Conductor Lorin Maazel dies at 84

WASHINGTON - Conductor and composer Lorin Maazel -- whose celebrated international career included stints at the New York Philharmonic and the Vienna State Opera -- died Sunday. He was 84.

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The much-lauded maestro passed away at his home in the US state of Virginia from complications of pneumonia, according to the Castleton Festival he founded.

Born in Paris on March 6, 1930, Maazel was a second-generation American who also made a name for himself as a composer over the course of a life dedicated to classical music.

Over the decades, he served at the Vienna State Opera, as well as at the Radio Symphony of Berlin, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Munich Philharmonic and the New York Philharmonic, the festival said in a statement on its website.

It was with the New York Philharmonic that he visited reclusive North Korea in 2008.

That groundbreaking performance -- which began with the North Korean and US anthems -- was broadcast live both in the autocratic state and around the world.

"When the North Koreans see us live on TV they will see North Americans who are beautiful people ... people who care about the arts, who don't have fangs, who are passionate about their work, speaking a language they can relate to," Maazel said ahead of the landmark concert.

His first opera -- based on George Orwell's 1984 -- premiered at the Royal Opera House.

Old age did not restrain Maazel, with the festival saying that he led 111 concerts around the world last year. Over the years, he conducted more than 150 orchestras in some 5,000 opera and concert performances and made more than 300 recordings, it added.

A child prodigy, Maazel began learning to play the violin when he was merely five years old, and started taking conducting lessons two years later. His first public performance was at the age of eight.

Maazel was described as being arrogant and stubborn at times, which led to rocky relationships with some of the music houses and companies he worked with.

"When he took a new directorship, he often announced what he planned to change and why his approach was superior to what had come before. He knew what he wanted and how to get it, and if he encountered an immovable obstacle, he would walk away, also with a public explanation," the New York Times reported.

Maazel founded the Castleton Festival at his farm in Virginia together with his wife in 2009 and has held annual summer performances and seminars there as part of the program aimed at mentoring young musicians.

The festival has asked that friends wishing to pay their respects make charitable donations to his foundation for young performers.

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