He was a conductor born Ernst Peter Johannes Maag in
St. Gallen, Switzerland into a musical family where his father Otto was a musicologist
and Lutheran minister, his mother Nelly was a violinist who was second
violin of the Capet Quartet and his uncle, Fritz Steinbach, was a
He took studies in theology, philosophy, piano and theory
at universities in Basel, Geneva and Zurich and then took further piano
tuition in Paris. He was also
taught conducting and the association he had with his mentor Wilhelm
Furtwangler was later described as “the most important in his life”.
It was Furtwangler that urged him to be a conductor
after he observed him while he led a concert with Maag performing “Piano
Concerto No. 4 in G major” by Beethoven. After taking his advice he joined the Swiss Theater
Biel-Solothurn and became a repetiteur and was their conductor from
1943-1946. During those years
he also spent some time as assistant to Furtwangler.
Sometime after 1946 he took on a further position as
assistant. This time to Ernest
Ansermet at the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and made his first
recordings with the orchestra in 1950. He later joined the Dusseldorf Opera in 1952 as their
first conductor. He remained
with them for three years before moving to the Bonn City Theater in 1955 as
the Generalmusikdirektor and holding that position or the next four
years. From 1957 he also began
recording with the London Symphony Orchestra and he cut two albums with the
Orchestre de la Societe des Concerts du Conservatoire.
In 1959 he conducted Die Zauberflote by Mozart
at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden and shortly after led a
performance of Le nozze de Figaro at the Glyndebourne Festival
Opera. That same year he debuted in the United States as a guest conductor
of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. Another two years later he was back in the United States
making his American opera debut with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in a
performance of Cosi fan tutte by Mozart at Chicago’s Lyric Theatre.
Everything changed in 1962 when he decided to leave
his career and retreated to the Greek Orthodox Church followed by a
Buddhist monastery in Hong Kong for two years. He returned to his job in 1964 when he became the Chief
Conductor of the Vienna Volksoper.
He stayed there until 1968.
When the 1970s came along he debuted at the Metropolitan
Opera in New York with Don Giovanni by Mozart in 1972. Also in 1972 he went to Italy to
work at the Teatro Regio di Parma as the Artistic Director. Two years later he held the same
position at Turin’s Teatro Regio and also worked with the city’s RAI
Symphony Orchestra. In Spain
he performed with the Orquestra Nacional de Espana and in 1984 he took the
position of Music Director with the Berner Symphonie-Orchester.
During this 7 year tenure with them he worked with
many other opera companies and orchestras as a guest conductor and recorded
with the National Philharmonic Orchestra, the Bavarian Symphony Orchestra
and the Veneto Philharmonic Orchestra along with many others.
Recognised for his achievements and contribution to
music he has been the recipient of the Verdi Medal and the Toscanini Medal and
He died in Verona, Italy in April 2001 when he was 81
years old and left behind his second wife and two children, with his son
Georg being an author of children’s books.