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Hilary Scott
David Finck and Andre Previn performing at Tanglewood in 2009.

Remembering composer and conductor Andre Previn

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By Friday, Mar 1, 2019 Arts & Entertainment

Sir André Previn passed away Thursday, February 28 at the age of 89. The German-American winner of four Academy Awards and 11 Grammys enjoyed a decades-long friendship with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, making over 50 performances as conductor or pianist at Tanglewood since his first appearance there in 1977, and nearly 100 appearances at Symphony Hall in Boston. His final Tanglewood appearances were in 2009 when he conducted the BSO, joined the Boston Symphony Chamber Players as pianist for one concert, and performed an evening of jazz favorites with bassist David Finck. Mr. Previn would have turned 90 April 6, and the BSO had planned to celebrate his birthday with a special concert in his honor at Tanglewood July 6 featuring violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter performing Previn’s violin concerto “Anne-Sophie.”

Andre Previn conducting Gil Shaham and the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Boston’s Symphony Hall in 2008. Photo: Michael J. Lutch

When Previn first performed as conductor at Symphony Hall in 1976, he had already been absent from Hollywood’s film and television scene for more than a decade. But while he was employed there by MGM (starting at the age of 16), he scored, conducted or performed on over 50 motion pictures, winning Oscars for his adaptations of Broadway musicals “Gigi,” “Porgy and Bess,” “Irma La Douce” and, most famously, “My Fair Lady.” During the same time period, he received three Emmy nominations.

Over the course of his career, Previn held conducting posts with several major orchestras including the London Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic and Pittsburgh Symphony. As a pianist, he appeared in recitals with artists such as Vladimir Ashkenazy, the Emerson Quartet, Yo-Yo Ma, Renée Fleming and countless others. He was an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1996. (Who knew she was a fan of hard-driving bebop jazz?)

Andre Previn in 2012. Photo: Steve Bowbrick

There were many conducting posts, many movie and television scores, many jazz recordings, many classical recordings: Mr. Previn’s oeuvre is so extensive in both the classical and jazz realms that a separate Wikipedia article is dedicated to it, and even that list is incomplete. Before cutting his nascent Hollywood career short — after only 15 years — to focus on jazz and classical music, Previn amassed more film credits than many who have spent their entire lives dedicated to the art and craft of show music. (By comparison, John Williams was just getting started as a film composer after a couple of decades in Hollywood.)

Yes, other film composers have received more awards, other conductors more accolades, other pianists more critical acclaim. But the number of conductor/composer/pianist/songwriter/arranger/comedian/orchestrator/authors of Previn’s caliber is extremely small—so small that you can write all their names on a piece of confetti. In terms of the breadth and diversity of his output, André Previn was peerless.

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Anne-Sophie Mutter.
Photo: Harald Hoffmann/Deutsche Grammophon

In a statement published by The Strad, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter wrote this about her longtime musical collaborator and ex-husband: “We were companions in music for 4 decades and closest and dearest soulmates in the last 19 years. These years have brought me an abundance of deeply moving and challenging violin works. One of the first of them, the violin concerto, was an engagement present. I am forever grateful for all of his musical treasures … André will live on in the hearts of the millions of music lovers that his life and music has touched. His many scores will continue to enrich the life of musicians around the globe.”

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