MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
(Soundbite of orchestra warm-up)
SIEGEL: After conducting the country's most famous orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, for seven years, what do you do for an encore? Well, if you're Lorin Maazel, even at age 79, it's time to launch a new project. So Maestro Maazel has created the Castleton Festival at his 500-acre spread in Rappahannock County, Virginia. Two weeks of performances by young, professional artists starts tomorrow.
Yesterday, he was conducting a rehearsal of "The Beggar's Opera," one of four Benjamin Britten chamber operas that they're performing at the festival.
(Soundbite of opera, "The Beggar's Opera")
Unidentified Man #1: (Singing foreign language)
SIEGEL: This was under a tent. So one challenge was staying cool in Virginia in July without suffering the roar of an air conditioner outside. It wasn't a dress rehearsal, so a cast of 20 portrayed the lowlifes of 18th-century London dressed in sneakers, shorts, T-shirts and summer dresses. Lorin Maazel, in jeans, was in the pit, gently leading an 11-piece orchestra.
Mr. LORIN MAAZEL (Conductor): (unintelligible) And air conditioning, please.
SIEGEL: Lorin Maazel resists the word retirement to describe his life nowadays. He still conducts at the opera house in Valencia in Spain and is a guest conductor elsewhere. His Virginia estate is home to 150 young artists every summer, not to mention, an equal number of cattle all year round. The Castleton Festival grows out of the Young Artist-in-Residence program, and in addition to conducting at the festival, Maazel now intends to teach a master class for aspiring conductors for the first time. He says that is forcing him to really think about what you really can teach conductors.
He recalls a question he once put to his fellow judges in a competition for conductors.
Mr. MAAZEL: Can you define what a conductor is? You know what a conductor does, but what is a conductor? And they all said, with one voice, we have no idea what a conductor is, but we recognize one when we see one. And indeed, it's unmistakable. You see it right away, a natural-born conductor, certain manualities, certain ability to identify with the musical discourse instinctively, and that can't be taught.
SIEGEL: You actually did this at the age of nine. Was there a gift you possessed at that age that prepared you for that at that moment?
Mr. MAAZEL: Well, every musician must show his talent and proclivity at an early age. That's characteristic of a gift, as it is in chess playing, in math. That one then conducts or plays publicly, is a decision that is not taken by the youngster, obviously, but by his parents and his teacher.
And in my case, I had the good fortune of not being exploited, as so many "child prodigies," in quotes, were, by keeping the number of concerts to a reasonable limit. I could go to school like everybody else and play baseball and football, which I did.
(Soundbite of song, "Firebird")
SIEGEL: This is from a recording of Stravinsky's "Firebird" with Maazel conducting the New York Philharmonic.
(Soundbite of song, "Firebird")
SIEGEL: His style with musicians is very restrained. Detractors have faulted him for being unengaged. He likens himself to the first violinist in a string quartet, which he once was, a leader among fellow musicians, and as an American, he says, authoritarianism did not come naturally.
Lorin Maazel told me proudly about his last rehearsal with the New York Philharmonic and what one of the musicians said about him.
Mr. MAAZEL: I was very, very pleased to hear from a representative of the orchestra, who said that we have been waiting for seven years for you to lose your temper once, and you never did.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MAAZEL: Why? Because, you know?
SIEGEL: (Unintelligible) cliches of what the conductor is, what the maestro is.
Mr. MAAZEL: Exactly, shaking your first or screaming or jumping up and down or throwing a tantrum. It's ridiculous. It's non-productive.
SIEGEL: Did you ever want to? I mean, was there a temptation to do so? Were you restraining yourself or just not in your temperament?
Mr. MAAZEL: Well, it's - I'm very firm about what it is that I feel I want for myself and from the orchestra, and I'm quite stubborn. I keep at it, but if you respect the people you're working with, you don't start shaking your fist at them.
That's also true at home. I mean no child, and I've had seven of them, has ever felt my hand. An intelligent parent learns very quickly about the importance of the alternative. Rather than saying, don't do that, you say why not do this? And so it is for the conductors.
A conductor must lead, and people want to be led. That's why they're there, and in fact they fault a leader for not being able to lead. You know, when a conductor walks to the podium and says, well, I'm here to learn from you, forget it. Many of my colleagues don't know that and begin explaining the music and projecting themselves as interpreters and talking about phrasing.
You don't talk, you do. And you do by having a hand which has been trained to express everything that it should express at any given moment, such as offering a point of reference for ensemble, for players staying together, the kind of sound that you would like, tempo, a lot of things.
You can express all of this in one motion, if you can, if you're a proper conductor. If you have to stop and look around and say it's not together, just walk off the podium and go home because that's your job, to get it together. If it's not together, it's your problem, not theirs.
(Soundbite of music)
SIEGEL: Maestro Maazel, thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. MAAZEL: Thank you.
SIEGEL: Lorin Maazel at his Virginia home, Castleton Farms. The first Castleton Festival begins tomorrow and runs through July 19th.
(Soundbite of music)
BLOCK: And you can take a visual tour of Lorin Maazel's music camp at nprmusic.org.
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