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Intense Poet of the Podium Left Mark on Philharmonic

June 16, 2005|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Carlo Maria Giulini, who as conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from the late 1970s to the early '80s brought an intense yet subtle passion to the concert hall with his poetic style of music making, has died. He was 91.

Giulini died Tuesday in Brescia in northern Italy, his son, Alberto Maria Giulini, told Associated Press. In recent years the musician had resided in Milan, Italy. The cause of death was not reported.

The conductor arrived in Los Angeles with the seasoned qualities of a master, and he used them to inspire his musicians to new heights.

"We have lost one of the greatest musicians of our time," Esa-Pekka Salonen, music director of the Philharmonic, said Wednesday. "He had an almost uncanny ability to transform the sound of an orchestra, any orchestra, into a dark and intense glow, which became his trademark over the years."

Martin Bernheimer, music critic of the Los Angeles Times while Giulini was on the podium at the Philharmonic, called him "one of the major conductors of his period."

"Giulini was from the old school; he was calm, subtle, a thinker," Bernheimer said. "He wasn't interested in easy effects or splash. He brought a mellowness to the orchestra."

In a career that spanned almost 50 years, the Italian Giulini was principal conductor of both opera and symphony orchestras, from Milan's La Scala to the concert halls of Rome, Vienna, Chicago and, finally, Los Angeles.

His early passion for opera, especially Italian opera, pointed toward a future spent primarily in the orchestra pit, but his perfectionist's standards couldn't accommodate the limitations of the opera world. He wanted more rehearsal time, fewer prima donnas to contend with and a pace that allowed him to rest and think between performances.

"I cannot be in a constant rush; I am not a machine," he told The Times in 1977.

He made the symphony hall his first home and distinguished himself as a gifted interpreter, particularly of works by Verdi and Mozart. Gradually he expanded his repertoire to include the music of such composers as Beethoven, Brahms and Mahler.

He purposefully kept his range narrow and deep. "I can only make music that I understand, music that I believe, music that I love," he told The Times.

Throughout his career, Giulini was surrounded by maestros with far more flamboyance: the stormy brilliance of Herbert von Karajan, who conducted the Berlin Philharmonic, and the dazzle of Sir Georg Solti, who led the Chicago Symphony. Yet Giulini was considered by many critics and music aficionados as every bit their equal.

"Giulini was universally seen as the last great Romantic conductor," Salonen said. "His tempos were majestic, phrasing incredibly expressive, balances perfect. This gentle and utterly humble man was able to inspire awe in his fellow musicians, as well as in audiences around the world."

If Giulini was not as famous as some colleagues, Bernheimer told The Times in 2004, "it's because he was only interested in the music. He didn't have a publicity firm pushing his name. He was reluctant to give interviews. There was no snazzy life away from the podium, no scandals."

After early appointments as the principal conductor of the Italian Radio Symphony in the mid-1940s and La Scala in the early '50s, Giulini made his U.S. debut conducting the Chicago Symphony in 1954.

He was also a frequent guest conductor in England, leading memorable performances of Verdi's "Don Carlos" for the Royal Opera in its 1958 production by filmmaker Luchino Visconti and Verdi's Requiem with the Philharmonia Orchestra of London several years later.

He became principal guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony in 1969 and kept up a relationship with that institution for more than 20 years.

"If you forced me to name my favorite orchestra, I suppose I still would have to say Chicago," Giulini said in a 1975 interview with The Times.

During three of those years, he was also the music director of the Vienna Symphony, starting in 1973.

His last full-time appointment was as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which he led from 1978 to 1984.

Highlights of his years at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion -- an original production of Verdi's "Falstaff" that drew international acclaim; several recordings, including Beethoven's Third and Dvorak's Ninth symphonies -- demonstrated his dramatic effect on the orchestra.

He won a Grammy in 1989 for a recording of Mozart with pianist Vladimir Horowitz and the La Scala opera orchestra.

"He was unique among conductors for the way he became totally involved in the music," said Ernest Fleischmann, the former general manager of the L.A. Philharmonic, in a 2004 interview with The Times. "A musical score was like holy scripture to him."

It was a coup for the Philharmonic to attract Giulini. His predecessor, the youthful Zubin Mehta, had been appointed music director in 1962 and over the next 16 years developed a big, bold sound for the orchestra.

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