Conductor / Composer Matthias Bamert
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
|Matthias Bamert (Conductor)
Born: July 5, 1942 - Ersiten, Switzerland
The Swiss conductor, Matthias Bamert, studied music in his native Switzerland,
as well as in Darmstadt and Paris, falling in with the likes of Pierre Boulez
and Stockhausen; these associations can be detected in his own compositions
from the 1970s. He spent from 1965 to 1969 as principal oboist with the
Salzburg Mozart Orchestra, but then switched to conducting.
Matthias Bamert’s conducting career began in North America as an apprentice
to George Szell and later as Assistant Conductor to Leopold Stokowski, and
Resident Conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra under Lorin Maazel. This legacy
lives on in his hugely popular recordings for Chandos with the BBC Philharmonic
of Stokowski’s arrangements of Bach, Wagner and Mussorgsky. He was music
director of the Swiss Radio Orchestra from 1977 to 1983, then began making
a wider reputation across Europe.
Principal Guest Conductor of the Scottish National Orchestra and Director
of the Glasgow contemporary music festival Musica Nova from 1985 to 1990,
Matthias Bamert became known for his innovative programming and has conducted
the world premieres of works by many composers such as Takemitsu, Casken,
Macmillan and Rihm. Since 1987 he has been resident in London. His gift
for imaginative programming came to the fore during his tenure as Director
of the Lucerne Festival from 1992 to 1998, when he was also responsible
for the opening of a new concert hall, instituted a new Easter Festival,
a piano festival, expanded the programme and increased the festival’s activities
several times over.
Although Matthias Bamert has a solid reputation as a conductor of the
standard repertory, he is best known for his work on behalf of new music,
obscure 18th century music, and neglected music from all eras. He is known
to be a quick study, able to master new scores in very little time, and bring
off highly effective premieres in concert and on CD. A prolific recording
artist, he has made over 60 discs, many of which have won international prizes,
and he continues to record extensively with Chandos Records, in a wide repertoire
- Mozart’s contemporaries with the London Mozart Players, Parry (the complete
symphonies) and Frank Martin (5 discs) with the London Philharmonic Orchestra,
the symphonies of Roberto Gerhard with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Dutch
composers with the Residentie Orkest Den Haag, a series devoted to Leopold
Stokowski’s arrangements, concert music by Korngold and Dohnanyi with the
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as symphonies of Gossec. He is also known
for his participation in provocative classical music videos directed by Adrian
-- Names which are links in this box and below
refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website. BD
During my quarter-century at WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago, I was
able to present music by a huge variety of composers. My series of
new-music programs gave the opportunity to showcase
— as I always used to say
— “Mostly living, mostly American composers,”
and the regular programming allowed for not only the famous and well-known,
but also the obscure and unknown creators. I took pride in playing
as many new discoveries as possible, so one conductor who often popped up
was Matthias Bamert. His series of recordings by these composers always
was a joy to present, and usually the calls to the station were positive
and encouraging about them.
The itinerary of this maestro took him far and wide, but never to Chicago.
So, when he landed in Wisconsin in October of 1995 for a series of concerts
with the Milwaukee Symphony, I arranged to meet him there. A pleasant
ninety-minute drive took me to his hotel, and we bonded immediately over
our mutual love of musical discovery.
He had been a composer as well, and indeed I had played one of his compositions
on the air. But this was a past-life for him, and we spoke mostly
of his conducting and his desire to dig into the unknown reaches of the
Here is that very pleasant conversation . . . . . . .
You are both composer and conductor. How do you divide your time between
those two tasks, or do you not do too much composing anymore?
To be frank, I don’t compose anymore. I think there’s something about
composing and conducting that doesn’t go together, and composers who start
to conduct dry up. There are many, many, many examples, and don’t
tell me Gustav Mahler because he only composed on vacation. That might
be one example. Richard Strauss could be another example, but he could
I was thinking more of someone like Skrowaczewski who
decided, as you have, that you can’t do both, so he stopped conducting to
MB: Yes, at
a later date. I started out as a composer. You see, when you
get into conducting then what you do all day long is absorb other people’s
music. You do that every day and this is not good for your own music
to just constantly, constantly push all this music in your head and associate
it and recreate it. That is not good for your own source of music,
the music that would flow out of you. So I don’t compose anymore.
