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Friday, 9 August, 2002, 16:19 GMT 17:19 UK
André Previn: Striking the right chord
Andre Previn: Multi-faceted maestro

He is 73, but his appetite for life is still hearty. Ever-seeking new challenges in classical music, composer and conductor André Previn is also embarking on the adventure of a fifth marriage, undaunted by an age difference of 34 years.
André Previn had a distinct advantage over rivals for the hand of Anne-Sophie Mutter, the 39-year-old violinist regarded by many critics as the world's finest.

While mere mortals woo their women with champagne or flowers, he composed a violin concerto for her.

They say opposites attract, but Previn and Mutter, age notwithstanding, have many things in common. Both were born in Germany and both were musical prodigies.

Mutter began her career at 13 as a protegée of the famous conductor, Herbert von Karajan.

Anne-Sophie Mutter
A bride in harmony
Playing piano duets with his father, a prosperous lawyer, Andreas Ludwig Priwin began studying at the Berlin Conservatory of Music when he was six.

Previn's Jewish family fled from Hitler to Los Angeles and he was still at high school when he began composing film scores for MGM.

Champion of British composers

It was to lead to four Oscars for his film adaptations of Gigi, Porgy and Bess, Irma La Douce and My Fair Lady.

But at the height of his Hollywood success, having also established a reputation as a jazz and classical concert pianist, he decided that conducting provided his greatest pleasure.

I don't compose for the next generation

André Previn

"I loved it," he said. "It never occurred to me that I might fail."

In 1968, his dream of conducting the London Symphony Orchestra came true. "I couldn't believe my luck," he said.

In his 11 years as principal conductor of the LSO, Previn was a passionate advocate of such British composers as Britten, Walton and Vaughan Williams.

But he also scored a more unlikely success, by attracting a mass audience to his series of music nights with the LSO on BBC Television.

Previn conducts the London Symphony Orchestra
Conducting the LSO was his dream
His presentation was rather serious, but nonetheless magnetic, although he made his biggest impact as a classic comedy foil on the Morecambe and Wise Show, in which he was memorably dubbed Andrew Preview.

Previn has since been the guest conductor of many of the world's leading orchestras, but in more recent years, has concentrated on composition again.

Not a Beethoven

There was a darkly intense cello sonata for Yo-Yo Ma, and a piano concerto which included a solo part of "horrendous difficulty" to test Vladimir Ashkenazy.

1998 brought another landmark in his career with the premiere of his operatic version of Tennessee Williams' play, A Streetcar Named Desire. In 1996, the Queen bestowed an honorary knighthood on him.

But Previn is not seeking the immortality of a Beethoven: "I don't compose anything for the next generation," he says.

"I care what people think of it now and I don't care what they think of it in a hundred years. I just want people to play it."

Previn with Morecambe and Wise
A comedy classic
And even before Anne-Sophie Mutter premiered his Violin Concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in March, he showcased her talents in a BBC Radio Two series and gave a hint that she was plucking at his heartstrings.

He told unsuspecting listeners: "I heard her and admired her many many times before I had the pleasure of making records with her."

In a sweat

Anne-Sophie Mutter's previous marriage was also to a much older man, a lawyer, Detlef Wunderlich, 27 years her senior, with whom she had two children. He died of cancer seven years ago.

The father of nine children, André Previn says he is "the best of friends" with all his ex-wives: a nightclub singer, Betty Bennett; the singer-songwriter Dory Previn; the film actress Mia Farrow; and his fourth wife, a diplomat's daughter, Heather Sneddon.

But Previn's evident appeal to women disguises a man whose composure can easily be undermined, or so he claims.

Andre Previn in his 70s
New horizons still beckon
"I get seriously panicked when I walk into a post-concert reception with 200 people all with a drink and a shrimp on a toothpick," he says. "I'll wind up in a corner drenched with sweat".

On the podium, though, he is in command. As one critic observed recently, Previn can still "whip up an emotional storm that belies his genteel, restrained baton manner," while Anne-Sophie Mutter once said: "I have too much fire to ever be burnt out."

André Previn's ex-wife Heather arrived at the conclusion: "The music is the mistress. All these talented people are driven; they don't have a choice really."

Rather late in the day, it may be that André Previn has found the woman who embodies all his passions.

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