We are pleased to present the following eulogy for André Previn by William Henry Curry, including his reaction to the Houston Chronicle article about Previn’s failed tenure as Music Director of the Houston Symphony Orchestra.

Previn as Music Director of the Houston Symphony Orchestra did not “pack ’em in.” Empty seats abounded.

This HSO debacle wasn’t his only ” failure” as a Music Director. In fact, Previn’s less-than-stellar box-office performance was repeated as Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Royal Philharmonic, and the Oslo Philharmonic. So…, what happened?

Previn was charismatic only as a Hollywood sensation, a collector of famous women, and an engaging, articulate speaker.

As a podium “presence,” he disappeared. If you weren’t a really knowledgeable musician or music-lover, you didn’t “get” him.

I surely got him when I was still in my mid-teens.

In the late 1960s, he still wasn’t respected as a serious classical conductor. In 1970, at  the age of 15, when I made my conducting debut, I, like most of the musical world, saw Previn only as “Mr. Glitz” and “Bernstein light”: a glitzy, trendy fraud not worthy of conducting “the masters.” But then, I heard his complete recording of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty. It was one of the great “light bulb over my head”  revelations of my life. Even on my wretched  $25 radio, the exceptionally beautiful sound of the strings and Previn’s incredibly refined musicianship were revelations to me. And the cymbal player…! The only time I ever heard cymbal playing so magnificently musical was when I conducted the Baltimore Symphony with the young John Soroka. (Previn later hired John to be a percussionist with the Pittsburgh Symphony.) The orchestra on the Sleeping Beauty recording was the London Symphony Orchestra, his “soul mate” orchestra, with which he made, in my opinion, two of the greatest recordings of anything, ever;:his EMI version of Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony and his recording of the complete Prokofiev ballet Romeo and Juliet.

The Previn/LSO love affair was one of the great conductor/orchestra relationships in recording history. This was based on two facts: he very soon earned the instrumentalists’ total respect, and at that time the LSO was a young, hot-blooded orchestra that had something to prove because it was considered to be a distant fourth in status, compared to the “prestige” orchestras of London: the New Philharmonia, the London Philharmonic, and the Royal Philharmonic. With this fire-in-the-belly attitude, the LSO didn’t require “inspiration” or over-conducting from the podium. What the players needed what was what they got from Previn; a Music Director who “clicked” with the audience and who was indisputably a damn fine musician.

As a musician, he was a “musician’s musician.” There wasn’t any lack of preparation in his conducting or desire to use music as a vehicle for his personal vanity. He never made a single  dramatic gesture at a concert that was calculated to “impress” the audience about his talent or temperament. Unlike Bernstein and Mitropolous, he did not believe that exhibitionism masquerading as ” showmanship” was acceptable. This attitude probably originated from his Toscaninian sense of humility in the face of the real talents (the composers) and his near-worshipful reverence for his conducting teacher, Pierre Monteux.

Fearless prediction: in 20 years’ time, as with what we saw happen after Bernstein’s death, Andre Previn will be known more for his compositions than his conducting. Anyone who can write music like that found in the movies Inside Daisy Clover or The Catered Affair, or the opera Brief Encounter, is a great composer, period.

R.I.P.  Maestro Previn. As a composer, your time will come.