Madeline Rogers: What impressions have you formed of the Orchestra since becoming Music Director?
Lorin Maazel: I would wager that there isn't another orchestra in the world that has such an accumulation of talent under one roof. It's awesome what these folks have accomplished and are doing in the community both within and outside the Orchestra, as soloists, chamber music players, pedagogues, scholars, whatever. And at the same time, they are very proud to be members of the New York Philharmonic. I never see a moment where there's any complacency. They're at the edge of their seats and they're focused and they're going for it. And it's incredibly thrilling for me.
MR: You said in a New York Times interview that coming to the Philharmonic represented a fruition of your experience. Given your extensive experience, that is a remarkable statement.
LM: Well, I suppose leading this Orchestra was something that I'd always wanted to do. And I'm very happy that if it was going to happen, it has happened at this time of my life. Because I really feel that if I can meet the challenge, I can best meet it now. It might not have been the case 10 years ago.
MR: Is that because you've changed in some way?
LM: It's not that I've changed, it's a question of maturity; a question of being in the right frame of mind for that kind of challenge.
MR: Pierre Monteux's advice to aspiring conductors was "know your score perfectly." Do you think that's the essence of conducting?
LM: Know your score . . . that certainly helps. That's true in every field. I've always taken the profession very seriously. And I have asked myself, if I were a player in my own orchestra, what would I expect from the person on the podium? Obviously I'm looking for leadership by someone who knows more about the material than I do as a player. I want to have the feeling that he's leading, not following. There are conductors who just follow. I mean it's the blind following the blind. Not that an orchestra player is blind, but if you're playing your part and you're constantly thinking about what the others are playing, and trying to keep a conductorial overview, you're not going to play very well because you're distracted.
MR: You often conduct from memory. Does that change the experience of communicating with the orchestra?
LM: I do use a score from time to time; I have nothing against that. It's just that I like to be able to look at everybody so that I can encourage people. I compare conducting by memory with walking through a wooded area through which you have walked many, many times. Without noticing it, you know where every root is, every tree trunk, every vine, so that you probably could walk it blindfolded, you've done it so often. In fact, I used to do that as a kid. It was at the end of the Second World War and I lived in an area where there was no electricity, if you can believe that! And, in the dead of night, I would walk through these woods totally unable to see anything. But I had done it so often that I'd never get lost.
MR: So you'd feel confident . . .
LM: Exactly. So with that kind of intuitive feeling of the length and breadth of the trip, you know at every moment where you are in relation to the distance you have traveled and in relation to the distance you still have to travel. So in conducting, your interpretation has to reflect that balance. And you can do this only if you've digested all the material.
MR: How have you found the Philharmonic audiences?
LM: This is a very sophisticated, urbane audience. It's not going to be told what it likes or what it doesn't like, either by the person on the podium or by the press. That is what I love and respect.
MR: On a personal note, I'm sure our audience would like to know where you get so much energy. I understand, for example, that you're a diver.
LM: I love to dive. When you're scuba diving and you're down 30 or 40 feet, it's unbelievable. When you follow behind a sea turtle for two hours, or a manta ray, you begin to understand what life is really all about. I also walk a lot. And I play a lot of tennis. And, of course, I give a lot of concerts. But basically I think my stamina comes from my ability to sleep. I can catch these cat naps of just 30 seconds sometimes. I have actually left the podium during a rehearsal, gone to my dressing room and fallen asleep for three minutes. I come back, I'm full of fire for the second half. Very important.
MR: Do you have any other thoughts you would like to share?
LM: Well it's about the so-called crisis in classical music. I don't believe it. If you go to conservatories about the world‹and I have poked my head into just about every one from Seoul to St. Petersburg‹you see thousands of students, just pouring out of these schools, incredibly dedicated, motivated, loving music. Look at the two winners of my [Maazel/ Vilar] Conductors' Competition. We had 25 nationalities represented. One of the reasons I hope to continue with the competition is that I have the feeling that if, over the next decade, I have helped place eight or nine truly gifted conductors, they will be catalysts.
MR: So your solution to the "crisis" is . . . ?
LM: Great music well performed, brilliantly performed, convincingly performed goes over everywhere. I mean there isn't an audience that doesn't hear it, believe in it, and jump to its feet in pleasure because they feel it right down their spinal column.