Conductor  Sir  Andrew  Davis

Two Conversations with Bruce Duffie


The esteemed English conductor, Andrew Frank Davis, born February 2, 1944 - Ashridge, Hertfordshire, England, studied piano at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and obtained Bachelor of Music degree. After taking organ lessons with Peter Hurford and Piet Kee, he was an organ scholar at King's College, Cambridge (1963-1967), obtaining his Master of Art degree in 1967. He then received instruction in conducting from Franco Ferrara at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome (1967-1968). In 1984 he obtained Doctor of Letters from the York University in Toronto.

davis Davis was pianist, harpsichordist and organist with Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields in London from 1966 to 1970. Following a successful guest conducting engagement with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London in 1970, Andrew Davis served as assistant conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in Glasgow (1970-1973). In 1973 he made his debut as an opera conductor at the Glyndebourne Opera Festival. He has appeared with major orchestras and festivals internationally including Berlin, Edinburgh and Flanders. He was associate conductor of the New Philharmonia Orchestra in London (1973-1975) and principal guest conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (1974-1976). In 1974 he made his North American debut as a guest conductor with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. He then was Music Director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (1975-1988), which, under his guidance, acquired a fine international reputation via major tours of North America, Europe, the People's Republic of China, and Japan (1983, 1986). In 1982 he inaugurated the orchestra's new home, the Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto, in a gala concert. After completing his tenure, he served as the orchestra's conductor laureate from 1988 to 1990. In 1989 he was named Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London, becoming the 2nd longest to hold that position since its founder, Sir Adrian Boult. In 1988 he became Music Director of the Glyndebourne Festival. Since 2000, Davis has served as Music Director & Principal Conductor of Lyric Opera of Chicago.

His diverse repertoire ranges from Baroque to contemporary, and his vast conducting credits span the symphonic and operatic and choral worlds. Davis is a great proponent of 20th-century works including those by Janáček, Messiaen, Pierre Boulez, Edward Elgar, Tippett, and Benjamin Britten.

With the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Maestro Andrew Davis has led concerts at the London Proms and on tour to Hong Kong, Japan, the USA, and Europe. He has conducted all of the major orchestras of the world from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to the Berlin Philharmonic to the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, and at opera houses and festivals throughout the world including the Metropolitan Opera in New York, La Scala in Milan, Covent Garden in London, Paris Opera and the Bayreuth Festival. In 1991 he opened the Promenade Concerts in London with the Dream of Gerontius; and in 1994 he conducted the 100th anniversary season of the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts in London with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. He also appears with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Spanish National Orchestra, Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and the orchestras of Strasbourg and Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, as well as on tour with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in the Far East and at the Montreux Festival.

Andrew Davis is a prolific recording artist. He has recorded for Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, Warner Classics International, Capriccio, EMI, and CBS. His recordings include: all the Dvorak Symphonies, Felix Mendelssohn Symphonies, and a Borodin Cycle; Enigma Variations, Falstaff by Edward Elgar; Overtures: Coriolan, Leonore No. 3, Egmont, Fidelio by L.v. Beethoven; Symphony No. 10 by Shostakovitch; Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Rachmaninov; Cinderella (Excerpts); The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra; Symphony No. 5, Horn Concerto, Piano Concerto No. 2 by Alun Hoddinott; Canon (and other digital delights) by Johann Pachelbel; The Planets by Gustav Holst, numerous others. Honours include: 2 Grand Prix du Disque Awards for recording of Maurice Duruflé's Requiem with Philharmonia Orchestra, Tippett's Mask of Time won Gramophone of Year Award in 1987 and a Grand Prix du Disque in 1988. In 2008, he released E. Elgar’s Violin Concertos featuring violinist James Ehnes and London’s Philharmonia Orchestra on the Onyx Classics label, which won Gramophone’s coveted “Best of Category - Concerto” award. Releases in 2007 included L.v. Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with violinist Min-Jyn Kim and the London Philharmonia Orchestra on the Sony label; a solo recital of operatic favorites sung by soprano Nicole Cabell with the London Philharmonic Orchestra on the Decca label, which in 2008 won the Solti Prize from the French Académie du Disque Lyrique; and Franz Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Frédéric Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with pianist Yundi Li and the London Philharmonia Orchestra for Deutsche Grammophon.

Davis is also a composer. Among his compositions: La Serenissima (Inventions on a Theme by Claudio Monteverdi) Chansons Innoccentes.


In 1992 Andrew Davis he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his services to British music, and in 1999 he was made a Knight Bachelor in the New Year Honours List. In 1991, he received the Royal Philharmonic Society/Charles Heidsieck Music Award.

His 3rd marriage was to soprano Gianna Rolandi. They now reside in Chicago where she was the Director of The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

==  Names which are links in this box and below refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD  


Sir Andrew and I have met on several occasions, and twice we invited the tape recorder to listen in to our conversation.  The first time was in November of 1993, and the second was seven years later, in October of 2000.  As usual, portions of the conversations were aired on WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago, and now this webpage presents them both in their entirety.  Yes, it makes for a lengthy stretch, but there is much of great interest, and you are not required to plow through it all in one sitting.  (!)

Over the years, Sir Andrew has led both of the great musical institutions of the Windy City
Lyric Opera, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (both downtown and at the Ravinia Festival).  In our first encounter, it was just his fourth visit to Lyric Opera of Chicago, and he had only done works by Mozart.  The following season, he would return for Capriccio, and then not again until he assumed the title of Music Director, and opened the 2000-01 season with Queen of Spades, and would continue with many others over the succeeding years.

Since he is English, I have left in most of his British-style turns of phrase, though I have amended the spelling of words like
theatre to theater.  He was always in a jolly humour (which I change to humor!), and there was much laughter throughout our encounters.  Sometimes it was just a small giggle, and other times we would be roaring together about this or that idea.

Interestingly, or perhaps just coincidentally, this transcription is being readied for his 75th birthday.  So, to begin, we travel back in time a quarter of a century.

As we sat down for the first interview, I remarked that he would be having a big, round birthday very soon . . . . .

Sir Andrew Davis:   Yes, I’m afraid I am, yes, in February.  I shall be the big Five-Oh coming up!  [Laughs]

Bruce Duffie:   Are you at the point in your career that you want to be at the big Five-Oh?

Sir Andrew:   Oh, I think so!  I’m actually very happy with my life right now.  I have what I consistently describe as the two best jobs in England
Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, which is a marvelous orchestra.  [The other is Music Director of Glyndebourne, of which he speaks later.]  Its an orchestra that can, and does, and needs, as part of its whole raison d’être, to a lot of interesting repertoire, including a lot of contemporary music.  We can afford to be adventurous in a way that perhaps some of our other London orchestras can’t, just because of all the pressures of attracting a public in a recessionary world.  Although, in fact, having for years been the orchestra with consistently the lowest attendance to any of its concerts, the BBC Symphony Orchestra is beginning to pull out of that situation, into a situation where we actually have a rather loyal following that comes to a lot of our concerts now, and we’re increasing out-attendance all the time.

davis BD:   By definition, is everything that the BBC orchestra does, on the BBC at some point?

Sir Andrew:   Almost everything, yes.  The only exception to that is that if we go on overseas tour, and we maybe have three programs and play them twelve times, we don’t record all the concerts.  We may record half of them.  Some of them go out live, some will go for future broadcast, but everything else is broadcast either live or later.

BD:   Is there any difference between a live broadcast and a delayed broadcast?

Sir Andrew:   No, no!  [Laughs]  There’s no doctoring goes on, if that’s what you mean.

BD:   That
s good to know, but I meant is there any difference in the way that you would conduct?

Sir Andrew:   Oh, no, because most of what we do are public concerts.  We do some studio performances, but almost all of our concerts are public concerts.  We do a season in the Royal Festival Hall, we do several series during the course of the year in the Barbican as well, and, of course, I suppose the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s greatest visibility is in the Promenade Concerts in the summer, because we do still the largest proportion of the concerts in the Proms, which are under aegis of the BBC.  [See photo at left]

BD:   Following up on that other question now, you conduct other orchestras for guest engagements.  Is there any difference in the way you would conduct, knowing that the concert is not being broadcast, since it’s just the audience there in the hall?

Sir Andrew:   No, I don’t think so.  A concert is a concert is a concert.  It’s as simple as that.  I believe that I always conduct exactly the same way.  There’s absolutely no difference at all.  At any rate, that’s my one hand.  My other hand is being Music Director of the Glyndebourne Festival Opera.  There was no Glyndebourne last year since we’re building a new theater.

BD:   Has it opened yet, or is that next year?

Sir Andrew:   It opens this coming summer at the end of May.

