Peter Maag was born into a musical family: his mother, a violinist, had played with the Capet Quartet, and his father was both a musician and a distinguished theologian. He studied literature, philosophy and theology at the universities of Geneva, Zürich and Basle, as well as music with the conductor Franz von Hösslin, between 1942 and 1946. His first appointment (1943) was as a répétiteur and chorusmaster at the civic theatre at Biel-Solothurn in Switzerland where he quickly progressed to the post of first conductor. Having left Biel-Solothurn in 1946, Maag spent the following years studying opera in Paris and Rome, assisting Ansermet and Furtwängler, and conducting concerts with various orchestras including the Suisse Romande Orchestra. He continued to work with Ansermet following his appointment in 1952 as first conductor at Düsseldorf, where he stayed for three years before moving on to the position of chief conductor at Bonn. Here he extended the repertoire by introducing unfamiliar operas such as Cavalieri’s La rappresentazione di Anima, e di Corpo, Dvořák’s Rusalka, and Schumann’s Genoveva, as well as works by Hindemith, Martin, Martinů, and Toch. In 1959, the year in which he left Bonn, Maag made his debuts at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden with Die Zauberflöte and at the Glyndebourne Festival Opera with Le nozze di Figaro: he then withdrew from performance, entering a Buddhist monastery in Hong Kong in order to reassess his life and musical career.
Returning to conducting in 1961, Maag led Così fan tutte at the Chicago Lyric Opera, and became active as a guest conductor throughout Europe, North and South America and Japan. Between 1964 and 1968 he served as chief conductor at the Volksoper in Vienna, followed by short appointments at the Teatro Regio in Parma during 1972 (the year in which he made his Metropolitan Opera debut with Don Giovanni), and at the Teatro Regio in Turin during 1974. He was especially popular in Italy, where he taught at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena from 1968 onwards and conducted frequently at La Scala, Milan. He was awarded the Toscanini Medal (Parma) in 1969, the Verdi Medal in 1973, and the Toscanini Presentation Baton in 1975. Maag was a frequent conductor of the various Italian radio orchestras, and was also active in Spain where he conducted the Spanish National Orchestra; he was chief conductor of the Berne Symphony Orchestra between 1984 and 1991, and of the Orchestra of Padua and the Veneto from 1983 until his death, recording extensively for the Arts Music label with the latter ensemble.
Maag’s international reputation was founded initially on his interpretation of Mozart, to whose music he brought a combination of drive and elegance which was highly refreshing: his early recordings, for Decca, fully reflect these twin characteristics. He went on to make several early stereophonic recordings for Decca of music by Mendelssohn and Mozart with the London Symphony Orchestra which were very highly praised, and which have continued to hold an admired place in the catalogue. During the 1960s he recorded further music by Mozart as well as the compete symphonies of Schubert for the Vox label. After several assignments with the Deutsche Grammophon, Supraphon and Westminster labels, during the 1970s he made two significant opera recordings which were released on the Decca label: Verdi’s Luisa Miller, and Paer’s Leonora. Several live opera performances from this period have also been released which attest to Maag’s vitality in the theatre. His discography with the Orchestra of Padua and the Veneto, created during the 1990s, was large, and included all the Beethoven and Mendelssohn symphonies, as well as the major symphonies of Mozart. Maag was a conductor of considerable musical taste whose career, particularly towards the end of his life, may have reflected his personal priorities rather than his full potential.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).