Andre Previn, the restless multi-talent at 85 | Music | DW | 04.04.2014
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Andre Previn, the restless multi-talent at 85

Andre Previn's work has earned him Oscars and Grammys for his triumphs as a composer, conductor and pianist. Even as he turns 85, Andrew Previn is poised to continue his dazzling career and rake in new prizes.

He has recorded countless albums, won dozens of Oscars and Grammys, and, just recently, the Music Institute of Chicago announced that it will award Andre Previn a further prize in May. Privately, the German-American musician's life has been as turbulent as it has been successful, and he has had five marriages over the decades.

Despite the accolades, Previn remains humble, as he said in an interview with the "Guardian" newspaper: "When you're working with music that is invariably better than you are, it's difficult to become swell-headed."

He admits to being somewhat old-fashioned, saying that current marketing practices in the classical music world irritate him. Pianists such as Lang Lang, who have collaborated with pop and metal bands on stage, have provoked his ire. "It's a circus act, you know? … He's an amazing pianist, but I can't watch, not for one minute," Previn told the "Guardian."

Andre Previn and ex-wife Anne-Sophie Mutter

Andre Previn, pictured here with ex-wife Anne-Sophie Mutter

Andre Previn was born Andreas Ludwig Priwin in 1929 in Berlin, but his family was forced to flee from the Nazis soon afterwards. They emigrated to the United States via Paris, and Previn soon discovered his musical talents. At 15, he gave a jazz concert in the Los Angeles Philharmonic and was soon highly sought after in the jazz scene. He regularly performed alongside greats such as Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Carter and Billie Holiday. In the 1940s, Previn - by then a US citizen - was contracted as a Hollywood musician by Metro Goldwyn Mayer. He started out by writing a piece for an episode of the TV series "Lassie," and went on to win Oscars for his film music for blockbusters including "Gigi," "My Fair Lady," "Porgy and Bess" and "Irma la Douce."

That success notwithstanding, after 16 years he suddenly turned his back on what many would have considered a dream job, saying he wanted to use his talent in new ways. Turning his attention to classical music, Previn learned to conduct and took over the Houston Symphony Orchestra in 1967. After just three years, he was invited to replace Claudio Abbado as principal conductor and music director of the London Symphony Orchestra. Close partnerships with almost all of the world's great orchestras followed. Meanwhile, he is still considered one of the world's most significant contemporary composers.

Privately, however, the life of the musician and avid art collector has been anything but smooth. Five marriages fell apart, leaving nine children and adoptees along the way. Between 1970 and 1979, Previn was married to Hollywood actress Mia Farrow. He is reportedly still good friends with the star violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, 34 years his junior, after their marriage from 2002 to 2006. The two continued to perform together after their divorce, and Previn wrote many of his violin compositions for her. He no longer appears in public very often, but he still has many plans. In response to a question on his website about how he would like to die, he writes simply, "Later."

jb/gsw/rf (dpa)

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