BD: But having
been a successful composer, does this make you more sympathetic to new compositions
of other composers?
MB: I think it makes me more sympathetic to music
in general. I know how it is done. I look at that score in a
different way than many conductors who have not composed. I’m not just
talking about conducting contemporary music but also the old masters.
You have an eye very quickly for the form, the structure, the texture.
You know the tricks. To conduct contemporary music, of course, makes
it very easy. You absorb a contemporary score very fast if you have
been a composer.
BD: Does that
mean that you will automatically give more time on your concerts to contemporary
MB: I used to.
As I get older [laughs], you know how it is. I still have great interest
in contemporary music but I don’t do as much as I used to do. I think
it has something to do with the age, that it is a great advantage if you
have done a great work — say a symphony
of Brahms — ten times, each time got deeper and deeper
and deeper in it. I consider that an advantage. That doesn’t
mean that I’m just doing old music. I do a lot of contemporary music,
but I’m also doing a lot of unusual and lesser-known music. I have
a very large repertoire, a very large interest, in general, in the repertoire.
BD: From this
enormous amount of music, how do you decide which pieces you will learn and
spend time with?
MB: A certain
curiosity is in me that always looks for things and thinks, “Oh, that might
be interesting.” Also, one develops a certain reputation so that when
people, like orchestra managers or concert promoters, have a piece they think,
“I’m sure you are the right person.” Or when the record companies have
something that is a little bit off the normal path, they think of me and say,
“Maybe he could make something out of that.”
for instance, like the Parry symphonies? Might you have programmed
one of them but not all of them, but then the record company decides to do
the whole cycle?
MB: No, that
went the other way around. That project of Parry was actually sponsored,
and we did not only the symphonies but also some oratorios and some symphonic
poems. It was the Vaughan Williams Trust that decided to pay for a
series of recordings, and they looked at conductors and decided that they
would not take an English conductor because all the English conductors would
look at Parry through the eyes of his students Elgar and Vaughn Williams
and so forth, while Parry actually had no English influences. All his
influences were from Europe. He was influenced by Mendelssohn, Schumann
and Brahms. This was his influence, so they thought they would take
a conductor from the continent, from Europe, and somehow they found me.
it’s worked out very well from both sides.
MB: I didn’t
know much of Parry at that time, so I asked them to send me the scores.
When I saw the scores, I immediately realized that this is really worthwhile
music! However, I must tell you that I was told before we started
that project that Parry was a great choral composer who also wrote some
symphonies, but they’re not that good. But today, after having recorded
both choral music and symphonies, I can say that I think he’s a greater
symphonist than a choral composer. Some of those symphonies are less
known — like the Fourth, which
is absolutely fantastic. This is close to Brahms.
BD: I would
assume they would think of the choral works being better simply because
they were performed more.
MB: That’s right;
they were known, and the symphony like the Second was never performed. It
was performed at the turn of the century, and then he didn’t like the scherzo
so he rewrote that movement. That piece was never played, so nobody
knew what the piece was like.
BD: Why not?
Why didn’t the piece get picked up?
MB: I don’t
BD: Now that
you have pioneered them in performances and recordings, are you hopeful that
more people will take them up?
MB: I hope that,
but the Parry symphonies are in my repertoire. They get proposed to
every orchestra, but I have, to this point, performed one symphony only.
Nobody wants them. There’s great interest in them. There’s great
interest in the recordings and they sell fantastically well, but concert
promoters don’t want it. Interesting that it would have to be the Hallé
Orchestra that I could talk into doing the Fourth Symphony.
BD: Might it
be easier to get a ten-minute overture, if he had one, rather than a full
MB: Yes, in
general. That’s interesting. It’s similar in England with the
Vaughn Williams symphonies. The Vaughan Williams symphonies sell extremely
well on records, but do not fill halls. The record public and the radio
listeners public and the concert public are not identical. That’s very,
BD: Do you conduct
the same for a live concert as you do for the recording microphones?
a certain technique of recording. A recording artist has a technique
that is something very different. It is very difficult because it’s
like you have to turn it on and turn it off, ‘it’ being the orchestra.
