Madeline Rogers: Now that you're halfway through your second season as Music Director, can you talk about your impressions of the Orchestra?
Lorin Maazel: The New York Philharmonic has an extraordinary sound‹extremely clear, focused, rich, burnished. This is the orchestra with the greatest in-depth pool of talent I've ever encountered. It's astonishing. It has a sound that I've come to work with, admire, and have integrated into my own sound-picture of music.
MR: It's been said that you had an almost immediate impact on the Orchestra and on its sound. Do you agree?
LM: The sound was always there. One of my precepts is to put players at their ease because then they're not worried about where they are at any particular point in time. They're able to give more consideration to how they're playing‹to the beauty of sound, the variety of sound.
MR: At the start of the current season, you promised a varied program and that's proven to be true; the Orchestra is performing everything from Mozart and Haydn to Turnage, Corigliano, and Ives. Why is that important to you?
LM: You're playing for a group of people who are interested in classical music, have a special affinity for it, respond to it. They want to be placed in the mainstream of musical activity, which means, on the one hand, hearing the icons of the repertoire and, on the other hand, being kept abreast of what's happening.
MR: So you always have the audience in mind . . .
LM: Our constituents‹the audience, people who love us, support us, come to our concerts‹these are the people I care about. In fact, these are the only folks I care about. Everything else is irrelevant. We are playing for them. Your public is the only reason you exist. Otherwise you'd be home, giving concerts for yourself.
MR: So you don't agree with the charge that Philharmonic audiences are overly conservative or not interested in new works?
LM: In many cases audiences are ahead of theperformers. They are often more open than one might think. Sometimes they're kind of appalled by a piece, like Varèse's Amériques [performed last season]. The audience, I think, was split right down the middle on that one. Some folks were booing the choice and other folks were cheering. That's fine. You don't want to do that every day of the week, but Avery Fisher Hall should be a place of dissension, of controversy, of challenge, at times. And I think to the degree that we have done that, folks have reacted quite positively.
MR: You ended last season with Mahler's Second Symphony. People are still talking about that. You're ending this season with Mahler's Third Symphony. Can you share some thoughts about Mahler?
LM: I have given four cycles of his symphonic works on four different occasions. Now that I have conducted so much of his music, I feel that I can speak with some authority about the feelings his music can give rise to. The man was a wall-to-wall philosopher. He embraced every known, and a few unknown, human emotions; he was not embarrassed to put them forth. He was a very well-rounded, well-balanced person with a gigantic sense of humor and a light touch. I mention that because those lighter aspects of Mahler are very often ignored. He was obviously a Romantic, and his love music is incredibly beautiful, very passionate.
In my interpretations, I try not to superimpose banal concepts of what Mahler is all about. If we're talking about melancholia or introspection or a tragic moment, well then let us be tragic with the tragic music, but so much of his music is lighthearted. To seek tragedy where it isn't is doing him a great disservice.
MR: Mahler directed the New York Philharmonic. When you step on to the podium, do you think about your predecessors and that tradition?
LM: I certainly do. I wouldn't be taking my position seriously if I didn't think about the honor it is to be in that role of masters. I do try to be worthy of the calling.
Madeline Rogers is the New York Philharmonic's Director of Publications.