by Kayla Moore
As Music Director of The Hallé and guest conductor across the globe, you are recognized for your incredible craft. What skills do you think are key in leading different orchestras internationally, and in making each performance unique?
The most important skill is to make sure there’s nothing more important in the room than the quality of the music—everything must be geared toward that. A crucial quality is to transmit your passion into musical belief and how you want it to sound, and the way the orchestra responds to that interpretation. You can do this in a variety of ways. For me, the most important thing is how you get the orchestra to listen to themselves. The best music-making happens when players do it themselves and you guide them into it. If you can make a bridge of contact between yourself and the orchestra, the audience needs to feel that bridge.
What perpetuates your passion for and love of classical music?
Love of music perpetuated by the power that music has over me, and by my constantly striving to put that power out to everyone that I can. I believe that musicians have a responsibility to bring people to music in any way that he or she can. It applies to people at any age—we need to communicate and change people’s lives, move people, fascinate them, and entertain them. As a musician, I’m incredibly lucky to have music so powerfully present in the center of my life. Music is spiritual food—as musicians we have it in our ability all the time to think about it, to breathe it, to study it, to perform it. Music is the greatest of the arts, as it gets into our minds in a different way than any other, and takes us to a new place of imagination and feeling. This quality is incredibly precious—the great battle of my life has been to communicate this.
You’ve said that the work of Wagner has had a strong presence in your life. Why, and how does his work influence you as an artist?
For me, the greatest music that Wagner wrote is unquestionably the best music that’s ever been written. Wagner came into my life when I was a teenager—then there was only one recording of The Ring—it expresses most powerfully the widest range of emotion. I find his music constantly gripping and exciting, but also I admire it very much. Conducting his music is demanding and unlike anyone else. Conducting Wagner requires incredible mental discipline allied with the flow of the music. Conducting larger pieces, you need to know the story, and the way he writes for the orchestra is amazingly powerful, intense and skillful. I find it very beautiful and constantly exciting, and I find new things in it every time.
You are conducting a weekend of performances featuring Dvořák, Stravinsky, Suk and Janáček while in Cincinnati. Why did you put these particular pieces together?
All of these pieces are very different in character, but what ties them is what lies behind the music. It was suggested to me that the basis of this program be Janáček’s Sinfonietta—it had been a long time since the orchestra performed it. Extra brass is required, and it’s incredibly demanding—the climax of the program is this piece. Certain things happen when you make sure the rest of the program relates to and builds up to it. You need to have a flavor in the rest of the program that places the Sinfonietta in a good context. Dvořák came from a different part of Czechoslovakia than Janáček, so pairing these two composers provides an interesting contrast. We also needed to have a concerto that provided contrast, and rather than do a Dvořák concerto, or another European romantic concerto, I chose Stravinsky. I think he’s one of the great voices in music, and this concerto is completely different in the sound worlds from everything else on the program. It balances things out; it’s rhythmic and colorful, and I adore this piece—it’s one of my favorites of Stravinsky. Then we needed one more—I’ve known about this Suk piece, but I have never before conducted it. Suk is a voice of the next generation, heavily influenced by Dvořák.
If you were to give young musicians advice for success in the world of classical music, what would you say to them? What advice would you have given your younger self?
Ambition and arrogance are not the same thing. The music is more important than anyone or anything else. Everybody needs commitment and energy, but that mustn’t be confused with ego. Be prepared to work incredibly hard, nothing will come easily—particularly for those with a lot of natural talent. Don’t be dispirited by failure longer than you need. Someone said, “A bad review will spoil your breakfast, but not your lunch.” Be ready to share your passion.