You have one second in front of the orchestra to immediately inspire these
people who are in their sweaters and have microphones around and newspaper
on the floor because they just have to wait for everything to be ready.
This is not a creative atmosphere when making a recording. It’s very
difficult for a conductor, when the red light comes on, to just be right in
the middle and create whatever you would create in a concert. In a
concert it comes naturally.
of the sweep of the live performance?
MB: Yes, and
the feeling of the moment and the audience. Music is communication,
and it’s very hard to communicate with a microphone.
BD: You don’t
envision an audience behind you?
MB: Maybe, but
how can you tell that to a hundred people in the orchestra to think of an
audience now? [Both laugh]
BD: As the conductor,
are you playing the orchestra like an instrument, or is it a collection
of instruments that you are cooperating with?
MB: That’s a
difficult question. You’re the best conductor if the orchestra doesn’t
feel that you’re constantly leading. You’re the best rider of a horse
if the horse has the feeling it does what it wants. You don’t put a
grip on an orchestra, but you let it play; you let musicians play, but they’re
always under control.
BD: Is it safe
to assume that you exert more grip in the first or second rehearsal, and
then as they progress you ease off?
MB: It’s different
from orchestra to orchestra, as it’s different from piece to piece.
There are pieces where they need more of a direction, and pieces where they
feel more at ease.
BD: Is all your
work done in rehearsal, or do you leave something for that spark of the
MB: It’s interesting
you ask that. I had the incredible fortune that in younger years I
was assistant conductor to various conductors, to old masters. I was
very fortunate that my first job with an American orchestra was with the
Cleveland Orchestra and George Szell in ‘69. That was his last year.
I was able to be there, and George Szell was one of the masters who gave
everything at a rehearsal. He was absolutely mesmerizing in those rehearsals!
They stay in my memory. A rehearsal of George Szell was a work of
art; it was perfect in its way. It is said that the concerts, then,
didn’t actually add much more. That was it for me when I was a young
conductor. Anything he conducted was always magnificent, but the year
afterwards, when George Szell died, I went to New York to become assistant
conductor to Leopold Stokowski who was exactly the opposite. Rehearsals
were business. A rehearsal was like cleaning yourself. It was
just straightening out things, putting on a tie, doing just the very mundane
things, and then the concert was the mystery. In a concert anything
BD: So he took risks then in concert?
MB: Oh, he took
risks! A conductor who takes risks creates a tremendous tension in
the musicians because they don’t know what’s going to happen next.
So it’s electrifying, and that projects to the audience.
BD: So do you
have to walk that tightrope to make sure they’re going to be interested enough
to respond to you but not wonder what the heck you’re going to do?
MB: It is something
like that. Rehearsal should be interesting, but it should be interesting
in a very efficient way, that you don’t lose it any moment. You don’t
say a word that is not necessary, and anything you ask them produces a result.
If you say, “Do that short; do that long; do that louder and here a little
more viola,” then if you play it and it sounds better you don’t have to
explain anything. The orchestra members realize that you know what
you’re doing. But the magic should be saved for the concert.
It’s like a present, then. A concert is a present that the conductor
gives to the orchestra, and the orchestra gives to the conductor.
BD: What happened
to the public?
MB: Oh, they
enjoy the present! [Both laugh] They enjoy the exchange of presents,
but I’m just talking about what happens between a conductor and an orchestra.
BD: Then is
the audience just a spectator, or is the audience participatory and involved?
are incredibly important because you feel them. The orchestra can see
the audience. I can’t. I have them at my back, but you feel them.
Audiences can be incredibly inspiring.
BD: You never
wanted a rear view mirror, like in an automobile?
That would be lovely. No, but do audiences realize how much they can
inspire an artist? Do they realize how much they can improve a performance
by being a good audience? I think they don’t.
