisted a prominent young American violist, David Aaron Carpenter, to show off what the instrument can do. Carpenter demonstrates for me its tonal quality, playing first a viola transcription of the Prelude from Bach's Cello Suite No. 3.
"So over here, it is an immediate reaction that this viola has," Carpenter says. "Sometimes a viola is too muffled, or has kind of a nasal quality, or it's too mellow. You want to have the projection that will reach the last member of the audience. And this viola kind of understands."
Carpenter can talk about the Macdonald Strad both as a player and as an expert. He's a well-regarded soloist, but along with his brother Sean and sister Lauren, he also operates Carpenter Fine Violins, a firm that deals in high-end instruments.
They accompanied him pizzicato while he played Paganini's Carnival of Venice to show off the viola's high notes.
Carpenter says that as gorgeous as this viola sounds now, it's going to take a while for it to sound completely like its old self again. "It's been a little bit of a shame that this particular viola has been locked away in a vault for 30 years, and really hasn't been played on," Carpenter says. "So it's really kind of still sleepy, and it will probably take about a year to five years for it to really maximize its true potential of sound."
But the odds are a musician won't be the one buying it, Ingles says.
"Most even very successful musicians are not able to purchase their own instruments these days, with good Stradivari instruments costing anything from about $5 million upwards," Ingles says. "So in many cases a private investor or a foundation will step in, purchase the instrument and then loan it to a talented player." In other cases — as with the Macdonald — owners will simply sock the instrument away.
It's an investment. As with visual art, sale prices for rare instruments have soared. There are even investment funds that help highfliers buy such instruments. But recent research indicates even professionals usually can't hear the difference between a Strad and a very good modern instrument. Still, the Stradivarius mystique endures.
"I am very happy with the ease and versatility with which I can share my content with my audience, clients and business partners alike."