- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 14, 2007


Lorin Maazel was uncharacteristically speechless during his only personal encounter with the great Toscanini.

The New York Philharmonic’s 76-year-old music director was only 11 when he conducted Arturo Toscanini’s NBC Symphony Orchestra in 1941. He was asked to wield the baton after turning heads by leading an orchestra two years earlier at the New York World’s Fair.

During a break in a rehearsal with the NBC orchestra, Mr. Toscanini suddenly appeared in the boy’s dressing room, leaving him awe-struck.

“Whether he was appalled or not I don’t know; whether he felt that I had some talent, I don’t know,” Mr. Maazel recalled during a telephone interview from Rome. “But he was kind enough to come to my dressing room and take me in his arms and give me a kiss on my forehead and say, ‘God bless you.’ ”

Tomorrow night, Mr. Maazel will lead not one, but two orchestras at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall in a concert commemorating the 50th anniversary of the death of the Italian titan. The New York Philharmonic, where Mr. Toscanini was principal conductor from 1928 to 1936, will share the stage with Symphonica Toscanini, a training orchestra founded in Rome in May. The program includes orchestral works by Richard Strauss, Ottorino Respighi and Tchaikovsky, and soprano Renee Fleming singing three Italian arias.

A gala dinner is also planned, with proceeds helping to establish the Philharmonic’s Arturo Toscanini associate conductor’s chair.

Mr. Toscanini was music director of Milan’s Teatro alla Scala during the peak of Italian opera in the early 20th century. He conducted the world premieres of such operas as Puccini’s “La Boheme” and “Turandot” and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci.”

He moved to the United States in 1908 to lead the Metropolitan Opera before going to the Philharmonic and later to the NBC Symphony, which was created for him in 1937 by RCA chief David Sarnoff.

Three years after his final concert with the NBC orchestra, the maestro died in New York on Jan. 16, 1957. He was 89.

In addition to his mastery of music, Mr. Toscanini is remembered for his fearless opposition to fascism and Nazism. He was beaten by Benito Mussolini’s thugs in 1931 after refusing to play the fascist anthem at a concert. He canceled his appearances at the Bayreuth Festival in Germany after Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933. And three years later, he conducted the first concerts of what became the Israel Philharmonic, an orchestra largely made up of Jews who had fled Central Europe.

Then there was his own legendary personality — his autocratic control of his musicians and sizzling sarcasm when faced with something not up to his standards. He passionately believed that the music should be a literal rendition of the composer’s intentions.

“He believed that a piece of music didn’t exist to make the interpreter look good. It was the other way around,” said Harvey Sachs, Mr. Toscanini’s biographer. “In many ways he was a timid person, but he felt that the music was so important that he was going to make it happen the way it should happen. And so he developed this very tough approach.”

But, Mr. Sachs noted in an interview, Italy had no permanent orchestras in Mr. Toscanini’s early days as a conductor in his native country.

“So every time he went to another town to conduct new opera productions he was starting from scratch,” Mr. Sachs said. “And he developed this animal-tamer approach. If you have to scream and shout and throw the baton around and slam the score down on the floor, then you had to do that.”

That reputation helped keep Mr. Maazel silent during his lone encounter with Mr. Toscanini.

“Was I intimidated? Of course I was intimidated,” Mr. Maazel said. “As you could imagine, anybody would have been. … He was a man larger than life.”

c See page B8 for a related story on the Toscanini celebration at the Italian Embassy in Washington.

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