BD: When you’re
working with the orchestra, especially an orchestra you have a close connection
with, do you ever find that maybe you’re peaking too soon and you want to
back off or even cancel a rehearsal?
This is something very important — rehearsals have
to be very well-organized. I learned from George Szell that when you
come to the end of the rehearsal, you need to have exactly achieved what
you wanted to do, that everything is rehearsed, that the amount of time corresponds
exactly to the work you want to have done. There are moments where
there is too much rehearsal time, so then I will give them half of the rehearsal
off. Let’s say everything is ready for a concert and you have another
rehearsal. If you start rehearsing again, one rehearsal is not enough
because then you would have to take everything apart again. If you
have three more rehearsals, it could go back.
BD: So you’re
the one that decides when it’s ready?
MB: I’m the
one who guesses. [Both laugh] Only the concert will show, and
this is what comes with experience. As a young conductor, I remember
not knowing in a rehearsal what had to be rehearsed. This means what
comes along from in the concert just through concentration or through playing
it once. So in a concert, then, I would find out where I actually
should have rehearsed or what I shouldn’t have rehearsed. But as you
know, be more experienced with an orchestra and you find out what you need
BD: If you have
a series of three or four performances of the same program, does each performance
get a little bit better or are they all duplicates?
MB: I try to
make them better. That is actually not an easy thing to each time be
inspiring, each time create again the moment when something very important
is happening. I don’t know whether I succeed, but I certainly try to
get every concert to be better. Why repeat something? In music
there is no repetition. If you do music once more it has to be more.
BD: But you
have a difference audience.
MB: Sure, but
you make music with the musicians. You have to offer them something
more or something different because that is what comes to the audience.
BD: The joker
is that when you record something on a flat plastic disc it’s always going
to be exactly the same.
MB: That’s why
it’s important that we have live concerts where the audience is there and
knows that it’s created right now for them. It’s the moment that is
right now that will never come again. This is what should be special
in a live concert.
* * *
BD: When you
come to the first rehearsal and you know what you want to do, are you ever
inspired by the orchestra, or do you ever discover something the way they
play it and think, “Oh, this would be a good idea,” and adapt that to your
MB: Oh, yes.
A good orchestra is a tremendous inspiration to a conductor. That’s
why it’s so wonderful to conduct a good orchestra because they add.
They bring something and then I bring something and then they bring something.
It goes back and forth. You inspire each other.
BD: Is that
different when you’re music director, as opposed to being a guest conductor
for just a week?
MB: There are people who are born to be music
directors and there are people born to be guest conductors, and most of
the conductors are something in between. I love to guest conduct.
I find it absolutely fascinating, like here in Milwaukee, coming from a different
orchestra that I don’t know, with a different program. I have four
rehearsals. I start rehearsing and immediately try to figure out the
orchestra and what it needs. What do I have to do? Where do
they need encouragement? Where do they need disciplining? Where
do they need what? This is so stimulating. It’s the one who
figures out first that is always the strongest. [Laughs]
BD: You or the
BD: So you better
get it first?
[Both laugh] I have some experience, and it’s something that is very
BD: Is there
any way to prepare for this — to have tapes of their
last concert, perhaps — or would you rather just come
in cold with the music?
MB: No, I come
in cold. It’s a human experience. It’s the way you look at each
other. An orchestra is an orchestra. It’s a collective, but
every musician in an orchestra wants to be treated as an individual.
Everyone needs something else. There might be one solo wind player,
and when he plays his solo you realize that you have to look away because
staring at him makes that person nervous. There’s another one who is
like a child and you have to hold the hand and carry him through the solo.
He needs that. Another one needs a rather strong, regular glance to
know that, hey, I’m here. Everybody needs something else, and to figure
out immediately what they need is the interesting thing. On a human
level, this is a wonderful thing that goes on between orchestra and conductor.
BD: And you’ve
got to keep all of these various orchestras sorted out in your head?
When I see them, I remember them.
BD: When you
are invited back to an orchestra and you remember this or that player, will
that influence your choice of program material?
MB: It does.