BD:   So, you have no idea what it will sound like?

Sir Andrew:   We have an acoustic test with the orchestra in the pit at the end of March, so that’s the first time we’ll get a sense of what it’s going to sound like.

BD:   At least from the plans, how is the new house different?

Sir Andrew:   It’s larger.  The old theater was about 850 seats, and the new theater is about 1,200, so that’s a fairly large increase in proportion.  It’s still a small theater, though.  1,200 is not large, and it will still have the same intimacy.  The distance from the front of the stage to the back of the theater is very little greater than in the old house, but it is higher.  There’s a ground floor, and then there’s a sort of balcony-type thing immediately behind the ground floor, and there are two more levels above that.  So the theater is a good deal higher than the old one, and it looks actually much larger, even larger than it actually is, so to speak, in comparison to the old one on the site.  Because it’s set in the middle of the English countryside, it somehow makes a proper bold statement now.

BD:   Is the stage apparatus bigger?

Sir Andrew:   Yes, the back-stage facilities are much better.  There’s much more room for scenery.  All through, the access between the main rehearsal stage and the stage of the theater itself is much greater, much easier, much simpler.  All the loading dock arrangements are much better.  There will be a second rehearsal stage built a few years hence when they raise a bit more money.

BD:   Will that be the same size as the main stage?

Sir Andrew:   Same size as the main stage, yes, and again with plenty of height, so it will be a good space to rehearse in.  The dressing rooms are also much better.  They each have their own individual bathrooms, whereas in the old days you had to go along the corridor and sometimes down the stairs to take a leak!  [Much laughter]  So, in many ways it’s much better, as are the facilities for the public.  From the foyer or landing, as it were, outside the upper level of the theater, the views over the countryside are absolutely marvelous, and that’s something the old theater never had.

BD:   But it’s right in the same location?

Sir Andrew:   It’s right in the same location except that it’s been turned round, so what was formerly the lobby is now the backstage, which means that for the public, you come out of the theater and go right onto the lawns of the old house.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  Some of the people will find the bigger car park and turn the wrong way...

Sir Andrew:   [Laughs]  Precisely.  It’ll take a little orientation!  But it’s very exciting because it’s a major new opera house, and when did you last see a major new opera house being built?  There aren’t too many of them, and all the money has been raised privately, too.  Glyndebourne, as you probably know, receives no public money at all for the performances.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   How do you divide your career between the symphonic and operatic repertoire?

ulisse Sir Andrew:   For the most part, I don’t do a lot of opera apart from Glyndebourne usually.  I never do more than one other thing a year, at least I don’t think I have.

BD:   So, Chicago is very lucky then to have you for this opera!

Sir Andrew:   I suppose...  [Giggles]  I can’t say that, it sounds terribly immodest!  But yes, this is my other operatic thing this year, although I’ve done a lot of concert performances of opera this year as it turned out.  Starting at the end of November last year, I did a concert performance of Nielsen’s Saul and David, which is part of a big Scandinavian festival in the Barbican in London with the BBC.

BD:   In English or in Danish?

Sir Andrew:   In Danish.  Wonderful language that the Swedes say is not a language, it’s throat disease!  [Both laugh]

BD:   But you ‘deigned’ to do it!  [More Laughter]

Sir Andrew:   Then in December last year, I did in the studio in London with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, a recording of Dallapiccola’s opera Ulisse.  That was a monster.  Actually it
s a marvelous piece, but very difficult.

BD:   Is that going to be issued, or was it just for the BBC?  [Vis-à-vis the listing shown at right, see my interviews with Phyllis Bryn-Julson, and Norman Bailey.]

Sir Andrew:   That was just for broadcast, although we’re trying to persuade one of the record companies that it’s about time they did a major Dallapiccola thing.  He’s a composer I think is rather unjustly neglected now.

BD:   The only one I know is the old record of Il Prigioniero conducted by Dorati.

Sir Andrew:   Prigioniero is a marvelous piece, and very strong dramatically.  Ulisse is much more philosophical and reflective.  It doesn’t have a lot of action.  Indeed, it’s basically Ulisse and his relation with various women in his life
Circe, Penelope, and Nausicaa, and so on.

BD:   Perhaps at Glyndebourne might you think of doing a whole season of the various Ulysses operas, right from the Monteverdi all the way through?

Sir Andrew:   That’s a sort of idea which looks better on paper than in practice.  It is a fascinating thing.  It’s the sort of thing that the BBC would do, you know, in a week put on a series of Ulysses-based operas, which would be fascinating to compare.

BD:   They, of course, can go back in the archives for the material.  [There is a bit more about this opera at the end of our second conversation.]

Sir Andrew:   That’s right.  Also this year in concert I did Beatrice and Benedict in the Festival Hall in London, which was sort of Glyndebourne since there was no festival last summer.  Because of the rebuild of the opera house, we just did some concert performances in London.  We did those three performances of Beatrice and Benedict, which I did, three performances of Fidelio that Klaus Tenstedt was supposed to do.  Unfortunately, he got sick, so Roger Norrington did them.  And there were three performances of The Merry Widow conducted by Franz Welser-Möst, the music director of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, which, of course, is our orchestra in Glyndebourne.  Then I did Daphne in the San Francisco Strauss Festival in the summer, in June.

BD:   Was that staged or in concert?

Sir Andrew:   That was semi-staged.  It was one of these, as they say in Yorkshire, neither nowt nor summat (which means
neither nothing nor something’).  It worked surprisingly well.  Basically, there was a sort of scrim from a further production, I don’t know, Götterdämmerung, or something [laughs], in the back, and a few bits of scenery around.  It was quite well lit, but the men wore dinner jackets, and ladies wore nice sort of dresses.

BD:   So there were entrances and exits and maybe some gestures, and that’s about all?

Sir Andrew:   Yes, that’s right.  That sort of thing can work well.  It’s just that Daphne is one of Strauss’s most beautiful operas.  Dramatically, of course, it’s not a knock-out in terms of what happens.

BD:   I’d love to see a film director dissolve her into the tree at the end.

Sir Andrew:   It’s an opera that could work very interestingly on film... if anyone really develops opera-on-film in a satisfactory way, because it so seldom works.  I’ve never seen an opera that’s been done where it didn’t look so obviously dubbed, or actually, no, not dubbed.  Usually it’s the other way round.  The sound track goes down, and then the people go out and mime, which always looks terrible.

BD:   It’s always close.

Sir Andrew:   It’s always close, but no cigar, and it’s such a shame because there is so much scope for doing so much fascinating work with opera.

davis BD:   Aside from the obvious, what are the differences for you between conducting an opera that is fully staged and an opera that is in concert?

Sir Andrew:   [Laughs quietly]  With an opera that is in concert, one has the great advantage that usually the singers have nothing to do but follow the conductor!  [Much laughter]  They are not all doing that wretched acting, which is a nuisance.  In a piece that like Ulisse, that means a great advantage.  But on the other hand, one does not have as much rehearsal, so one may not get so deeply into the piece
especially if it’s an unfamiliar work that people are singing from scratch, as it were, if they haven’t done it before.

BD:   They learn it before the concert and that’s all there is?

Sir Andrew:   Yes, and one tends perhaps not to get into the character quite so deeply sometimes, depending on the singer, and what kind of preparation he or she has done privately for it.

BD:   Is it diametrically opposite that you should get more into the character because there aren’t the costumes and scenery to help?

Sir Andrew:   In a sense that does happen, and actually with a piece like Daphne it works very well in concert because the drama is more psychological.  It’s the character’s inward change
the way Daphne reacts first of all to her human lover and then her reaction to Apollo, her divine lover.  In fact, she doesn’t change a great deal because she remains this sort of pure chaste creature who wants to be at one with nature, and rejects both her earthly and heavenly suitors.  Eventually she is taken pity on by Apollo, and after he’s killed his rival, she gets her wish by being one with nature by becoming a tree.  It’s one of the most extraordinary poetic of all the Greek myths, but difficult to stage of course.  That’s why the film idea is so interesting.  When you do a concert-opera, it does give one the chance to concentrate on the music in a way that’s not always possible onstage, but you lose something.  In March, in fact, in London in the Festival Hall, I’m doing a concert performance of Lulu, which is interesting because Lulu hasn’t been done in London for quite some years now.  That will be interesting because, of course, one will miss some of the dramatic situation, but the music is so fascinating, and there’s so much extraordinary detail in the orchestral textures that does sometimes get lost in the pit.  So, I think it’ll be a marvelous musical experience.

BD:   You’re doing, obviously, the three-act version?  [DVD of the Glyndebourne production is shown at the bottom of this webpage.]

