By Eric Silberger on July 15, 2014
I wanted to write something about a wonderful mentor, friend, supporter, and inspiration.
Maestro Maazel founded the Castleton Festival, which is where I met him. He once told me, “always remain humble, our friendship depends on it.” In front of the music, he was extremely humble and always dedicated to achieving the highest standards possible.
Even though he had conducted the same works hundreds of times (for instance, the overture of La Forza del Destino), he always revisited the scores before bringing the music to life once again. Performances I had with him at Castleton were musical events that I will always remember.
On a personal level, he had a fantastic sense of humor and joie de vivre. I had good conversations with him in Vienna, Oman, New York, Munich, and Virginia, where he would always enjoy the present while planning for the future. He looked forward to the Castleton Festival summers with great interest and enthusiasm. He also had a long time horizon that allowed him to envision opportunities and a future that few imagine.
Once when I went last year to a performance of Don Carlo he was conducting at the Met, I saw him backstage during the intermission. He went on to speak very candidly about the performance and the music. He related to me that once in a previous performance of the opera, he had taken a leap in the podium that resulted in such a clatter that everyone in the pit looked up in surprise. It was a spontaneous decision that helped to realign the orchestra with the singers on stage and one which he told me he had never used before. He conducted a truly grand and moving rendition of the opera which lasted for 5 hours in which he stood the entire time.
Castleton is where I saw him at his most relaxed. Yet that did not stop him from rehearsing with the orchestra and singers here for 9 hours a day as recently as last summer. He told me that the weeks at Castleton were his “vacation”. I can certainly say that his vacation was more productive than any other I have ever seen! The music and atmosphere at Castleton is what helped reenergize him every year.
Throughout my time with him, he was always very encouraging both personally and musically. He once told me always to “trust your intuition.” He was genuine in his love of music and living.
I had the good fortune to play many times for him and receive some of his advice. Most recently, I played as soloist in the Mozart 5th Violin Concerto and Saint Saens Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso with the Castleton Festival Orchestra (originally with him conducting). He was very kind after the first rehearsal to say how much he looked forward to doing Glazunov Concerto together (which we were scheduled to perform together in Denmark next season).
The next morning I was running (literally) on the farm here to a rehearsal and was picked up by a car he was riding in. He immediately started discussing aspects of phrasing and contrast. One thing he was always adamant about was not having “mezzo mezzo” playing. Contrasts in dynamics, colors, and expression, when used with the sincerity he had so much of, really brought life to the notes on the page. When you spend so much of your time with notes on a score, what makes it feel worthwhile is not the accurate execution of the notes. Rather, it is the special moments in music you remember your entire life.
He loved challenges and loved challenging others to see what limits there were to one’s abilities. Last summer, he put me to the test and asked me to learn the Barber Concerto in one day to play in a rehearsal with him conducting. He had a one track mind where anything he asked for he believed could happen--and it did. It was not unusual to work with him on a Mahler Symphony and Puccini Opera on the same day and then to play chamber music at night. Under his direction, I also served as principal in the orchestra, and co-founded the Castleton Chamber Players with my colleague Daniel Lelchuk.
Making music from so many different angles was something Maestro Maazel exemplified. As a fine violinist, he played in the Pittsburgh Symphony to put himself through school while performing solo and chamber music. He once said to me, the more knowledge you acquire through the different parts of music you study, the more well rounded you will be as a musician. This extended to learning fields outside of music, including languages, philosophy, and other subjects.
His presence was a reassuring one both for one’s future and for the musical standards of orchestras. He was an expert in rehearsing, and a large part of his success was his ability to communicate without words. Outside of rehearsals, some of the most meaningful moments I shared with him were without words. The last time I saw him was shortly before I played the Mozart Concerto in concert here at Castleton, and he was backstage. We both exchanged a smile, and a simple thumbs up before I played.
I will miss not only the music he brought to the world, but also his eternal optimism, belief, fearlessness, and most of all his sincerity. His life is a true example of what is possible when you live your life to the fullest. I hope to as much as possible take what I learned from him and pass on his legacy every time I pick up the violin, a score, or have a moment to reflect and just enjoy. Living life in such a way is truly a life well spent.