Remembering Walter Weller

conductor Walter Weller (1939-2015)
conductor Walter Weller (1939-2015)

 

Austrian conductor and violinist Walter Weller passed away last Sunday at the age of 75. Weller was one of the last links to a Viennese musical tradition rooted in the nineteenth century.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Walter Weller joined the Vienna Philharmonic at the age of 17, eventually becoming one of its concertmasters. In addition, he performed as first violinist of the Weller Quartet. In 1966 he was asked to fill in on short notice for the conductor Karl Böhm. This launched a conducting career that included regular appearances at Vienna State Opera and Volksoper and principal conductor posts with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and the Scottish National Orchestra. In an article in Glasgow’s Herald Scotland, music critic Michael Tumelty said that Weller

had a seminal influence on the sound of [the RSNO] that extends to this day. He brought a depth and richness of sound that nobody else ever has.

Conductor Kenneth Woods offered this description in 2007.

Walter Weller leaves behind an extensive discography, ranging from music of Martinu and Suk to the complete symphonies of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Prokofiev. Here is his 2004 recording of Mendelssohn’s overture, The Hebrides, Op. 26, “Fingal’s Cave” with the Philharmonia Orchestra. Throughout the overture, we hear the windswept mystery of the remote Scottish islands Mendelssohn visited around 1829…the play of light and shadow on the water and the rugged cliffs surround Fingal’s Cave. This sense of mystery remains unresolved in the final chords. Weller’s performance comes to life with fiery excitement and also with incredibly soft moments of introspection:

Here is Walter Weller’s 2006 recording with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra of Beethoven’s overture, The Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43. The overture opened Beethoven’s 1801 ballet score.

Here is the final movement from Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony No. 1 from a 1975 recording with the London Symphony Orchestra. It’s hard to imagine a more exciting performance. Listen carefully to the little interjections throughout this joyful whirlwind of a movement:

Remembering Lorin Maazel

Lorin Maazel (1930-2014)
Lorin Maazel (1930-2014)

Conductor Lorin Maazel passed away yesterday at the age of 84. He will be remembered for his long, distinguished career and dramatic and idiosyncratic interpretations.

Maazel debuted as a conductor at the age of 9, after starting violin lessons at 5. As an 11-year-old, he received an invitation from Arturo Toscanini to conduct the NBC Symphony. His music director posts included the Cleveland Orchestra (1972-1982), Vienna State Opera (1982-1984), Pittsburgh Symphony (1988-1996), Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (1993-2002) and the New York Philharmonic (2002-2009). In 2008 he served as a cultural ambassador, leading the New York Philharmonic on a tour of North Korea. In 2009 Maazel and his wife founded the Castleton Festival, a summer program for young musicians at his Virginia estate.

Learn more about Lorin Maazel’s life in this obituary at The Guardian and this PBS Newshour interview.

These memorable quotes reflect Maazel’s views on the essential role of the arts in society:

Art rises above and beyond the issues of the day. It reunites what has been rent asunder, not along national or religious lines, but along individual, human ones. It heals, redefines goals, and strengthens the resolve to move on, to rebuild, to reconstruct. However obtuse human behavior is in other arenas, art, if not suborned, can clarify, put into perspective and re-inspire.

Our Orchestra must also continue to play its leadership role in the community and in our nation. The young look to us to provide substance in place of dross, emotional depth in place of shallow titillation.

In these confused times, the role of classical music is at the very core of the struggle to reassert cultural and ethical values that have always characterized our country and for which we have traditionally been honored and respected outside our shores.

Here is the final movement of Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony with the New York Philharmonic: