André Previn, the legendary conductor, composer and pianist, has passed away shortly before his 90th birthday.
During his incomparable career he won 4 Oscars and 13 nominations; 10 Grammy® Awards, 44 Nominations and the Grammy® Lifetime Achievement Award; was named honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II; and awarded the Austrian and German Cross of Merit, the Glenn Gould Prize and the Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award amongst countless additional accolades.
Throughout his seven-decade career, Mr Previn performed with and composed for greats from classical, opera, jazz and standards including Anne-Sophie Mutter, Leontyne Price, Renée Fleming, Yo-Yo Ma, Oscar Peterson, Doris Day and Morecome and Wise. He conducted the world’s major orchestras both in concert and on recording, and frequently collaborated with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic and Vienna Philharmonic. He held chief artistic positions with the London Symphony Orchestra, Houston Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2009, André Previn was appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the NHK Symphony Orchestra.
In the recent years, he occupied his brilliant mind mostly with composing and worked tirelessly on new commissions until only a few days before his passing. Several of his new works will be heard for the first time in the coming season.
Renée Fleming writes:
“André Previn was a beloved friend, and I mourn his loss both personally and as an artist.
“André’s gifts as a conductor, a composer, a jazz pianist, an orchestrator, and an arranger were dazzling. To achieve his success in any one of these disciplines would have been remarkable, but it’s almost unheard of to master all of them. As a composer, André created a bridge between the music of his German heritage, and the sounds of jazz and contemporary music in America. This was evident in his gorgeous score for A Streetcar Named Desire, an iconic American play that he brought to new life as an opera.
“I had the privilege of premiering four major works by André Previn, and, in recent months, we were in the process of preparing another one with Tom Stoppard and the Emerson Quartet. André is the composer I have worked most closely with throughout my career, and his writing for the voice was nonpareil. He not only captured the natural flow of language in his settings, he magnified the emotional truth of the words through his music. We first worked together for the world premiere of A Streetcar Named Desire, which has since achieved a truly rare distinction for a contemporary opera, entering the standard repertoire, with productions all around the globe. His settings of Isak Dinesen’s “The Giraffes go to Hamburg,’ three poems by Emily Dickinson, and a cycle by William Butler Yeats are simply heaven to sing. Being present at the creation of these works has been one of the great joys of my life as an artist.
“And as a friend, I will miss André’s fierce intelligence, playful wit, and great kindness. There really was no one like him, and he will be missed.”
Eugene Drucker of the Emerson String Quartet reflects:
“We in the Emerson String Quartet have very fond memories of working together with the great and enormously versatile musician André Previn. In the mid-late 1990s we performed with him in Vienna and Ludwigshafen, Germany. His Mozart was transparent, crystalline and brilliant; his Brahms was darker-hued and powerful, but never overpowering in comparison to the strings. Rehearsing with him was a joy on both musical and personal levels. He regaled us with numerous stories of his colorful experiences with artists and entertainers as varied as George Szell and Lenny Bruce. His wit and delightfully sardonic viewpoint on the vicissitudes of a performer’s life were always in evidence.
“In May 2003 at Carnegie Hall, teaming up with Barbara Bonney, we premiered Maestro Previn’s quartet with soprano, based on the poetry of Christina Rossetti. Very recently he collaborated with the great playwright Tom Stoppard to create a monodrama for Renée Fleming and the Emerson Quartet, based on the character of Penelope from Homer’s epic “The Odyssey.” The world premiere is anticipated for Tanglewood in late July, followed in quick succession by appearances at the Ravinia Festival and Aspen. A reprise is planned for the Kennedy Center next season. This new work is the result of a meeting that included Maestro Previn, Ms. Fleming and members of the Quartet, plus our representatives, in which Ms. Fleming expressed the desire for a work in the literary “voice” of a strong, complex woman, not an ingenue. We look forward to the opportunity to delve into this many-layered evocation of the ancient myth, combining narrative and subjective elements, casting new light on age-old questions of gender roles, fidelity and the endurance of love.
“Whenever we have seen André Previn backstage after our concerts in recent years – a concert of late Shostakovich quartets at Tanglewood comes to mind, preceded by a Carnegie Hall appearance on Ms. Fleming’s “Perspectives” series in May 2013 – we have felt honored, but perhaps more importantly, touched that such a distinguished old friend of ours had made the effort to come and hear us play once again.”