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Henry Mazer (1917–2002), was an American conductor who was also the former conductor and music director of Taipei Philharmonic Orchestra from 1985 until suffering a stroke in February 2001. He contributed greatly to the refinement of the performances of classical music in Taiwan, leading local musicians to gain recognition overseas.
Born in Pittsburgh, Mazer chose conducting for his career early-on in his life, and became the protégé of renowned conductor Fritz Reiner. At Reiner's recommendation, Mazer conducted the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra in West Virginia from 1948–1958 and the Florida Symphony Orchestra in Orlando from 1958-1965. In 1966, Mazer was named Associate Conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Four year later, he received a last-minute invitation to stand-in with the Symphony when its conductor, William Steinberg, was taken ill. Held at New York's Carnegie Hall, the concert brought Mazer to the attention of Sir George Solti, who later asked him to be his Associate Conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a position he held for the next 15 years. During that time, he performed with internally acclaimed musicians such as Arthur Rubinstein, Isaac Stern, Andrés Segovia, Rudolf Serkin, Robert Casadesus, and Marian Anderson.
Mazer was first approached about coming to Taiwan as a guest conductor during his term with the Chicago Symphony and agreed to visit the island for four concerts in the summer of 1985. After the success of the concerts, Mazer took on the challenge of developing a new orchestra in Taiwan - Taipei Sinfonietta (the former Taipei Philharmonic Orchestra). "I could not help develop the Chicago Symphony Orchestra any further, whereas in Taiwan I could see plenty of development potential", he said.
In 1990, Mazer brought the orchestra to perform in cities of the United States and Canada. Music critic William Russo wrote: "The Sinfonietta is one of the finest groups of musicians I have ever heard". Gradually, such impressive reviews overseas would succeed in opening eyes back in Taiwan. During its image-building campaign abroad, the orchestra also toured Europe over the next couple of years, playing in Lyons, Brussels, and Antwerp. But the highlights of the various European concerts was their performance in Musikvereinssaal, home to Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Following the performances, music critics in Austria dubbed the orchestra a "wonder of Taiwan." After the Vienna trip, Mazer's orchestra enjoyed a surge in popularity back home in Taiwan. In addition, several CDs released by the orchestra met with brisk sales.
The most recent overseas tour was in 1995 to New York and Boston. After the performance at the Boston Symphony Hall, Mazer received the greatest review of his career when Boston Globe music critic Richard Dyer compared him to America's beloved Leonard Bernstein. "The way the Taipei Sinfonietta plays is a real tribute to Mazer's musicianship. They play with a glowing sound, a precision of intonation, an absolute unanimity of impulse, and a rare commitment," he added.
Despite the international recognition, Mazer lead a very simple life while he was in Taiwan. He got along well with his Chinese musicians, some of whom he worked with for a decade and were regarded as his own children. Mazer said he found Chinese musicians to be more disciplined than those in the West, and thus more satisfying to work with. "This wonderful island has given me the best musical experience of my life."
- Chen, Andrea. "Mazer's career as conductor blossoms in Taiwan." Taiwan Today: August 11, 1996.
- Delacoma, Wynne. "Conductor Mazer to retire in style." Chicago Sun-Times. Chicago: May 23, 1986.
- Delacoma, Wynne. "CSO conductor Henry Mazer dies." Chicago Sun-Times. Chicago: August 3, 2002.
- Dyer, Richard. "Taipei Sinfonietta: Bright sound, rare commitment." The Boston Globe. Boston: October 10, 1995.
- Marsh, Robert C. "The legacy of Henry Mazer // CSO artistic standards must not be compromised for any man or purpose." Chicago Sun-Times. Chicago: May 11, 1986