On that night in Montreal, he conducted a lot of flashy music and conducted it brilliantly. If you wanted brilliance he was your man. If you wanted sensitivity or depth of feeling, well, better look elsewhere.
I had the opportunity to interview him in Cleveland when he was the music director of the Cleveland Orchestra. As a successor to George Szell he was a huge disappointment. In the interview I found him pompous with intellectual pretentions that were laughable. During my visit to Cleveland he conducted the dullest performance of the Bruckner Fifth Symphony I ever heard.
He became known for performances in which the conductor pulled the music this way and that for no apparent reason. This was not interpretative insight; it was sheer willfulness.
In his later years he mellowed a great deal and pontificated less as he became more at ease with himself. He married for a third time and bought a farm in Virginia. He had the idea that he would start a school-festival at the farm. This became the Castleton Festival. Unfortunately, he probably started it too late in life and had only a few years to work on it. It was a worthy concept and showed that Maazel really cared about young people and about nurturing talent.
The last time I saw him conduct was at the ill-fated Black Creek Summer Festival in Toronto in 2011. He brought the Castleton Festival Orchestra in for a few concerts. The one I heard was superb. Mendelssohn’s Incidental Music for a Midsummer Night’s Dream with readings from the play by Helen Mirren and Jeremy Irons. It was not repertoire I would have associated with Maazel but he did it splendidly.
Maazel was renowned the world over as an orchestral technician. He knew how to rehearse, he had a great ear and an amazing memory. The performances he gave were nearly always well-rehearsed but one seldom left his performances feeling that the music had been well-served.
In the attached video recorded just a few years ago Maazel comes across as exceedingly affable and self-deprecating. Unfortunately, not many of the musicians who played for him remember him that way.
Paul E. Robinson