Sir Andrew:   Yes.  One can’t really do anything else these days, whatever one may think.  I remember when the third act first appeared.  I’ve been a Berg-freak since I was about thirteen, actually, when I first discovered the Violin Concerto, and I met Helene, his widow.  It must have been about twenty years ago, I suppose, when I was on holiday in Austria.  I met her at the Waldhaus, his country house on the Wörthersee, where he wrote the Violin Concerto and great chunks of Lulu.  She said the opera will never be finished because Schoenberg refused to do it, and Webern refused to do it, and Zemlinsky refused to do it, and so on.  But it was common knowledge it had been finished by Cherha, and the manuscript, the completed thing, was sitting on the desk, or on the shelf, in the Universal Edition until she died.  She was 88, and she survived him by 38 years.  They were exactly the same age, and he died when he was 50.

BD:   She would not have sanctioned the performance?

Sir Andrew:   No, no, she wouldn’t have sanctioned it.  In fact, I believe in her will she said that the piece must not be performed.  We now know that there could have been all kinds of motives for her, because we know of Berg’s relationship with Hannah Fuchs-Robettin, who was the woman who he perhaps had an affair with, but certainly had a sort of spiritual affair with at least.  He was a very fascinating man, and I can talk for hours about Berg.

BD:   How did they break the will?

Sir Andrew:   I’m not sure.  It may be that, in fact, such a clause would not actually be legal.

BD:   I assume it would depend on the contract that Berg originally signed with the publisher.

Sir Andrew:   Presumably.  At any rate, I was waiting with bated breath for years for the third act to come out.  I remember when it was first performed in Paris, and everyone was completely baffled by Act 3 Scene 1.  We all said that Berg couldn’t have written this!  In fact, we know he wrote all of it
apart from twenty-three bars, and some orchestration, and some vocal counterpoint in the big ensemble.  It was not just a sketch.  It was almost complete.

BD:   Cherha just filled it out?

Sir Andrew:   Exactly!  Cherha didn’t do a great deal.  What he did, he did very skillfully, but people were so surprised because Act 3 Scene 1 is so totally different.  It’s this very surreal kind of writing that Berg had never done before, and that, to me, was all the more fascinating because you thought,
My God, what if this man hadn’t died at the ridiculously early age of fifty from some stupid insect bite that nowadays they’d have given him a shot and he’d have gone home?  It’s absolutely maddening.  It’s always tantalizing to think about composers who died relatively young, what would they would have done and where they would have gone next, and Berg, for me, has always been one of those great tantalizing things.

BD:   I lament Verdi and his King Lear (for which no music was ever written), and Debussy with The Fall of the House of Usher (which was left incomplete).

Sir Andrew:   Right, yes.  Actually, the one thing about Berg, is because he didn’t write so very much music.  We had a weekend in January of last year, 1992, in which we did, in two concerts, all the orchestral works, including the Three Fragments of Wozzeck and the Suite from Lulu.  Then we did chamber works in two other concerts, so we did almost the whole output apart from the complete operas.

davis BD:   You brought in a string quartet?

Sir Andrew:   Yes, there was a quartet, a pianist did the Piano Sonata, and we even got the Seven Early Songs in because we didn’t have room for them in the orchestral concert.  There’s a chamber orchestra version with the funny harmonium, piano, string quartet, clarinet, flute ensemble that they all wrote those funny arrangements of Strauss Waltzes for.

BD:   The old Hausmusik!

Sir Andrew:   Yes, that’s right.

BD:   You have this enthusiasm for Berg and for new music in general.  How do you get a reluctant public
and sometimes even reluctant performersto work at it and really understand what all is there?

Sir Andrew:   Well, first of all, I think Berg these days is relatively easy to sell.  [Demurs a bit, then laughs]  Well, maybe not...

BD:   [Sighs]  It’s still a reluctant public, I’m afraid.

Sir Andrew:   Yes.  Lulu and Wozzeck are so dramatically powerful, but the difficulty of the idiom is something that must be overcome.

BD:   Perhaps on an orchestral concert with the Berg Violin Concerto, there had better be a Tchaikovsky work to balance it.

Sir Andrew:   Yes, I suppose so.  Actually, the Berg Violin Concerto is one of his most accessible pieces.  You can take something like the Three Orchestral Pieces, which are very thick and prolix and complicated in many ways, then that’s harder.  This is one of the things that I feel very strongly about, and one of the things that I work very hard at with the BBC Symphony Orchestra
which, first of all, is one of the best contemporary-music orchestras in the world because we do play a lot of it.  They had four years of Pierre Boulez doing all kinds of wild stuff, including his own.  [Laughs]

BD:   So in other words, if you’re sitting there in the audience, you’d better be a fan of contemporary music, or you should just go away?

Sir Andrew:   They aren’t all fans, but most of them are, and most of them find it a challenge, and most of them enjoy it.  It depends.  One of the things I’ve done since I’ve been
there — and this is my fifth seasonI actually tried to ensure that the balance of the repertoire is even.  When I first went there, during the whole three-month period the orchestra were playing almost nothing but contemporary music.  That’s not a good thing.  One needs to even it out, because one of the things that Berg said about Luluand this is to get back to one of my idolswas that it must be sung like bel canto.  I feel very much that you cannot forget about sonority and quality of sound, and texture and balance when you’re playing new music.  Just because the rhythms are complicated, one has to have the same demands of the delicacy and balance and the richness, or the transparency of the sound that you have when you are doing anything else.  One of the things with the BBC Symphony Orchestra is that we do have the luxury, perhaps, of a little bit more time to rehearse contemporary music than other people who have financial pressuresnot that we don’t have financial pressures in the BBC because the relationship with public funding is changing somewhat.  So, we’re all justifying everything we do.  But we are in a position to spend that much more time, so one can get past just getting the notes and the rhythms right, to making some music with contemporary works.  This is often one of the problems.  Because of the difficulties of so much music that’s written these days, just sort of getting in at the right place at the right time, and just not falling apart is often considered a major achievement.  Then you think, God, didn’t we do well!  Well, yes, probably one did, but on the other hand, there are things about it that wouldn’t have been acceptable if you’d been playing Brahms, and that can be one of the reasons why contemporary music is not always sold out.  Of course, there is a more fundamental question of the inherent dissonance of a lot of music, and the inherent abstruseness of certain styles of music.  What is interesting to me is that in the last couple of decades, contemporary music has got easier to listen to.

BD:   You mean the newest of the new?

Sir Andrew:   The newest of the new.  We’ve had the new romanticism, or modernism, or post-modernism.  I don’t know what all these things mean, but...

BD:   Well, is the movement in this direction a good thing, a bad thing, or just a thing?

davis Sir Andrew:   It’s certainly a thing.  On the whole it’s a good thing, although I also think there is a certain something... I don’t particularly like minimalism, I have to say.  I think minimalism is a sort of radical move in the opposite direction from, say, Boulez.  It’s a flight from the kind of Donaueschingen school of composers, where serialism and organization and extreme intellectualism or actualization, or whatever you call it, of the protest composition became the rule.  [The Donaueschingen Festival for contemporary music ("Donaueschinger Musiktage"), founded in 1921 is one of the world's oldest festivals for new music, and takes place every year in October.  Guest composers have included Paul Hindemith, Arnold Schoenberg, Pierre Boulez, Elliott Carter, John Cage, and György Ligeti.]  So, people reacted to that very strongly, and minimalism is a reaction against it, which is of no interest to me at all.  Mind you, there have been some composers who have used minimalism in a very effective way.  John Adams is a minimalist who, actually, is not really a minimalist.  He sort of lands in the cracks somewhere.

BD:   So, someone like Carl Orff, with a lot of repetition is almost a pre-minimalist?

Sir Andrew:   Yes, I think he was the father of minimalism in a sense.  I’ve never been that fond of Carl Orff actually, although it’s very effective, and certainly a piece like Carmina Burana, actually, is a masterpiece, even I have to admit.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   This leads me to branch off just a moment.  In your role as conductor, do you have to, and can you bring life to a piece with which you don’t have a lot of sympathy?

Sir Andrew:   Let me put it this way...  I try not to conduct music with which I have no sympathy.  In fact, I would say that of the works I’ve done with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the four years plus that I’ve been there, I have not done any music that I disliked.

BD:   Is that because since you’re the Chief Conductor, you can leave things you don’t like to guest conductors?

Sir Andrew:   Yes!  Yes, absolutely.

BD:   Do you try to make sure the guest conductors bring in things you don’t like just for balance for the players in the orchestra as well as the audience?

Sir Andrew:   Yes.  The orchestra recently played Gorecki’s Third Symphony, which I abominate, actually.  I really hate it with a passion.

