André Previn obituary

An outstanding artist of our time, and a reflective and kind individual, writes former CEO of the Oslo Philharmonic, Trond Okkelmo, about André Previn.

André Previn conducting the Oslo Philharmonic. (Photo: A.P. Mutter)

One of the most important musical figures of the 20th century, André Previn, died on 28 February, at the age of 89. In the course of his life he created and performed music across multiple genres − as a jazz pianist, a classical pianist, a composer and arranger in Hollywood, and as a composer of orchestra music. But not least, he made his name as a conductor. His time as Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra is highly acclaimed.

Towards the end of his active career he also served as Principal Conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra. He was invited several times in the 1990´s as a guest conductor, and when he finally accepted the invitation, he was forced to cancel due to heart trouble. His interest in the orchestra had been kindled after hearing its recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 under Mariss Jansons.

After Jansons’ departure in 2002, the orchestra had several conductors on its wishlist to succeed him. But no one thought of Previn − perhaps he seemed somewhat out of reach. Yet, when he finally visited the orchestra with Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, seasoned musicians agreed that it was one of the greatest musical experiences they had ever had. Critics raved about it. Previn reciprocated with a request for a closer relationship with the orchestra. He was asked how close he wanted it to be, and the answer came, why not as principal conductor?

In the meantime, Previn’s health proved to be failing, something which may have affected his tenure in Oslo. Still, he brought the orchestra on tour to the BBC Proms, to Carnegie Hall, to the Lucerne Festival and to Vienna’s Musikverein. Norwegian media got caught up in the fact that he and violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter received negative reviews in London following their performance of his violin concerto, and missed the fact that Previn and his orchestra were celebrated elsewhere, by the media and public alike.

Norwegian critics had mixed impressions of Previn’s time in Oslo. Still, in the minds of the orchestra’s musicians, there was no doubting Previns’s great musicality. This was demonstrated by, for instance, his performance with the orchestra of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe in Carnegie Hall, which was considered by many in the New York audience to be the finest they had ever heard.

André Previn was chosen partially because one thought it might be beneficial to the orchestra to collaborate with a conductor who granted the musicians the freedom to trust themselves. This may have been the reason that some − including critics − held the opinion that the orchestra was somewhat compromised during Previn’s tenure. It was, in fact, a formative and challenging time for the orchestra, and a great number of its musicians are delighted to have had the opportunity to play under him. Previn was highly knowledgeable in many fields beyond music, and he was also a reflective and kind individual. The Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra is quite right to be proud of, and grateful for, the rich experience of having had one of the leading figures of musical history at their helm for a few years.

Trond Okkelmo

Former CEO of the Oslo Philharmonic

(The obituary first appeared in print in Aftenposten on 11th March 2019)