It will, yes. It’s sort of interesting when you come back, then the
relationship is totally different because you have credit. The first
time you have no credit. When you go back, then suddenly an orchestra
will feel that you are part of them; you’re a friend. Most orchestras
I conduct now as a guest conductor I have conducted before. There
may be three or four a year, maximum, that I’ve never conducted.
mentioning names, has there been a situation where you never want to go
back to that orchestra ever again?
MB: Oh, yes.
I’m now in a position where I conduct only the orchestras I like.
It’s very pleasant to reach that point. I can’t conduct more than
I conduct now; I’m completely full, so why not just do the ones I like?
BD: Do you like
being booked solid?
I have three areas of activities. One is the guest conductor bit that
I have been talking about. I’m also Music Director of the London Mozart
Players, which is one of the really good chamber orchestras in Europe, and
then I am running one of the big festivals in Europe, the Lucerne Festival.
We don’t do opera like in Salzburg or in Edinburgh or in Bayreuth.
We just have the instrumental festival with visiting artists and visiting
orchestras, but as such I think it’s more or less second to none. Last
summer we had two concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic and two concerts
with the Vienna Philharmonic. We had the Concertgebouw. We had
the Philadelphia Orchestra with Sawallisch. We
had the Israel Philharmonic with Zubin Mehta for two concerts.
We had St. Petersburg for two concerts and we had the Russian National Orchestra
for two concerts. We had the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Then
we had those famous youth orchestras — the Gustav
Mahler Youth Orchestra with Claudio Abbado, and the
European Community Youth Orchestra with Rostropovich.
In our weeks this is the greatest concentration of top orchestras in the world.
BD: Can the
public absorb coming to so many concerts in such a short time?
MB: It’s an
international festival, so they come from all over. I think it is
amazing. There’s no other place where you can hear those orchestras,
one after the other, and those artists.
BD: You’re Music
Director of this festival?
MB: Oh, no,
no, no, no, no! I’m the Director, which means I do not only the music,
but I do everything — I fund-raise, I do the budget,
I do everything.
BD: So you then
decide which orchestras will come and which will not?
MB: That I will,
but I run the company, too, which means every morning, regardless of where
I am in the world, I get the mail of the Lucerne Festival faxed to me.
Here in Milwaukee, every morning at nine o’clock I speak to my three main
people at the festival.
BD: You have
your daily briefing.
I dictate letters, I do correspondence, I call, and then at ten o’clock
I’m at the rehearsal. It is three o’clock in afternoon for them.
They call me and it’s nine o’clock here. But I travel, so when I’m
in Australia or in Japan it’s much more complicated. But I’m in contact
every day, and so every two months I go there for a few days. Actually,
from here I fly directly to Lucerne for three days. Then I go back
to London, where I live.
BD: Do you like
globe-hopping all over the place?
MB: Oh, yes.
In 1996 I traveled three times to the United States, one time to Canada,
one time to South America, one time to Australia, one time to New Zealand
and one time to Japan. They were all different trips.
Someone who would look at this schedule would say, “That’s nuts!”
MB: That’s me.
BD: In the end,
is it all worth it?
MB: I love it.
It’s much too good. It’s so good I have such a hard time having vacations
because conducting a lovely orchestra in a good program at an interesting
place is better than vacation.
BD: Do you leave
enough time to study new scores?
MB: Seems to.
There are always long airplane rides.
BD: So you can
study on the airplane?
MB: Oh yes.
I can study anywhere. It’s a question of concentration. If you
can concentrate somewhere and if you like what you are doing, you have a
tremendous capacity to work. If you don’t like what you’re doing, then
you’re constantly tired.
BD: I completely
understand! You’re looking at someone who really enjoys what he does.
MB: You look
* * *
BD: Let me ask
the big question — what’s the purpose of music?
MB: For many
people, music is something they listen to. For me, music is life.
It’s something that is my life, and for people like me, then we’re kind of
missionaries. You want to share that with others. And the purpose?
I think it’s just life. That is absolutely essential. It’s more
than something you listen to. It’s much deeper, much more universal.
