Maazel’s Talents

Concert Review: Maazel’s talents — as conductor and composer — enchant audience

Wednesday, December 06, 2000

By Rebecca Redshaw

The benefit concert for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra last night at Heinz Hall was more than a welcome home party for Lorin Maazel. It was an evening of contrasts: new music and old, delicate orchestrations and bombastic, light- hearted compositions and serious. Even the audience was different with more than a scattering of very young and teen-age listeners mixed with, shall we say, seasoned concert-goers.
The outcome of all those contrasting elements under one roof was an extraordinary evening of music conducted with taste and precision by Maazel.

The evening began with a small orchestra performing Maurice Ravel’s “Ma mere L’oye” (Mother Goose). Written originally for piano four hands, after several years Ravel orchestrated the series of children’s stories for a ballet.

Like a child’s sailboat on the lake in Central Park, the delicate theme drifted through the strings, barely creating a ripple. Maazel exhorts more from his musicians with a mere flick of the wrist or a flutter of fingers than most conductors do with exaggerated gestures.

This piece is intriguing, due in no small part to Ravel’s skillful orchestration. Whether writing a plodding bassoon line representing the beast in “Beauty and the Beast” or an enticing violin solo signaling the beast’s transformation to prince, the music paints a vivid picture.

Having read Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” to his children, Maazel was inspired to compose a musical narrative. I had the pleasure of hearing not only the music for the first time but the story as well. Sitting across the aisle were two young sisters, Anna and Julie Premo, who quietly turned pages in their dog-eared storybook. They had read “The Giving Tree” “hundreds of times” and didn’t mind that a few words were changed or added. Grade-schooler Julie was one of the first to leap out of her seat with enthusiasm at the end of the story.

There’s something incredibly soothing about having someone read to you and this evening’s performance was no exception. The svelte Dietlinde Turban’s diction was impeccable and any temptation to overdramatize was resisted to the benefit of the text.

Cellist Anne Martindale Williams played both the part of the boy and the tree, depicting the “growth” of their relationship over the years. Williams played with spunk and enthusiasm and it was easy to envision the metamorphosis of boy to man and tree to “stump.”

Credit goes to the composer for writing a musical work which reaches children of all ages. Even though the themes are not as readily memorable as those in Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” Maazel draws listeners to the edges of their seats, wanting to know what happens next musically and literally.

Symphony No.9 in E minor by Antonin Dvorak, known to most as the “New World,” was performed on the second half of the program. Composed in 1893 and consisting of four movements, this work can be overbearing with its excessively familiar themes and bombastic brass sections, but not in the hands of a gifted conductor like Maazel. Always in total control, he made the second movement largo sound alive and enticing, particularly where the bassoon briefly doubles the English horn solo.

The brasses, slightly tentative at the beginning of the movement, quickly got on track and by the time they made their driving entrance in the finale, they were united in purpose.

All cliches have an exception and it is a pleasure to report to Lorin Maazel that “you can go home again,” even if it’s only for one night.


Rebecca Redshaw is a free-lance writer who reviews classical music for the Post-Gazette.