Conductor and composer André Previn dies at 89

Musician, who won four Oscars and conducted the London Symphony Orchestra, blurred musical boundaries

The conductor and composer André Previn has died at the age of 89. The German-born musician was an extraordinary and versatile talent who blurred the boundaries between jazz, pop, film and classical music.

For many Britons, however, he will always be best known as “Andrew Preview” for his appearance on 1971’s Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special, which featured him conducting Eric Morecambe as an inept soloist in Grieg’s Piano Concerto.

Previn was born in Berlin in 1929, but his family fled Nazi Germany for the US, and he became an American citizen in 1943. He grew up in Los Angeles and, while still in his teens, started writing film scores and working as a jazz pianist, appearing with Ella Fitzgerald, among others. During military service in the early 50s, he took conducting lessons with Pierre Monteux, and, at the age of 32, abandoned Hollywood to concentrate on a classical career. “At MGM, you knew you were going to be working next year, you knew you were going to get paid. But I was too ambitious musically to settle for it. And I wanted to gamble with whatever talent I might have had,” he told a Guardian interviewer in 2008.

In 1967, Previn succeeded Sir John Barbirolli as music director of the Houston Symphony Orchestra. The following year he was appointed principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, a post he held for 11 years.

During his time in London, he did much to broaden the orchestra’s reach with regular television appearances including the BBC’s weekly André Previn’s Music Night, which ran weekly in a primetime slot on Saturday evenings during the early- to mid-70s. More people watched the LSO on Music Night in one week than in 65 years of concerts, and he and the orchestra made an average of 14 albums a year.

His close relationship with the orchestra continued throughout his life. He was made conductor laureate in 1992 and conductor emeritus in 2016, and last conducted them in London in 2015.

Andrew Marriner, LSO’s principal clarinet and lifelong friend, said today: “André’s music-making thrilled me long before I was lucky enough to play with him, but when I did, it was the extraordinary sound he conjured from an orchestra, unmistakably his own, that dazzled. In Strauss, Walton, Rachmaninov and so much more, he drew the players into a deeply moving collaboration. His touch on the piano in Mozart concertos and in chamber music was divine, his compositions fabulously crafted. Never one to suffer fools, his wicked sense of humour could be sharp, always hilarious.”

From 1976-84, Previn was music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and between 1985-88, principal conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. A spell as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the late 80s was cut short when he resigned following a disagreement over the appointment of his successor. In recent years, he was music director of the Oslo Philharmonic (2002 to 2006), and in 2009 was appointed Principal Guest Conductor of Tokyo’s NHK Symphony Orchestra.

His first opera, A Streetcar Named Desire was premiered at San Francisco Opera in 1998 with Renée Fleming as Blanche DuBois, and he also wrote as musicals, orchestral and chamber works and several concertos, and he continued to work in Hollywood throughout his life as a score writer and arranger. He was nominated 11 times for an Oscar, winning four – for best scoring of a musical for Lerner and Loewe’s Gigi and Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, and best score (adaptation or treatment) for the Billy Wilder comedy Irma la Douce, and then for George Cukor’s blockbuster version of Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady. He also wrote song music for Paint Your Wagon, a film based on another Lerner and Loewe musical.

See you in the Morning beloved Friend. May you rest in glorious symphonies

— Mia Farrow (@MiaFarrow) February 28, 2019

His personal life – he married five times – also made him a public figure. One of his marriages was to actress and activist Mia Farrow, with whom he had three biological children. They also adopted three others, including Soon-Yi, who went on to marry Woody Allen, Farrow’s partner after her break-up with Previn. His fifth marriage, to violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, for whom he had composed a violin concerto, lasted only four years, but the two remained close.

He was asked in an 80th-birthday interview whether he had any regrets. “Privately, yes,” he said. “I’ve made some very poor choices in my private life. But, as a professional, no, not really.”

“I don’t,” he added, “tend to take myself all that seriously.”


Imogen Tilden

The GuardianTramp

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