Turning His Back on Death: Lorin Maazel in Princeton


If you attend enough concerts you witness strange, unmusical happenings: people shout complaints at performers, soloists forget their parts, and lightening knocks out the lights in an outdoor music shed.

Death, too, finds a way into the hall, as it befell the piano soloist, Simon Barere, during a 1951 Philadelphia Orchestra concert in Carnegie Hall.

The recent death of 84-year-old conductor Lorin Maazel reminded me of such a concert in the early 1970s: the Cleveland Orchestra and the maestro on tour at the McCarter Theater in Princeton.

The program included Mozart’s 29th Symphony in A major and Mahler’s Seventh. My wife and I had balcony seats. The catastrophe arrived in the Mozart Andante.

Something happened to a man seated in the 8th row of the main floor. Soon the victim was in the center left aisle. A physician arrived. The seraphic background sounds of the orchestra created a surreal effect.

THUMP. More music. THUMP again, as the MD’s sledge-hammer fist, more appropriate to Mahler than Mozart, attempted to restart the patron’s stalled heart. The concert continued. The percussion beats in the audience defied the percussionless ensemble and Mozart’s angelic music.

Once the second movement ended, Maazel stopped and the orchestra waited and watched while the man’s disaster unfolded. He was eventually carried from the hall.

Did Maazel know what happened as he conducted? I doubt it. No one alerted the Cleveland Music Director, whose body remained unturned until (it appeared) he was told at the slow movement’s close. No longer a conductor, he too was a member of the audience until the concert resumed.

Maazel remained a veritable music machine for years, including two Beethoven marathons — the complete cycle of nine symphonies done in less than half a day — most recently in Tokyo in late 2010, according to the New York Times.

As the conductor’s obituary confirms, Lorin Maazel turned his back on death for only so long. The celebrated conductor, who debuted at age nine, died on July 13th. To Mozart’s music? I can think of worse ways to go.

The 2006 photo of Lorin Maazel was originally uploaded by Barbara Haws and is sourced from Wikimedia Commons. The video is of Maazel conducting Mozart’s Symphony #41.

4 thoughts on “Turning His Back on Death: Lorin Maazel in Princeton

  1. Even the greatest among us must embrace death when it comes.


  2. Something similar happened to us once, attending the San Francisco Symphony (Michael Tilson Thomas was the conductor; I no longer remember the program). The person in question actually got up from their seat (in the orchestra section; we were above, in the balcony) in the middle of the movement and tried to exit the theater, then collapsed on the steps. There was a doctor in the house, who came to help — then after a few minutes returned to his seat. That’s when we all knew it was a tragedy. The movement didn’t end until the EMTs had almost finished carrying the person from the hall.


    • drgeraldstein

      Very similar. The drama of those moments makes quite an impact, enough for us to remember them. Much different from the abstraction of death in news reports. As Stalin (of all people said), “One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.” Thanks for commenting.


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