In this June 25, 2009 file photo released by the New York Philharmonic, Lorin Maazel conducts the orchestra at Avery Fisher Hall in New York.
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PITTSBURGH — Lorin Maazel, a former child prodigy who became the music director of the New York Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, and several other ensembles around the world, and who was known for his incisive and sometimes extreme interpretations, died Sunday of complications from pneumonia. He was 84.
Mr. Maazel was born in Paris, where his father, Lincoln, a singer and actor, was studying, before his family moved to Los Angeles.
His parents discovered he had perfect pitch when, after flushing a toilet and hearing the lingering sound, he declared it was a B-flat, Lincoln Maazel recalled in an interview with the National Council of Jewish Women oral history project.
Mr. Maazel began studying violin at age 5.
A few years later, Lincoln Maazel got his son a conductor’s score for Haydn’s “Surprise” Symphony. Even as a child, Lorin demonstrated a natural instinct for reading orchestral music.
Lincoln Maazel persuaded conductor Vladimir Bakaleinikoff to watch his young son conduct. After an initial session, Mr. Bakaleinikoff said, “I’ve never, never come across such a talent in my life, and I’ve heard a lot of talents,” according to Lincoln Maazel.
Between the ages of 9 to 15, Mr. Maazel made conducting debuts with major orchestras across the country.
When Mr. Bakaleinikoff moved to Pittsburgh to join the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra as a violist and associate conductor, the Maazels followed him there. Lorin was 10. They also sent young Lorin to music camp at Interlochen, Mich.
Mr. Maazel attended the Linden School and graduated from Peabody High School at 16.
He matriculated to the University of Pittsburgh, and soon after won a spot in the Pittsburgh Symphony’s violin section.
During his career, he conducted more than 150 orchestras and more than 5,000 performances. In later years, he was active as a composer, and wrote music for the opera “1984.”
With his appointment as music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Mr. Maazel became the first conductor with a million-dollar contract, said Robert Moir, senior vice president of artistic planning and audience engagement.
The Pittsburgh Symphony’s standing rose by mere association with Mr. Maazel, but his clear conducting technique and tough leadership style also elevated the ensemble’s playing.
“I consider Lorin Maazel the greatest conductor of my lifetime,” said Robert Croan, a former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette classical music critic. “It used to be said that his beat was so clear that if the sound were turned off, a professional musician could identify the piece he was conducting just by watching his baton motions.”
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Elizabeth Bloom is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.
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