BD:   Is that because you feel there’s nothing there?

Sir Andrew:   Yes!  I’m sure people listening will say,
“Why. this arrogant so and so!  Of course there’s something there.  A lot of people find things there, but for me there’s nothing.

BD:   It doesn’t speak to you?

Sir Andrew:   It doesn’t speak to me at all.  So, I obviously won’t do it, but that is certainly
minimalism, if you like.

BD:   Let me play Devil’s Advocate for a moment.  The audience is there thinking you’re bringing things that they really don’t like, and you’re trying to convince them of their worth.  Why are you not sitting there trying to be convinced of things that you don’t like?

davis Sir Andrew:   Okay, that’s an absolutely fair question.  It’s not to say that I don’t listen to things.  The people who are sitting there trying to be convinced by me, presumably haven’t heard the music before.  At least I do listen, and study, and look at scores... scores of scores!

BD:   [Laughs at the pun]  You give them a shot?  [Vis-à-vis the CD shown at right, see my interviews with Lou Harrison, Michael Gielen, and Sian Edwards.]

Sir Andrew:   I give them a shot before I decide whether I like them or not.  But it is important, and there are several composers whose work I like very much.  There’s an English composer who has been extraordinarily under-performed.  He’s about ten or eleven years older than I am, called Hugh Wood.  I recently did a CD of the Piano Concerto [shown at right], which we premiered a couple of years ago.  Not a very, very fine piece, but he wrote a symphony maybe ten or twelve years ago, and I did it two years ago.  It had two performances from the year of its composition, and then it hadn’t been done again, and it’s actually one of the most accomplished and moving pieces, and a very major piece.  It’s just that fashions change, and Hugh is a composer who’s post- Schoenberg-ian, Berg-ian harmonically-speaking.  There’s a certain Englishness about it, but certainly not his harmonic language, which very much comes out of Second Viennese School at a time when that was all rather being pushed aside.  On the other hand, Boulez was a great devotee of the Second Viennese School, and certain elements that came from Schoenberg were seminally derived from Schoenberg; in other words, the whole development of serialism in more and more areas of composition.  Hugh actually is not that way.  Hugh is a romantic.  He’s a follower of Berg far more, and so his music fell between some stools.  I’ve always felt he was one of the most remarkable British composers of his generation, so that’s an imbalance I try to address.

BD:   Has serialism run its course, and is it at a dead end now?

Sir Andrew:   [Thinks a moment]  Not necessarily.  It depends how you think of it.  Serialism can mean so many different things, and can be interpreted in so many different ways.  There is the original serialism, which was an organization of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale according to Schoenberg’s rules, which were immediately adapted and bowdlerized by Berg.

BD:   But that was the start?

Sir Andrew:   That was the start, and then people began serializing rhythm and other elements of the piece.  There’ve been some very interesting experiments in that.  Messiaen, for instance, used a kind of rhythmic serialism in a lot of his pieces, some of which are very effective, and Boulez also serialized all kinds of things, including timbre.  The way chords are built up was all done mathematically.  I don’t want to appear to be a denigrator of Boulez.  I think he has one of greatest ears ever, and also, I think he is the real single follower or disciple of Debussy in terms of the way he conceives music.  Serialism is still there in some form, but the tendency these days has been absolutely against any kind of serial or mathematical organization of music, and much more the romantic idea of letting the music do its own thing.  That, of course, presents other problems, because then you have to find forms that work and structures that work.  Serialism gave its own structure, which could be completely arid if it didn’t have the imagination wedded to it and the balances all the time.

BD:   What advice do you have for composer who wants to write music today
either for the orchestra, or perhaps even for the voice?

Sir Andrew:   [Thinks a moment]  I’m not sure that I would want to give anybody advice.  I have written a couple of pieces myself, but I don’t regard myself seriously as a composer.  It is, however, something I’ve enjoyed very much.

BD:   You just dabbled?

Sir Andrew:   I’ve dabbled, yes, that’s fair enough, so I would feel certainly hubris in telling people what they should do.

BD:   [Gently protesting]  But you’re a conductor, and a major figure in interpreting all of these new works!

davis Sir Andrew:   I’m not sure why, but composers seem to be, nowadays, writing for the orchestra better, using the orchestra more idiomatically.  It’s partly, again, a reaction against the certain style of composition that was ‘in’ in the 60s and early ‘70s.  Then, the only thing that the violinists did in the orchestra was to hit the back of their instruments with the bow, and then they would all say, Why on Earth have I mortgaged my soul to buy this violin that was made in 1689, and has cost me thousands and thousands of dollars, so I can just beat the back of it with a bow that also cost me thousands of dollars?

BD:   Better for that series of performances to bring a cigar box!

Sir Andrew:   Precisely!  Again, I think composers, for some reason, are more interested in using the string section of an orchestra in I won’t say a more traditional way, but for certain in way that is more compatible with what they do best.

BD:   [With mock horror]  You mean we’re coming back to the beauty of sound???

Sir Andrew:   [Chuckles]  Yes, I believe so, and I certainly welcome that, and I would certainly encourage that.  I’m all for sensuousness in the way you use an orchestra and its most phenomenal resource.  What you do with an orchestra is staggering.  I mean, my God, there is so much to learn from this.  I don’t care what you do harmonically or rhythmically or in terms of texture, you can still learn.  Every composer should be forced to really study Ravel and Stravinsky and Berg and Messiaen.

BD:   And Rimsky-Korsakov?  [His Principles of Orchestration (
Основы оркестровки) is a standard text.]

Sir Andrew:   And Rimsky-Korsakov!  Absolutely!  But just in terms of twentieth century composers, there is so much incredible color.  I see much more being realized in contemporary scores than perhaps was true fifteen years ago, when the colorist possibilities of what an orchestra could do seemed to be almost an embarrassment to the cerebral kind of school of composition that came to its height in the
60s, where you didn’t want voluptuousness, you wanted clarity and complexity of thought.  I’m not disparaging it.  There were some great pieces written by that school, but...

BD:   Are we now coming back to the idea of the composers considering the audience as well?

Sir Andrew:   Yes, that’s also true because composers saw the direction that school of composition was alluding to, which was resulting in music nobody wanted to hear.  However much you sit and admire it and say,
God that’s clever, there is this constantly shrinking group of people who were saying it’s wonderful.  After all, in the last resort, music and all the other performing arts are to do with speaking to people, and not everyone in the world will get what you’re trying to say.

BD:   This brings up one of my favorite questions.  Is concert music
the music that you work with day in and day outfor everyone?

Sir Andrew:   Yes, but not everyone will want to hear it, and I’m not just saying this about contemporary music.  For a lot of people, Beethoven is meaningless, Mozart is meaningless, but yes, there’s no rule that says what sort of people like what sort of music.  That’s what’s absolutely fascinating.  It transcends all kinds of boundaries, and it speaks to individuals in a way in which the variety of responses is enormous.  But I do think that this is a question of actually opening people’s ears, and making people more susceptible, more open to new music, and to different kinds of concepts of what to listening to music could be.  I tried to do this when I was in Toronto.  I was there for thirteen years as the conductor of the orchestra, and to a certain extent I succeeded, and to a certain extent I feel I failed miserably.  On the whole, though, it was a success, and again I tried to broaden the repertoire.

BD:   Do you feel it’s a failing because you didn’t do more?

Sir Andrew:   Yes, one always wants to do more.  I remember opening my fifth or sixth season in Toronto with a performance of Turangalîla
the great, huge, monumental symphony by Messiaen in ten movements.  One of the great advantages of being conductor in certain circumstances is that you have your back to the audience, because after every movement more people left the hall.

BD:   But you were, obviously, aware of this?

davis Sir Andrew:   Yes, one is aware of it to a certain extent.  They were very discrete.  The Canadians and Torontonians are quite polite on the whole.  They slip out quietly, but things like that always upset me, which is stupid, really, because it’s not easy listening, although some of it is quite easy listening, actually.  But the thing about Messiaen is that the time scale is very enormous, and it moves in these large paragraphs.  There are some moments in Turangalîla, as in all of his music, where, in a sense, time stops, and that’s the great originality of that composerthat there is no developmental idea in Messiaen.  It’s a question of states that are sometimes juxtaposed.

BD:   Interesting about time stopping.  Now I have to rethink my whole concept of the Quartet for the End of Time.

Sir Andrew:   That’s a very good example... even ‘the angel of the seven trumpets’, the very fast movement that whizzes around in unison with all four instruments of the quartet.  The music is fast, and all the notes move fast, but harmonically in a way it’s also a trance-like piece.  It’s not the busy-ness of movement, it’s the busy-ness of something shimmering, and that’s why I say people have to think of the new, or entertain the possibility to listening to music in different ways.  That is terribly fascinating, and I love that.

