Andreas Ludwig Priwin was born in Berlin on April 6, 1929 (or possibly 1930), son of Jack (Jakob) & Lotte (Charlotte Epstein) Priwin, and would become known for his passionate and sometimes vigorous organizing of sounds into beautiful music. (Sometimes his hair seemed to be flying from his head and he seemed to have twelve arms. He could “play” an entire symphony orchestra as if it were one instrument.)
André Previn would be in later years favorably compared with Leonard Bernstein, one of his idols. Yes, his musicianship was similar, as was his gusto, but also their mutual love for and accomplishment in many different musical forms was similar, and was in the style of George Gershwin before them.
Previn began his life as the third son of a lawyer, judge, and music teacher (and that was just his dad!). All three children took piano lessons; André was into them the most fervently. At age six, he enrolled at the Berlin Conservatory. However, in 1938, the family was informed that as a Jew he was no longer welcome despite his having received a full scholarship for his abilities. The family applied for American visas, and moved to Paris to wait the nine months it took to get them. Meanwhile, André studied music theory at the Conservatoire de Paris. They left Paris on October 20, 1938, and did not stop for long in New York. They arrived in Los Angeles on November 26. The music director for Universal Studios at the time was Charles Previn, Jack’s second cousin. Having recorded his first jazz piano album at age 16, André joined MGM the following year as a music supervisor/arranger, uncredited. He soon would be conducting the orchestra and then composing film scores. His contract ran from 1946 to 1960. He was nominated for eleven Oscars, winning four. Meantime, in the early 1950s he served in the US Army, and when stationed in San Francisco he studied conducting with Pierre Monteux.
In the early 1960s, he began conducting the St. Louis Symphony and then, taking up residency in England, in 1968 was made principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, where he stayed for eleven years. He also would serve as musical director right here for our Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (1976-1984) as well. In the 1980s he would become the musical director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and also of the Royal Philharmonic, for which he subsequently would be principal conductor (1988-91). One may follow his career through the London Symphony and a knighthood in 1996.
In addition to classical music, Previn made recordings of jazz and the show and film music he produced. He also composed Broadway musicals, and even an opera of A Streetcar Named Desire. And he wrote books.
Previn and the London Symphony appeared in concert on BBC television, but when WQED produced Previn and the Pittsburgh for PBS he gained far wider renown.
Between 1958 and 2004, he would win ten Grammies and a lifetime achievement award in 2010.
Last weekend, your correspondent was listening to a recording of André Previn conducting the London Symphony in Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade; it seemed apt for contemplating the war in Ukraine.