Have any conductors been child prodigies? There is at least one known example: Lorin Maazel is only nine years old when he conducts a large orchestra for the first time at the New York World’s Fair in 1939. By this time he already has four years of piano and violin lessons behind him as well as two years of instruction in conducting. At the age of 15 he has already stood in front of nearly all of America’s great orchestras, once even on the invitation of Arturo Toscanini.

Lorin Maazel’s parents, a pianist and a singer, are Jewish Americans with Russian and Dutch roots; Lorin is born in France. He has thus been a cosmopolitan practically since the cradle, later speaking seven languages fluently and conducting throughout the whole world. He continually makes use of music to build bridges, conducting in the former Soviet Union and in 2008, as the first Western conductor, even in North Korea. And he is the first American to stand on the podium in Bayreuth and to direct the Vienna State Opera. Since he believes that art and artists play an important public role. But according to Maazel, this role must be non-political, since there is much more at stake: namely, bringing peoples and their cultures together, thus making a genuine exchange possible.

© Ulla Pilz, ORF - Radio Österreich 1


  • Born in 1930 in Neuilly-sur Seine, raised in Los Angeles

  • Child prodigy conductor, first recording as a violinist at the age of fifteen, college degree at the age of twenty in languages, mathematics, and philosophy

  • 1951 continues his musical studies in Italy, from 1953 onwards is already conducting a number of European orchestras

  • Debuts at the Salzburg Festival in 1963 and Vienna State Opera in 1964

  • 1964–75 principal conductor of the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, 1965–71 simultaneously serves as General Music Director of the Neue Oper Berlin

  • Also directs: the New Philharmonia Orchestra London (1970–72), Cleveland Orchestra (1972–82), Pittsburgh Orchestra (1988–96, where he had played second violin as a young man), Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (1993–2002), and New York Philharmonic (2002–09)

  • 1980 he leads the Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s Concert for the first time, which he would go on to conduct on ten more occasions

  • 2009 with his wife, founds the Castleton Festival with concerts and master classes. Maazel views this festival as his legacy

  • Starting in 2012, principal conductor of the Munich Philharmonic

  • Lorin Maazel dies in 2014 from the complications of pneumonia in Castleton, Virginia

Did you know?

  • Lorin Maazel was married three times (to pianists Miriam Sandbank and Israela Margalit and to actress Dietlinde Turban) and has four daughters and three sons

  • He is well known for the precision of his baton technique and for his memory: he nearly always conducts by heart and if possible, in a way that rules out misunderstandings among the musicians. In the process, he projects such an air of laid-back superiority that many see him as pompous

  • When the Berlin Philharmonic declines to make him Karajan’s successor in 1989, choosing Claudio Abbado instead, Maazel is quite irked and cancels all concerts with the orchestra

  • Since the 1990s, Maazel turns increasingly to composing, saying that it makes him a happier person, despite the fact that he actually has no time to do so

  • Maazel’s favorite leisure activities include literature (he writes novels and short stories himself), film, and table tennis. He also loves watching tennis on television, listening to Tony Bennett, and (in recent years) writing blogs and twitter posts

  • Maazel was long considered to be the world’s most expensive conductor; when asked about this, he replied that no one offers an artist more than he is willing to pay

  • Maazel is a conductor of records and superlatives: in his more than seventy-year-long conducting career, he performs over 7000 concerts with around 200 different orchestras, including 111 concerts in 2013 alone, the year before his death, from Munich to Oman