WASHINGTON - Conductor and composer Lorin Maazel - whose celebrated international career began when he was a child and later included stints at the New York Philharmonic and the Vienna State Opera - died Sunday. He was 84.
The much-lauded maestro passed away at his home in the US state of Virginia from complications of pneumonia, according to the Castleton Festival he founded.
Fellow conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, who heads the San Francisco Symphony, took to Twitter to laud Maazel's "brilliance and devotion to music reached the whole world." Born in Paris on March 6, 1930, Maazel was a second-generation American who also made a name for himself as a violinist over the course of a life dedicated to classical music.
He served at the Vienna State Opera, as well as the Deutsche Oper Berlin, the Radio Symphony of Berlin, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Munich Philharmonic and the New York Philharmonic, the festival said in a statement on its website.
It was with the New York Philharmonic that Maazel visited reclusive North Korea in 2008.
That groundbreaking performance - which began with the North Korean and US anthems - was broadcast live both in the autocratic state and around the world.
"When the North Koreans see us live on TV they will see North Americans who are beautiful people... people who care about the arts, who don't have fangs, who are passionate about their work, speaking a language they can relate to," Maazel said ahead of the landmark concert.
Old age did not restrain Maazel, with the festival saying he led 111 concerts around the world last year.
Over all, he conducted more than 150 orchestras in some 5,000 opera and concert performances and made more than 300 recordings.
The world premiere of his first opera - based on George Orwell's "1984" - was at London's Royal Opera House.
A child prodigy, Maazel began learning to play the violin when he was merely five years old, and started taking conducting lessons two years later. His first public performance was at the age of eight.
By the time he was 15, he had conducted most of the major US orchestras.
Maybe because of the attention he received at such a young age, Maazel has been described as being arrogant and stubborn at times, leading to rocky relationships with some of the music houses and companies with which he worked.
"When he took a new directorship, he often announced what he planned to change and why his approach was superior to what had come before," The New York Times reported.
"He knew what he wanted and how to get it, and if he encountered an immovable obstacle, he would walk away, also with a public explanation."
Music world in mourning
The music world reacted with dismay to word of Maazel's death.
Alan Gilbert, the New York Philharmonic's current music director, tweeted he was "absolutely devastated by the shocking news." "Dear Lorin! Thank you so much for your genius our recordings and many performances! Rest," Spanish tenor star Placido Domingo posted.
In London, the Royal Opera House tweeted: "Sad to hear about the death of Lorin Maazel. Our thoughts are with his family at this time." And in Paris, French Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti mourned the loss of an "exceptional artist" who was an "uncompromising but deeply humanistic master."
Maazel founded the Castleton Festival at his farm in Virginia together with his wife Dietlinde Turban Maazel in 2009 and held annual summer performances and seminars there as part of a programme aimed at mentoring budding musicians.
The festival has asked that friends wishing to honour Maazel's memory make charitable donations to his foundation for young performers.