BD:   Talking about music in different ways, does your idea of an individual piece change as you progress in music?

Sir Andrew:   Oh, yes, of course!  There are pieces that I’ve done over the years that one isn’t always aware of how they change, and in what way, and I’m not always aware of the process.  It’s not always making conscious decisions that I’m going to do it this way rather than that way.  It’s just, I suppose, a growth
one hopes an improvementor definitely a change in how one makes music, and one hopes it gets better.  For example, I always loved Brahms, but I recently heard a tape of a performance I did of the Brahms Two over twenty years ago, when I first started to conduct.  It had lots of energy and sort of brio, but it didn’t seem to be Brahms to me now.

BD:   It was Brahms to you then?

Sir Andrew:   It was Brahms to me then, yes.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  Has Brahms changed?

Sir Andrew:   [Smiles]  No, of course Brahms hasn’t changed.  That’s what I’m saying.  It is one’s perceptions, and, I suppose, just life.

BD:   Perhaps you are coming closer to Brahms now?

Sir Andrew:   That’s what I think, yes.  I believe so, and I certainly hope so.

BD:   Do you conduct Brahms, or even Elgar, differently now that you have had so much experience with Berg and Hugh Wood and all of the other newer composers?

Sir Andrew:   [Thinks a moment]  I’m not sure.  It’s the whole question of what does historical perspective mean, and whether that has any relevance.  [Thinks again]  I don’t know.  Do you need to know Beethoven before you conduct Brahms?  Must one be going backwards and forwards?  I don’t think so.  If there’d been no music except Brahms in the world, I would still have changed the way I’d look at it in twenty years, even if there were no other terms of reference for music.  What a crazy idea, that the only music there was, was by Brahms.  [Both laugh]

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   We’ve been talking about musicology and I want to come back a little bit to the art of conducting.  Do you do all of your work at rehearsal, or do you leave something for the night of the performance?

Sir Andrew:   Oh, there always must be something for the night of the performance.  What it is, I don’t always know.  Sometimes, when I happen to be doing a final rehearsal, I have to stop myself and consciously back off, particularly if you’re doing a final rehearsal in the morning and the concert that night.  It is very hard for the orchestra to do it twice, apart from anything else.  I’m not just saying physically.  If you’re doing a Bruckner symphony... well, I don’t usually play an entire Bruckner symphony without stopping on the same day as the show.  You leave bits out depending on how desperate you were to rehearse, and how well it was rehearsed before.  One always leaves something emotionally in reserve.  My ideal of how one rehearses is to begin emotionally rather coolly.  Again, it depends what it is, and the orchestra you’re working with.  Especially if you’re preparing something that’s difficult and not necessarily that familiar, one starts very pragmatically.  You stop and get difficult passages right.  You play things slowly, and you speed them up till they’re working.  Then, as you go through the rehearsal period, you gradually get rid of the technical problems, and heat up the emotional component, so to speak.

davis BD:   Is it safe to say that once you get rid of the technical problems, that’s when you can begin making music?

Sir Andrew:   You have to begin making music whilst you’re still getting the technical problems sorted out as well, but basically that is right.  You sort out the nitty gritty.

BD:   You’re conducting various pieces, and some of them are for broadcast and some are for commercial records.  Do you conduct differently when it’s going to be a commercially released record rather than for a straight concert?

Sir Andrew:   [Sighs]  No, I desperately try not to.  For a long time, I must say, I have had lots and lots of trouble with recordings.  I found making records very difficult, and it’s quite simply that I found it very difficult to somehow forget about all those microphones hanging around waiting for something to go wrong.  [Laughs]  You know what I mean?  There are all those little black things hanging in the air over your heads saying,
Come on, come on, come on!  Somebody’s going to crack a note now, and it’s not going to be together.  [Much laughter]

Do it right, I dare you!

Sir Andrew:  
Do it right!”  Yes, and “You’re going to have to stop anyway, so why should you get emotionally involved with this?”  That was always the problem with me, actually forgetting that it was a recording at all, and achieving the same emotional energy and pitch that one always tried to do.  With the best performances you don’t try to do it.  The music simply takes you over.  There were certain factors about making records that inhibited me to a certain extent.  I’m much better now at it, and I enjoy it much more.  For one thing, it’s not quite true to say never, but I almost never now record anything that I haven’t just done one or more performances of in concert.

BD:   Immediately preceding? 

Sir Andrew:   Immediately preceding, which also makes a tremendous difference.  Somehow, you’ve partly prepared for oneself and partly for the orchestra.  People tend to assume that the whole interpretative weight of something starts and finishes with the conductor.  The conception has to be in his head, but during the course of a rehearsal, one hopes that that’s been communicated to the orchestra, and fed back from the orchestra to him.  Also, the hope is he’s taken something from the orchestra as well, because that’s one of the reasons no two performances will ever be the same
especially with different orchestrasbecause it’s not a one-way transmission.  It happens both ways, and with a wonderful orchestra, then a conductor will actually be stimulated by that.

BD:   So it’s a constancy?

Sir Andrew:   It should be, yes, absolutely, and it can be an ever increasing spiral, one hopes.  But the orchestra, during a performance or a couple of performances, will actually be generating some energy and some interpretative collective sense of its own, too.  You can get a whole passage technically correct, and you can do the exposition of a symphony, and get it absolutely in shape even if it’s a piece they don’t know, but the orchestra don’t know the relationship of that to the rest of the movement.  It actually affects the way it’s performed.  The conductor knows that, but it’s not just the conductor with slaves underneath doing his bidding, and getting it right.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  You don’t want to be a despot?

Sir Andrew:   [Most assuredly]  No!!!  Nobody, even the despots in the old days, didn’t want that either.  They cracked the whips and they treated musicians like dirt a lot of the time, but they wanted music to come from their orchestras.  Otherwise, you can’t do anything.  So, recording now I find much more pleasurable and, I am recording at the moment only with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, with whom I have a very close relationship.  We get things done much faster, and it really is fun.  [He laughs]  As you know, we’re doing a big series of British music for Teldec now, what they call The British Line.  We have done already both the Elgar symphonies, the Enigma Variations, a Britten recording, and a Delius record which has just come out.  I don’t know if it’s out over here but it’s certainly out in Britain.  We’ve done Vaughan Williams’s Sixth Symphony, and Four and Five are coming out.  Eight and Two are coming out shortly, so we’re doing all the Vaughan Williams symphonies.

BD:   Is it satisfying to do a cycle of them, or is there really not this grand relationship among the symphonies?


Sir Andrew:   The thing that struck me while preparing this whole series is how dissimilar the Vaughan Williams symphonies are to each other.  Obviously, you listen to them and they’re clearly all by him.  He’s a fairly easy composer to recognize.  There are certain features, like the modal harmonies, the textures of the writing, the melodic ideas, but there are one or two different kinds of Vaughan Williams.  There’s the very pastoral, beautiful and serene, like the Tallis Fantasy, and then there’s the satirical and quite ugly, exemplified in things like the Scherzo of the Sixth Symphony, and some of the Satanic music in Job.  But each of the symphonies is, to a remarkably extent, a little enclosed world of its own.  If you just look at the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth symphonies, there are peculiar things about them.  The Fourth, which is very angry and violent, was written in the
30s.  Some people said, Ah, yes, this is foretaste of what was to come, and maybe it was.  But the Fifth Symphony, which is the one he wrote during the War, was the most serene piece of music he had every written, practically.

davis BD:   Perhaps that’s a reaction to what was going on.

Sir Andrew:   Yes, it’s a reaction to it.  The truth of the matter is
and this may have been some of the reaction to ita lot of the music of the Fifth Symphony stems from the opera The Pilgrim’s Progress, which actually is something that preoccupied Vaughan Williams for a large proportion of his life in various forms.

BD:   Will you eventually be recording Pilgrim?

Sir Andrew:   I would love to do The Pilgrim’s Progress eventually.  It’s a monstrous piece.  It’s huge, long.

BD:   What about the Falstaff opera?

Sir Andrew:   Sir John in Love.  I don’t know that, I must confess.  I’ve heard it years ago, and the symphonies are already a major event in themselves.

BD:   When you were studying these symphonies, did you listen to the recordings of Boult, or do you prefer to make sure you don’t listen to others?

Sir Andrew:   What I’ve done is sometimes listen to them, but not until I have a very strong idea of what I want to do myself.  In general, that’s my rule with anything that I’m preparing, whether it’s the first time or even subsequent.

BD:   So learn it first and then hear what other people have done?