BD: Are the
concerts that you conduct for everyone?
MB: Oh, yes. As I said, I’m a missionary.
I’ve done a lot of children’s concerts, I’ve done a lot of television shows,
and with the London Mozart Players we do school concerts. We do community
work; we play in old folks homes; we play in hospitals. I have worked
for radio; I’ve worked for television. I have always tried to get
an audience as wide as possible.
BD: Would it
make you happy to have everyone on earth come to these kinds of concerts?
That everybody would enjoy classical music would be a fantastic thing.
It’s probably completely naïve, but I think the world might be a better
BD: I think
you’re absolutely right. We can hope for that, but how do we get more
of the football fans and non-listeners into concerts of classical music?
MB: It’s an
interesting situation we are right now in as classical music is in a very
changing situation. On one side you have more orchestras dying than
I can remember, being it here or being it in Europe or being all over.
On the other side you have the Three Tenors concerts, those mass appeal of
“classical music” that make for some people — for very
few people — a lot of money. But most people
in classical music actually lack the money. We have to leave the ivory
tower. We have to play a much, much more important role in the community.
We have to show the people, we have to show cities, the towns where we work
that what we do is of great relevance, of great importance and of great
interest to them. We artists have to become much more active.
We cannot just do beautiful concerts and expect that everybody would come.
It’s like a radio station. We cannot just broadcast and not care whether
somebody’s listening and receiving. We have to go out and really do
something about the people who will listen. We have to communicate
to them, otherwise the twenty-first century will not be a good thing for
classical music. We have to see that very realistically. Subsidies
are going down. Sponsorship is stagnating. It will be Darwin;
it will be the survival of the fittest, and this is a very dangerous thing
for culture. At the end of this century we’ll have to do a lot of re-thinking
and thinking what we want to do, and what do we want classical music to be
in the next century. We have been doing the same thing for a very long
time, and each time, every few years, there was again money missing, and
then we try to fix it in some way. Then the problem came back a few
years later and then we fixed it in another way. But this is short-sighted.
We would have to find solutions to the basic problem and find new directions.
BD: Are you
optimistic that you will find the solutions and the new directions?
MB: I’m afraid
it will have to get worse before it gets better. We all have to get
scared more until our creativity will start going in that direction, because
it will be survival. Then we’ll be able to find new ways because classical
music is a wealth, a cultural wealth that is just absolutely incredible
and cannot be lost. It has to be. It could even have much, much
greater impact than it has now! It is interesting the impact it has
in Japan or, as I hear in the latest reports, in China, where I must assume
that western classical music must be incredibly fresh to them. So
why is it not as fresh here? What can we do that it gets that freshness
again? It will be interesting.
BD: Maybe we
have to lose it to realize what we’ve lost and then get it back?
MB: We don’t
want to lose it completely, but it’s possible that times will have to get
BD: I don’t
know that we could ever lose it completely because we have so many round,
Yes, but the real thing is still better. It is said that a live performance
compares to a CD like love to pornography.
BD: One of the
ways to keep music alive is to keep the creative process, the new pieces,
coming in. What advice do you have for composers who want to write
for the orchestra, either the chamber orchestra like your London Chamber
Players or the standard symphony orchestra?
MB: Here I think
times have never been better. Well, not never been, but let’s say
in this century because certainly the composers have become so much more
user-friendly. They are much more eager to communicate. They’re
much more interested in being understood than it was twenty years ago.
When I was younger and composing, the Darmstadt and all this highly intellectual
stuff was in, and that is now passé. Today the composers are
much less inhibited and just write to communicate.
BD: [With mock
horror] So there’s nothing wrong with a good tune???
BD: We seem
to have lost that in the sixties and seventies.
MB: Even before,
yes. But contemporary music now is much more communicative, and also
the audience is more open. In the sixties, contemporary music
— mainly in Europe — was done in festivals
of contemporary music. These were ghettos of contemporary music because
nobody else wanted it. Today you see so much contemporary music in
our subscription concerts, and if the dose is right the audiences will take
it. And if it’s presented in an effective way, everybody in an audience
is interested in what’s new. They watch the news. In the morning
they get the newspaper. When they buy a book, they buy a best-seller,
and a best-seller is always a newest book, not Shakespeare or Milton.
