André Previn, the most wide-ranging musical polymath since Leonard Bernstein – a jazz pianist and Hollywood musician who became a leading conductor and composer – has died at 89.
Previn was born and began his education in Berlin. As the Nazis became increasingly violent in their suppression of Germany’s Jews, his family left for Paris in 1938, then resettled in Los Angeles.
Previn continued studies in piano and composition, and became a US citizen in 1943. He began writing music for films in the ’40s, eventually earning Academy Awards for composing and arranging the scores of “Porgy and Bess,” “My Fair Lady,” “Gigi” and “Irma La Douce.” He also was active as a jazz pianist in the ’40s and ’50s, playing with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Carter.
Having studied conducting with Pierre Monteux, Previn remade his career in the ’60s, becoming a concert pianist and conductor. He was named music director of the Houston Symphony in 1967, and followed Monteux as principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra in 1968, retaining the latter position until 1979. He also served as music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic and principal conductor of the Royal Philharmonic of London, and guest-conducted and recorded with many of the world’s leading orchestras.
Of his five wives, the best-known were jazz singer Dory Langan Previn, actress Mia Farrow and his last spouse, violinist Anne Sophie Mutter (they divorced in 2006). Previn composed several pieces for Mutter, including the Violin Concerto “Anne Sophie,” introduced in 2002.
His most widely performed work was “A Streetcar Named Desire,” an opera based on the Tennessee Williams drama, which was premiered by the San Francisco Opera in 1998 and since has been staged by many companies (including Virginia Opera in 2013).
An obituary by James Barron for The New York Times: