In May 1996, a Post-Gazette editorial described Lorin Maazel’s last concert as music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Of his moving rendition of Gustav Mahler’s “Resurrection Symphony,” the piece said: “The applause was thunderous, the memories many and the gratitude deep in Heinz Hall Sunday.”
The editorial went on to say: “Many Pittsburghers in attendance felt the depths of sadness conveyed in the early movements. And that sadness aptly expresses how Mr. Maazel’s orchestra, his audiences and many residents of this region feel about his departure.”
Except for the applause, now faded into the ages and replaced by respectful sorrow, those words express the feelings this week after the news that Mr. Maazel died Sunday at the age of 84 in Castleton, Va.
His was a life of genius in which Pittsburgh was blessed to share. Born in Paris, he came here with his family from Los Angeles at age 10, already a child prodigy who between the ages of 9 and 15 conducted major orchestras across the country. In Pittsburgh, he attended Linden School, Peabody High School and the University of Pittsburgh and won a spot in the violin section of the PSO.
When in the fuller bloom of his accomplishment he returned in 1988 as the PSO’s music director, it was both a homecoming and a rescue. Recruiting the best, he methodically remade the orchestra according to his exacting standards of excellence. The result was that a good orchestra became world-renowned. Long-time Post-Gazette classical music critic Robert Croan remembers this as a golden age; he regards Mr. Maazel as the greatest conductor of his lifetime.
The maestro accrued many honors and today Pittsburgh’s loss is also the world’s.