Andre Previn, the pianist, composer and conductor whose broad reach took in the worlds of Hollywood, jazz and classical music, always rejecting suggestions that his bop ‘n’ blues moonlighting lessened his stature, died Thursday. He was 89.
His manager Linda Petrikova said Previn passed away in his Manhattan home.
His ex-wife Mia Farrow tweeted Thursday, “See you in the Morning beloved Friend. May you rest in glorious symphonies.”
Previn was a child prodigy whose family fled Nazi Germany. As a teenager, he found work as a composer and arranger in the musical sweatshops of Hollywood, mostly at MGM, winning four Oscars for his orchstrations of such stylish musicals as 1964’s “My Fair Lady.”
Previn then abandoned Hollywood for a career as a classical conductor. He was named musical director of the Houston Symphony in 1967, and went on to lead such renowned orchestras as the Los Angeles Philharmonic and London’s Royal Philharmonic.
In 1998, his opera based on “A Streetcar Named Desire” premiered at the San Francisco Opera.
Through his career, Previn continued to dip in and out of the jazz world. “I don’t ever consciously change gears when I play jazz or classical,” he once said. “It’s all music.”
Arguably, no one ever performed at so high a level in so many different genres of contemporary music. But Previn’s versatility came at a price.
“Music critics have made it quite clear,” he once said, “that any composer who ever contributed a four-bar jingle to a film was to be referred to as a ‘Hollywood composer’ from then on, even if the rest of his output were to consist solely of liturgical organ sonatas.”
Previn became as close to a household name as anyone in his field — his fame burnished by his propensity for popping up in the gossip columns.
He married five times, including glittering collaborations with Farrow and violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. He was among those in Hollywood who early on experimented with LSD, and his memoir of his movie-studio days, “No Minor Chords,” contained juicy revelations about everyone from Lenny Bruce to Ava Gardner.
The Korean orphan he and Farrow adopted, Soon-Yi, became the center of a tabloid scandal when she became involved with Farrow’s then-boyfriend, Woody Allen, and eventually married him. “I would cheerfully run him over with a steamroller,” Previn said of Allen.
Previn never even heard jazz until he was a teenager. Born in 1929 into a wealthy Jewish family in Berlin, he was sent to eminent teachers to study classical music as his gifts became apparent. But the family was forced to flee Germany in 1938, moving briefly to Paris before traveling to the United States.
“I was purely classically trained,” Previn recalled. “And then when I was a kid in Los Angeles, someone gave me a record of (pianist) Art Tatum playing ‘Sweet Lorraine.’ I was astonished and bewitched by it.”
One of his father’s cousins worked as a musical director at Universal Studios, and Previn soon latched on at MGM.
While much of his Hollywood labors were spent on lesser films (“Challenge to Lassie,” for one), the work gave him “a thorough schooling in the practical aspects of music making,” he once told The Washington Post. He said it allowed him to “stand up in front of an orchestra of superlative players” and hone his conducting skills.
Hollywood also accorded Previn fame. He was nominated for 13 Academy Awards and won four. Besides “My Fair Lady,” his Oscar-winning orchestrations included “Gigi” (1958), “Porgy and Bess” (1959) and “Irma La Douce” (1963).
By LINDSEY BAHR, AP Film Writer