When they go to watch a show, it’s not an old show; it’s always the newest
show. When they want to be informed about sports or science or anything,
it’s always the newest, what is being done right now. However, in music
they go to a concert and they’re only interested in what was presented a
hundred years ago. We have to tell them that this is part of your education.
You want to know what is going on now. You want to be informed.
You have to know how a composer today writes. You don’t have to like
it. You don’t like everything you read in the newspaper, but you read
it because you want to be informed, and music is part of it. You have
to know how a composer thinks about the music he creates. This will
be a composer who knows about Bosnia and about the rainforest and about
all the problems you live with.
BD: Let me play
devil’s advocate just for a moment. If you spend your day hearing
about Bosnia and beating your brains out at work trying to sell widgets,
don’t you want to come to the concert hall where it will be a refuge from
all of that which has been pounding on you?
MB: No, but
as with a show or with a book, you want to know what’s in today, what is
an expression of today. That doesn’t mean everything has to be depressing
or very serious. It can also be light.
BD: So then
the concert can have both. It can have the new piece and also the
big war horse?
MB: Oh yes,
as a combination. But a lot of the standard repertoire is not that
cheerful. The Eroica is not
a particularly cheerful piece, especially the beginning, the first two movements.
[Laughs] And there are many others.
BD: Then let
me ask a balance question. In music in general, where is the balance
between the artistic achievement and an entertainment value?
MB: Mmmm, that’s
difficult. I think culture should be an enrichment. Now, that
can be both. It should enrich you. It should give you fulfillment.
It should add something to you. If you work all day long, you go to
a cultural thing at night which can be a concert, a play, an opera, an exhibition.
You want it to bring another, a new dimension to the end of the day.
You want to be enriched by that experience. That’s what it should
do, I think. I certainly feel enriched.
* * *
BD: Are you
pleased with where you are in your career now?
MB: I’m very
pleased. I consider myself very, very lucky with all the things I can
do. If I would be less advanced in my career, I’m sure I could be happy,
too. If I would be even further I would be happy, too. To have
what I have, to do it the way I’m allowed to do it is really a great privilege.
BD: I assume
there are more recordings coming out?
MB: You mentioned
the Parry, which was a big project. There have been other things,
like the Rawsthorne Piano Concerto
and Philip Sainton things. When I took over the London Mozart Players,
Chandos asked me to do some Mozart symphonies and I declined. I said,
“There is absolutely no point. The markets are swamped.” There
is much, much, much too much Mozart, and if the audience goes to a store
and they have a choice, then they would take a famous name in any case.
So I had the idea that we should do a series called “The Contemporaries of
Mozart.” It is fascinating that if you look in the music at the Renaissance
or at the Baroque or the Romantic Period, they all were international.
There was an Italian Baroque, there was a German Baroque, there was a French
Baroque, there was even a Spanish Baroque. There was a little bit of
an English Baroque. If you look at the Romantic Period from Russia,
Spain and Slavic countries, everywhere there was a lot, but in the Classical
Period, we are told there are only three composers, and they all lived in
the same town. That can’t be possible. There must be a lot of
music all over Europe during the Classical Period, during the time of Mozart,
Haydn and Beethoven, but they were lost or they were overshadowed by those
three masters. So I went and researched a little bit, and we have put
out the first record of three symphonies by Clementi, who was a contemporary
of Mozart and lived in London.
BD: The same Muzio Clementi that wrote all the
piano music we played as kids?
He met Mozart and they had some competition where they out-did one another.
BD: Like Liszt
[Both laugh] The second record was Krommer. Two wonderful, big
symphonies that have never been recorded.
BD: I know some
of his chamber music...
MB: ...but nobody
knew the symphonies and they’re really meaty, wonderful. Then the
third record was symphonies of Carl Stamitz. These are the three that
are out; I unfortunately do only two a year. The one that comes out
next is five symphonies by Michael Haydn, the brother of Joseph, who was
concertmaster in Salzburg where the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was second
concertmaster. Mozart didn’t like him because he was always drunk.
