Maestro Lorin Maazel has been celebrating his 70th birthday all year with a conducting tour around the world. He comes to the Chicago Symphony next week where he'll also be presenting the American premiere of his composition, Farewells.
The work, which saw its world premiere in February with the Vienna Philharmonic, is a 27-minute orchestral piece which reflects on many troubling questions about the future of the world and society.
"[While I am of] an optimistic and relatively cheerful nature, in view of the dissemination of arms of mass destruction and human history, which teaches us that all weapons that are invented are eventually used, realistically, I can hardly be very optimistic about our chances for survival," Maazel said in a statement. "And even if the human race were to survive, with one-fourth of the ozone layer already gone, the rain forests wantonly being destroyed, what kind of a world will our children and grandchildren inherit from us?"
Maazel said that from these dark thoughts, Farewells came to him.
"In this mood, I composed a work which is at once a mirror of the obtuseness of human nature and the inhuman crunching of the machines of our invention, and a melancholy evocation of the tenderness we can still find within the souls of those not yet desensitized by the din of the present-day human arena," Maazel said.
But he also feels there is a sense of promise.
"Therein lies our strength as a race: in the innocence of children; their natural yearning for warmth, beauty, and love; their gift for living harmoniously in Nature; their wish to flourish in happiness and peace," the composer said. "Therein lie our hopes for the future."
Maaze,l who was once dubbed by legendary conductor Leopold Stokowski as "the prodigy of the century," is the grandson of a Russian violinist and was born in France. He made his conducting debut at the age of 9 at the 1939 New York World's Fair with a children's orchestra and by 1942 was appointed as conductor of the New York Philharmonic's summer concerts. At the age of 30, he was the first American and the youngest conductor in history to appear at the Bayreuth Festival.
Since then, he has served as artistic director of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, the Vienna State Opera and as music director of the Berlin Radio Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, Orchestra National de France and the Pittsburgh Symphony. In 1993, he became music director of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra of Munich and in course of his career has made over 300 recordings and performed with 150 different orchestras around the world.
"I had conducted a lot of young orchestras recently," Maazel told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "That really interests me, making contacts with a new generation of young musicians. It's great fun."
The birthday tour has been taking him around the globe including appearances with the Vienna Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic, the London Symphony and the New York Philharmonic. He also led the Bavarian Radio Symphony on a nine concert tour of Japan.
At the end of the current tour, Maazel will be busy completing his opera based on George Orwell's novel "1984."
"[I] am going to be conducting less because of this opera I have to have ready by 2003," Maazel said. "It's a tremendous challenge and a great book, and I'm so looking forward to it."
As for the dark questions raised in Farewells, Maazel noted: "I now write very cheerful music and hope to be able to do so for the foreseeable future."
Maazel will be joining the Chicago Symphony in concert on December 14-16 in his Farewells, Berlioz's Roman Carnival Overture, Op. 9 and Sibelius' Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43.