Sir Andrew:   Yes, and I find it usually actually strengthens one’s own convictions.  Just very occasionally you think,
“Oh, that’s nice, and then you maybe try and assimilate it yourself, but normally I don’t do that.  More often than not, you think, “Yes, it’s all right! I think it’s good, but no, I’m going to do it this way.  That’s how it should be, because if you don’t have convictions about what you do musically from inside, if it’s something you’ve just sponged up from somebody else, it won’t actually help.  The inner strength is what one always needs.

BD:   How much of your ideas come from the score, and how much come from your heart?

Sir Andrew:   Obviously, everything has to come from the score in the sense that it’s something that was created by a great man at some point or other, and there is it, and it’s perfect.  You just have to realize it, but having said that, people have written about that.  Leinsdorf talks a lot about that a lot in his book, and Stravinsky always said
“It’s all there!  What do you have to do?  You don’t have to interpret it.  But then you listen to Stravinsky’s re-recordings of The Rite of Spring, and they’re wildly different from each other.  [Much laughter]  Yes, obviously it has to come from the heart, and it has to come from the mind.  It’s interesting, the heart and the mind correlation is very important.  You talk about emotional commitment, and yes, that’s got to be there, but also intellectual understanding.  Again, it depends on the composer, and it depends on the work.  Bruckner symphonies need grand emotion, but they need, more than anything else, a sense of structure, which is an intellectual thing.  It’s an intellectual thing on the one hand, but if it’s not translated into an emotional thing as well, you can’t do it.  You can’t just figure out this is the high point and then it begins to come down here, but you always think you’re going to another point.  You could do all that.  It’s like your homework, but then you have to absorb it into a musical experience.  People talk about intellectual organization of music, and that’s the beginning point which has to be transcended.

BD:   Is there ever a time when all of your homework just goes out the window when you hear it coming back at you from the orchestra?

Sir Andrew:   [Shouts jokingly]  Oh, hell, yes!  Of course!  Absolutely!  [Both are laughing hysterically]  You can intellectualize all you want, but...  [More laughter]  The most fun I’ve had recently was at the beginning of this season
September and October before I came out here.  I did a series of five concerts with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in Londonthree at the Festival Hall and two in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the smaller hallof Strauss and Stravinsky, two of my great favorite composers.  We started with a concert performance of Daphne, and there was big lovely stuff, including some smaller thingsPulcinella and Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, and things like that.  The last concert was Oedipus Rex and Ein Heldenleben, which is totally nuts, but actually worked very well.  You couldn’t get two more diametrically opposite works in that sense.

davis BD:   Which orderthe Strauss and then the Stravinsky?

Sir Andrew:   No, the Stravinsky first.  I thought we’d have the severity and the tragedy, and then the opulence and self-congratulatory, shameless romantic music at the end.  It worked very well.  Heldenleben I adore.  I’ve always loved it simply in terms of its orchestral virtuosity and its compositional virtuosity.  The passage where he quotes from his own music, and uses themes from Don Quixote and Don Juan, and Macbeth, which nobody ever plays, and Guntram, the early opera, and puts them all together in counterpoint, that’s really indecent!  But you look at it intellectually, and you see that it’s really extraordinary.  But, in fact, it ends up being an emotional thing, and it’s fun.  It’s witty, it’s humorous...

BD:   ...and works on lots of levels!

Sir Andrew:   And works on lots of levels!  That’s what the greatest music has, it works on lots of levels, and Strauss is a case in point.  You stand up there, and you come out of the battle scene, for instance, which is a wonderful, crazy thing with everyone going berserk, and go into the E-flat major triumph, you think about this wonderfully arrogant man that Strauss must have been, but with such joie de vivre.  It’s irresistible.  It gives me such a kick, and I think, “How is it that we’re allowed to do this?  It shouldn’t be allowed!  It’s so much fun, it’s so great.

BD:   And some day you will have to grow up and get a real job.

Sir Andrew:   Yes!  [Much laughter]  Oh, there’s nothing like it.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Let me ask you the great big philosophical question.  We’re sort of dancing around it a little bit, but what’s the purpose of music?

Sir Andrew:   Oh!  [Thinks a moment]  You could say what is the purpose of any of the arts.  Basically, they are revelations of soul, of God, of the collective unconscious.  I don’t know what you want to call it, but great art is something which comes from a level so deep within us that it’s a transcendent thing, something that’s higher and deeper and more enormous than anything else.  It is a manifestation of God, if you like, and whatever one’s concept of God is, great art comes from that source.  Music, of course, is extraordinary because it communicates directly, as opposed to the spoken word.  Music communicates in a way that is completely boundary-less.  Okay, people who grew up in Tibet won’t listen to a Beethoven symphony in the same way as people who grew up in Budapest or New York, or wherever...

BD:   Is that because their God is different?

Sir Andrew:   No, I don’t think so.  It’s because the way their culture has evolved in a different way, which has nothing to do with God or anything else.  It’s to do with all kinds of the history of the race, the typography in which they live.  All kinds of forces create cultures.  There may be something beyond that which creates difference of culture, but I don’t think it’s a difference of God
although people’s comprehension of God varies tremendously.  But I believe that whatever it isthat God-nessis something common to everybody and everything, and I think it’s inherent in inanimate objects, too, personally.  [Pauses slightly]  We’re getting into very profound metaphysical regions here, and religion is something that’s individual.  I believe very strongly that music is a mystical experience, and some things are more mystical than others, obviously.  But music is there to show us something higher than we experience in our everyday existence.  That’s what art of all kinds is for, but it’s not for anything, really.  It is because people are compelled to create it by some inner force which they are fortunate enough to have the antennae for.  It’s something that comes from above, and below, and outside us, and some people just are the conduits for it.

BD:   So is it part of your responsibility to help polish everyone else’s antennae?

davis Sir Andrew:   Yes, exactly!  Certainly, and I speak for myself, one of the reasons I’ve dabbled in composition is that somehow, on a certain level, one feels that being an interpreter is second best.  It’s also wonderful because you have the ability to recreate so many great people’s original utterances and revelations, which is wonderful.  But at the same time, to have actually created something oneself is even more special.

BD:   Does that give a you a little more sympathy for some of the creators?

Sir Andrew:   Yes, absolutely, and completely.  Writing music I know is very difficult.  It is difficult for everybody.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  Even Mozart???

Sir Andrew:   [Laughs]  Maybe not Mozart, but that’s very interesting.  I had a vision of Mozart at the billiard table as I was saying those words.  Isn’t that funny?  Okay, he was very unusual, but think about Stravinsky.  Stravinsky has written about the creative process a lot, and it’s really fascinating.  He is one of the people who will say it’s the old thing of one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration and craft.  Certainly craft is very, very important in realizing any work of art.  It doesn’t all just spring fully armed from the head of Zeus like Minerva did.  It’s different.  It’s a lot of work, so I certainly have a lot of sympathy for people who write music.

BD:   Let me ask a balance question, then.  We are talking about inspiration and craft.  Where is the balance between the artistic achievement and an entertainment value?

Sir Andrew:   I’m not quite sure what
entertainment value means.  Art and entertainment are different.  You go to the circus, and you go to a symphony concert, and obviously they’re different.  But on a certain level, when you go to hear a symphony concert, you are experiencing all kinds of different things.  When the music is coming, you can close your eyes and listen or not listen.  On the other hand, you’re there, you can watch, you can see the musicians play, you can see the interaction between conductor and the orchestra...

BD:   Are you the lion tamer?

Sir Andrew:   [Laughs heartily]  Again it depends which orchestra it is.  No, I don’t think of myself as a lion tamer.  What do I think of myself?  [Thinks a moment]  I don’t know!  Yes, one’s the lion tamer since one coaxes, one cracks the whip, one pleads...

BD:   Because even though it’s not your show, the lions are doing the work, but then you take the bow.

Sir Andrew:   Well, I try always not to take the bow.  Of course I take the bow, but I always get the orchestra to its feet all the time, and I always try to give individual players separate bows if they’ve had big things to do.  Music is entertainment, and if you go and hear Bolero, that’s more entertainment than Bruckner Nine!  [Both laugh]  Within music there’s all kinds of ideas.  I love Bolero, I love Chabrier’s España, all those wonderful, beautiful glittery show pieces.  Light music has a very important role, and not just as entertainment.  Spiritually it’s also very beautiful and enlivening.  I feel that the arts are incredibly important to the spiritual health of the world in whatever form they come.  When I say
the arts, I don’t necessarily think just what we think of as Hohe Kunst [High Art] as the Germans say.  It’s all kinds of the manifestations of the spiritual within us, and which can be in all kinds of ways.  I don’t discount anything.  Some things that happen in the world of pop music are also potentially spiritually broadening, and some of them definitely aren’t!  [Laughs]

BD:   You used the word

Sir Andrew:   Yes, there have been, and there will continue to be Country & Westerns songs where the combination of music and words are extraordinary.  They go beyond the mundane, the purely entertaining.  Things that make you think and make you take notice.

davis BD:   I certainly put Elvis Presley in a different pigeon hole than Shostakovich.