Then recorded but not out yet is music by a Spanish Catalan composer with
the name of Carlos Baguer.
BD: That’s a
name new to me.
Nobody knows him! He doesn’t write Spanish music or Catalan music,
it’s absolutely minuets and standard pieces in the Viennese-Italian style.
Compared with Mozart, they are a little bit more Italian. Then next
month, I am recording three symphonies by Ignaz Pleyel, and in the spring
we record four symphonies by a German whose name was Anton Rossler, but
during Mozart’s time it was much more advantageous to have Italian name,
so he was Antonio Rossetti. [Both laugh] Hopefully that’s going
to continue as the years will go by. That’s one project. Another
one I started is a series of Frank Martin.
BD: Is he special
to you because you are both Swiss?
MB: I knew him!
I think he is underrated. A fair amount of pieces of his have been
recorded, but there has never been a cycle. There has never been a
statement of a conductor. So, back to the London Philharmonic and there
are three records that are out. The fourth one comes out next month, and
also next month I will record the final, fifth one.
BD: All of these
records and projects are on Chandos?
MB: All on Chandos.
About two years ago, since I was assistant conductor of Leopold Stokowski,
I was asked to record a Bach-Stokowski disc, which I did with the BBC.
That was extremely successful and it sold tremendously well. So they
asked me to do another one called “Stokowski Encores,” so there are a number
of encores. There are pieces like the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata and The Girl with the Flaxen Hair. [Laughs]
BD: I have such
mixed feelings about that. I respect them because those arrangements
are what kept some of these pieces alive in the twenties and thirties, and
yet to hear them now it’s like doing Mozart on a modern piano.
MB: It’s amazing!
There is also a Handel overture, and The
Starts and Stripes Forever. It’s just a mixed record of Stokowski
encores. That too, sold very well and we just recorded the third Stokowski
disc, which is Mussorgsgy with his arrangement of Pictures at an Exhibition and a wonderful
synthesis of Boris and some interludes
of Khovanshchina. I don’t
know when that comes out, but now they’re talking about doing a Wagner-Stokowski
because he has arranged a fair amount of Wagner.
BD: There is
a chunk of Parsifal and a chunk of
Tristan as I recall.
Then maybe two years ago I started some Korngold. We did the Sinfonietta and got a Gramophone Award nomination, but unfortunately
didn’t win. But I will continue the Korngold. We started, just
a month ago, a new mini-cycle, which is Ernst von Dohnányi.
We recorded his Second Symphony.
BD: I would
think that Christoph would want to do that. [Conductor Christoph von Dohnányi
is the grandson of Ernst.]
No! He had plenty of chance, you know. [Both laugh] There’s
also Symphonic Minutes, and that
will be a three-record set. Then I’m in a series of the John Field
Piano Concertos with Miceál
O’Rourke, the Irish pianist. There’s one record that’s out.
BD: If they
were to come to you now or a few years from now and say, “We want your Beethoven
cycle,” would you do it?
MB: I would
hesitate. I conduct a fair amount of Beethoven, but I somehow need
to do some more. There are some that I think I would be tempted, but
there are some, like the Sixth,
I still have great difficulties with.
BD: Thank you
for all that you have brought to us and all that is still to come.
MB: Thank you
for coming up to Milwaukee to meet with me.
--- --- --- --- ---
© 1995 Bruce Duffie
This interview was recorded at his hotel in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,
on October 27, 1995. Segments were used (with recordings) on WNIB
in 2000. The transcription was posted on this website in 2013.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed
and posted on this website, click here.
winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was
Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until
its final moment as a classical station in February
of 2001. His interviews have also appeared in various
magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues
his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as
well as on Contemporary
Classical Internet Radio.
You are invited to visit his website for more information
about his work, including selected transcripts
of other interviews, plus a full list of
his guests. He would also like to call your attention
to the photos and information about his grandfather,
who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.
You may also send him E-Mail with comments,
questions and suggestions.