André Previn, the multi-talented musician and composer who served as the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s musical director from 1976 to 1984, has died. He was 89.
In the ’70s, Previn brought acclaim to the PSO with the airing of eight PBS specials titled “Previn and the Pittsburgh.” He was a piano virtuoso in both the classical and jazz idioms, who also served as musical director of Houston’s orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and as principal conductor of the London Symphony and Royal Philharmonic orchestras.
Previn was born in Germany and grew up in Los Angeles. He was also well known for his film work: He won four Oscars, including one for his adapted score for the big-screen version of “My Fair Lady.” Previn also earned 10 Grammys, for work ranging from film scores to his jazz and classical recordings.
“It is with tremendous sadness that I learned this afternoon of the passing of the great maestro André Previn,” said Manfred Honeck, the PSO's current music director, in a statement. "The world has lost a true musical legend and the symphony has lost a close and dear friend. ... He was humorous, friendly and a natural partner in music-making."
“I have no doubt that I was incredibly fortunate to start my career in the United States with a bona fide genius on the podium," said said Harold Smoliar, the PSO's principal English horn. "I had so much respect for his musical talent which went far beyond his conducting. He and I shared a love of jazz, which we discussed fairly often. ... Working with him was a high point of my career.”
In his later years, recalls PSO trumpeter Neal Berntsen, Previn once visited Carnegie Mellon University to coach students there to perform one of his own works, “Four Outings for Brass Quintet.” Berntsen, who teaches at the school, says that while the aging maestro acknowledged that he didn’t remember composing the piece, he shared stories with the students and spent a good deal of time with them.
“It definitely shows his generosity and his willingness to work with young musicians who got so much from it,” said Berntsen.
Some years earlier, said Berntsen, in 2001, Previn had come to town to conduct the PSO in his 1997 opera adaption of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Berntsen recalls the experience fondly.
“He was great,” said Berntsen. “He was a very talented musician.”
Previn died Thursday at his home in Manhattan.
[The original post was edited to include statements issued by the PSO.]