Sir Andrew:   Of course, but you can’t sort of weigh them up.  Just forgetting about Presley and Shostakovich, even within the classical world you can’t say La Mer is worth more than the Eroica Symphony.  It’s meaningless.  That’s a bit silly because they are both superb works, but think of Hey, Jude versus a Bach Chorale Prelude.  They come from such different places and they say such different things, but they are also spiritually enriching in different ways.

BD:   So is this what you look for in a piece of music
that says something?

Sir Andrew:   Yes, and I’m not necessarily going to see immediately what it says either.  We’re not wizards.  We don’t perceive everything at first glance.  There are certain kinds of contemporary music that I don’t like, but I try to really not be dogmatic about anything because you never know from what unexpected corner something might come and hit you.

BD:   Are you optimistic about the whole future of concert music?

Sir Andrew:   Yes!  Yes, I am.  I think we’re in a quite a productive period.  Since the beginning of the century, music has been sprouting out in so many different ways, that the possibilities became limitless.  Then serialism came along in one form and said to grab it all.  I think serialism came along as a kind of salvation.  Certainly, what Schoenberg said himself had to do with the idea that once the bonds of tonality had been broken, it all went flying out into the furthest regions of the universe.  There had to be some way of organizing it, but now we’ve grown up past that.  We can’t use those crutches anymore.

BD:   Now that we’ve built and rebuilt, are we on the verge of another explosion again?

Sir Andrew:   I hope so.  We’re about due for one.

BD:   I’ve had the theory for a long time that the serialists were enclosing things, just as you were making the gesture of bringing things together, almost like a black hole where nothing can escape.  It gets denser and denser, and all of a sudden...

Sir Andrew:   ...we’re writing for a supernova!

BD:   Yes, it all exploded, and that’s what minimalism is.  It’s just the beginnings... a little particle here and a little particle there.

Sir Andrew:   That’s a very nice picture, isn’t it?  It’s a good metaphor.  I like that!

BD:   Then, as minimalism rebuilds and gets a little more complicated, it’s almost like watching the beginning of musical development again.

Sir Andrew:   Yes, I think so.  I think that’s right.  We’re at a point now where there is great potential for a flowering in music, and I hope it happens.  Sometimes one thinks back to what must it have been like, if you had limitless money and could travel all around Europe, to have lived been between about 1890 and 1916.  Debussy, and Mahler, and Schoenberg, and Stravinsky, it was so artistically rich and such a fascinating period, and yet it was a period in which the structure of society was gradually falling apart.  It was the end of an era and the beginning of something else.  Maybe we’ll do that, and it will happen again.

BD:   Thank you for coming back to Chicago, and for this fascinating conversation.

Sir Andrew:   It’s a pleasure.

We now move ahead seven years, to October of 2000 . . . . .

davis BD:   We met a few years ago and talked about all kinds of things, so this time I’d like to concentrate mostly just on Lyric Opera Chicago.  What was your first reaction when you were asked to become Music Director of this opera house?

Sir Andrew:   [Smiles]  Well, it all happened in a slightly backdoor way.  It all started with a telephone conversation between Matthew Epstein [Artistic Advisor to Lyric Opera] and my wife, Gianna, who had known each other for many years.  He was telling her that Bruno [Bartoletti, Music Director] decided he was going to retire, and Matthew said, Pity Andrew’s not available or interested.  And she said, Wait a minute...  How do you know that for sure?  At that point, which was about three years ago, I was thinking that if I was going to make a change...

BD:   In terms of personal life, in terms of musical development, in terms of just where you’d been for a long time?

Sir Andrew:   In terms of where I’d been.  I just left the BBC Symphony Orchestra after eleven years as Chief Conductor, and I’ve just left Glyndebourne Festival Opera after twelve years.  That’s a good stint, and I do believe change is good.  It’s stimulating, and it stops one getting into any kind of rut
not that I think I did.  The work I’ve done with the BBC Symphony Orchestra over the last eleven years is something I’m very proud of.

BD:   You still have a continuing relationship with them?

Sir Andrew:   I still have, yes.  They’ve given me the title Conductor Laureate.  I thought very hard about not having any job, and then a few days later I got a phone call from Bill Mason [General Director of Lyric Opera].  He said,
Bruno is retiring, and I’m looking for a new Music Director.  Are you interested?  I said, “Give me a few days, and I thought for a couple of more days, and then said yes.  So, it was one of those very simple things.

BD:   You thought about it as a possibility, and then you thought about it as a genuine offer?

Sir Andrew:   That’s right.

BD:   When you got the genuine offer, were there any particulars involved, or did you decide to just make the decision and then sort out the details?

Sir Andrew:   Bill told me they were looking for somebody who would give the company a serious amount of time, which in any case is something that temperamentally and philosophically I like to do.  He also mentioned the fact that there was a Ring Cycle due for a reappearance within the time frame that we were talking about, which certainly whetted my appetite some.  But yes, we talked about maybe doing each season three of the eight operas.

BD:   Three of the eight through the season, or three of the eight bunched together?

Sir Andrew:   That wasn’t specified, although it’s working out that it’ll be through the season.  I do believe very much to be Music Director of an important opera house like this, it’s important to give serious commitment in terms of time and energy to it.  I didn’t want to just fly in and do my shows and fly out again.  So, that’s how we’ve ended up.

BD:   Would you have done it if the Ring had already been committed to someone else?

Sir Andrew:   That’s a very good question.  Nobody has asked me so far, and I find it very difficult to answer actually.  Maybe not... maybe I wouldn’t have taken the job if someone else was to do it.

BD:   Everything else was good but you needed that to seal the deal?

Sir Andrew:   No, I’m not saying that without the Ring I wouldn’t have taken the job.  I’m not saying that at all.  You asked me a specific question.  Those hypothetical questions are sometimes difficult to answer.

BD:   Then let’s get down to something a little more concrete.  As you look over next season and the seasons after, you have to decide two things
first, what operas are being done, and then which ones will be allocated to you.

Sir Andrew:   Yes, that’s right.  Certainly, this season and the next season were pretty much set in terms of repertoire when I came into the job.  We plan very far ahead in this business, and a certain amount of casting was done for the main star roles.  So, the first season that is completely a result of my planning is probably 2002-03.  But at any rate, from the moment I said I’d take the job, I became very much involved.  We had planning meetings both here and in Europe with Bruno.  I must say Bruno and I hit is off right away.  I’d met him before, of course, when I guest conducted here, and I always liked him and admired his work.  So, it’s been a very pleasant transition.  We would have meetings for the four of us over those three years before I arrived that were very cordial and extremely productive.  Bill of course, I’ve known since I first came here in 1987, and Matthew I’ve known for much longer than that.  I’ve known Matthew from the mid-
70s, probably.

BD:   And, of course, you had a good relationship with this theater, having conducted several productions here.

Sir Andrew:   Yes!  The last time I was here, actually, was in 1994, so it’s quite a long time ago.

BD:   For Capriccio?

davis Sir Andrew:   Capriccio, yes.  My previous experience here was entirely Mozart, having done Figaro twice, and Così, and La Clemenza di Tito, which I enjoy immensely.  I remember saying to Bill at one point,
I’m not coming back unless you let me conduct something else!  [Laughs]  So then the question was what repertoire would I have been interested in doing, and I must say I like to do everything, stylistically speaking.  There are people who probably can do some things better than I can.  I’ve never conducted any bel canto, but there are certain conductors around who have a real flare for that music.

BD:   Now that you’re here on a regular basis, perhaps you should insist on doing one and just see how you do with it, and to help you grow as an artist.

Sir Andrew:   [Laughs]  I suppose I could.  I’m certainly going to be doing Verdi...  I’m doing Otello next season for the first time. The only opera I’ve conducted of Verdi before, up to now has been Falstaff.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  So, you’ve started at the end and are working toward the early pieces?

Sir Andrew:   [Smiles]  That’s right.  I’m gradually going backwards.

