My Maestro

by Jay Nordlinger

In a post below, I happened to mention George Szell, the great conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra. His successor in Cleveland, Lorin Maazel, died today.

He was one of the greatest musicians in the world (no less). I thought he’d go on and on, conducting. I thought he’d conduct longer than Stoki (Leopold Stokowski). His father, the singer and actor Lincoln Maazel, lived till 106. In fact, he died just five years ago. His son was extraordinarily energetic. Anyway . . .

Maazel was music director in New York for seven years, and I wrote about him constantly — practically as much as I did the president in the period (the president of the United States, I mean). I’m not going to sum up now. I don’t feel like it. But I’d like to say just a few words.

In addition to being amazing, he was amazingly inconsistent. Some nights, I’d leave the hall thinking, “He’s the most musical man alive.” Other nights, he’d conduct like a dog. But the highs — they were unsurpassable, really. When he was “on,” no one was ever more so.

He was also very, very smart. I learned a lot about music from him. Not from conversation with him, but from listening to him, night after night.

When he was about through — in New York, I mean — I went to see him, because I knew I wouldn’t be reviewing him regularly anymore. As a rule, I don’t think critics should meet or mingle with musicians, or write feature pieces about them. (I am more relaxed about this than I used to be. You could say, less principled.)

We had a splendid interview — wide-ranging. I wrote most of it up here on NRO, in a kind of conversational celebration called “Maazel World.” After I turned my tape recorder off, we spoke some personal words, which were gratifying.

Possibly, he was the most arrogant man I’ve ever met in my life — any field. But I loved him. Absolutely loved him. He had a lot to be arrogant about. Honestly, he enriched my life.

In a way, it’s stupid to write so personally about a world figure — as though a conductor who worked on all continents for 70 years existed to enrich your own life — but there you have it.

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