BD:   We’ll let you go when you’ve done Oberto [the first opera of Verdi]!  [Both laugh]

Sir Andrew:   Oh, boy... will we live that long?  Falstaff is one of the most fantastic achievements in the world of opera, although my teacher, Franco Ferrara in Rome, belonged to the school that maintained that Otello and Falstaff were both examples of how Verdi’s style had been corrupted by ‘that German’!  This idea of through-composing great chunks of music was not really what Verdi was supposed to do.  Then, I’m going to be doing Traviata in my third season here, so that’s repertoire which is new to me, relatively speaking.  Wagner is repertoire that is relatively new to me, in fact, because I’ve conducted Act One of Die Walküre in concert, and I’ve done what they used to call ‘the bleeding chunks’ from the Ring, and so on.

BD:   [Musing]  It’s hard to stage Siegfried at Glyndebourne!

Sir Andrew:   You’re quite right!  So, this is a very exciting juncture for me in my career.

BD:   Does it make a huge difference in just your whole thought process, the fact that you are no longer dealing with a very small intimate house, you’re dealing with a great big huge house?

Sir Andrew:   Yes.  The music remains the same, of course, but it was very interesting doing The Queen of Spades here, basically in the same production that originated at Glyndebourne in 1992, in the old Glyndebourne house which, of course, was a tiny stage.  It’s interesting working on a piece like that in both small and large house, and in fact I believe a piece like The Queen of Spades works better in a large house.  There’s something about the scope of the thing, from the late nineteenth century and full of passion and storm scenes, that actually lends itself to a large theater, so it was very exciting.  There have been other direct comparisons.  One could argue that Mozart is more successful in a smaller house, and in general that’s certainly true, although I must say my Mozart experiences here were very enjoyable, and I’m looking forward to Figaro here eventually again.

BD:   Is that perhaps the genius of some of these composers and librettists
that things work on different size stages?

Sir Andrew:   That’s right.  Mozart is so incomparably great that even in a large house, where you lose some of the immediacy and some of the intimacy with the stage, it still comes across with such force and with such psychological truth that you can’t miss it.  That’s the genius of Mozart.  With Tchaikovsky it
s vice-versa.  His works can be very exciting in a small space because then the visceral quality of the music is somewhat doubled.  I did feel that having a large stage for that piece and having a large place for the sound to roll around was very suitable for this work.

BD:   Having big voices that will ring in the theater?

Sir Andrew:   Oh, absolutely, yeah, and to have somebody like [Vladimir] Galouzine in the role of the main protagonist [Gherman] was just so much of a luxury.  But then that’s what we’ve come to expect in this house.  The finest artists do come to Chicago because they love the work here.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Without mentioning names, are there some artists that you know sang wonderfully at Glyndebourne, but you could never engage them for Chicago because of the size of the house?

davis Sir Andrew:   Oh, yes, absolutely.  There’s no question that when one’s casting opera at Glyndebourne, one is casting for a house in which a smaller voice can actually fill the theater and be very satisfying, whereas you’d have to think differently in houses like Chicago and the Met.

BD:   Is it partly a tribute to you to be able to work in these different size houses, or is that just part of being a conductor?

Sir Andrew:   It’s being part of a conductor.  Whatever you’re doing
whether it’s opera or orchestral concertsyou’re constantly adjusting to the room that you’re playing in, and that’s something that comes more easily the more experience you have.

BD:   Is it at all like changing from driving a little sports car to driving a huge eighteen-wheeler?

Sir Andrew:   I’ve never driven an eighteen-wheeler so I wouldn’t really know.  [Laughs]  I haven’t driven too many snappy little sports cars either, I have to say.  I’ve never been an automobile fanatic.  I like something that will get me from A to B comfortably and safely.  I don’t really care what it is, but I suppose, yes, certainly there is a big difference between conducting Gurrelieder and a Haydn Divertimento, but they each have their own problems.

BD:   I assume, though, that there is more to your responsibility than just to get from A to B in a performance?

Sir Andrew:   I’m sure it is, although the business of getting from A to B is a very important part of being a conductor in as much as the structure of a work is one of the conductor’s biggest responsibilities.  O
f course, it’s not just my doing this, but it’s the whole production and the whole ensemble that works together.  One of the nicest compliments about The Queen of Spades, which I received from several people, was that they said that four hours seemed like two.  One of the reasons that happens is because time is very subjective thing.  If your attention is really held, and you can sense the progress of the workits destination, so to speakthen time will pass more quickly.  There are obvious examples of this...  I’m very sorry to have just missed Boulez conducting Bruckner [with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra] here because I’ve never heard him conduct Bruckner.  I admire his intellectual control, among many other things, so it would have been interesting to see how he projected and handled the scope of these big symphonies of Bruckner, which, above all, do need a tremendous sense of structure.

BD:   Does that mean perhaps you’ll put a call to his agent and see when you can lure him across to this side of the Loop?  [The downtown area of Chicago is called The Loop because the elevated train makes a loop around the business and financial center.  Orchestra Hall, home of the Chicago Symphony, is on the East edge on Michigan Avenue, across from the Art Institute, and the Civic Opera House is on the West edge, on Wacker Drive facing the Chicago River.]

Sir Andrew:   We would love to, of course.  Pierre has not spent a lot of his career in the opera house, but he has done very specific repertoire.  There are only certain things he’s interested to do, but yes, if we could, that would be very exciting.

BD:   Is this a case where you might ask him what he’d like to conduct, and then see if you can fit it in?

Sir Andrew:   Oh, yes.  That’s what happens with conductors, and indeed singers, of that very high stature who are so much in demand.  Then basically you ask what they would like to do, and then see if you can accommodate it.

BD:   But you can’t be dictated to from the outside?

Sir Andrew:   Oh, no, no, no.  I don’t think we would ever consider such a thing.

*     *     *     *     *

davis BD:   In the best of all possible worlds, would you like to run an opera with matinee and evening performances 365 days a year just to be able to do everything?

Sir Andrew:   No!!!  [Bursts out laughing]  Of course, it would be nice to have a bigger season.  The fact that we only do eight operas a year means one has to be very selective, and there are certain things that one would like to do more often.  I’d love to do both Wozzeck and Lulu here, for instance.  [Lulu would return in 2008-09, and Wozzeck in 2015-16.]  Obviously, the whole operatic repertoire is so enormously rich and varied that it’s frustrating because there are any number of pieces that one would like to do, so long-term planning is the only answer to that.

BD:   As music director of this or any other theater, do you sometimes have to put your own feelings aside and lead something that you might not otherwise even stay for the performance?  Or might you give it to another conductor in order to have it in your house as part of the repertoire?

Sir Andrew:   There are certain operas that need to be heard, and should be heard, that are not necessarily my favorite pieces.  I don’t think we’ve got anything coming up that I actually dislike at all, but despite the fact that I like to cover all bases and do every kind of style, we always look at the repertoire.  The question always is what I want to do first?  But there have been several occasions, when we were talking about future repertoire, that a certain conductor is available, and I think he would be good for a certain repertoire, although it might have been something I would have been interested in myself.  Then I will certainly give it up if he’s somebody of stature that we’d like to get here.

BD:   So, the first loyalty is to the house?

Sir Andrew:   The first loyalty is to the house, yes.

BD:   Is that loyalty, then, to the public or the house itself?

Sir Andrew:   What’s the difference?  What the house tries to do is what the company tries to do, and that is to produce a season which is varied, stimulating, and as good an operatic experience as we can offer to the people of Chicago.  That is the same thing as being loyal to the audience, because we take our responsibility very seriously.  This is not to say that you send out a questionnaires, and get the answers, and do exactly what everybody would like to see from their favorite operas because maybe you wouldn’t, but I assume you would get a rather conservative season that way.  One needs new repertoire and things that are unfamiliar.

BD:   Is it hard to drag the public kicking and screaming into the new Millennium?

Sir Andrew:   No, I don’t believe so.  Judging by the house subscription numbers, it seems to be not.  Although there are always the standard repertoire pieces appearing regularly in the season here, we do have interesting new works and, indeed, interestingly new looks at old works as well.  Some of the new works, and some of the new looks at old works, are not always tremendously received by everybody, but nonetheless, the public as a whole seems to enjoy the kind of mixture of the new and the old, the familiar and the unfamiliar that we try to achieve.

BD:   Do you take into account all the letters, good and bad, that you get from subscribers?

Sir Andrew:   They’re certainly taken notice of, and taken very seriously.  If you have a three-foot high pile of letters complaining, then it would be folly to say we know better, because, in the end, if the public doesn’t like what you’re doing, they’ll stay away.

BD:   Didn
t Barnum say, If the public won’t come, no one can stop ’em?  [Though I have known this quote most of my life, I cannot find its source...]

davis Sir Andrew:   Well, that’s right!  He was the greatest showman of them all.

BD:   How much of this is putting on a show, and how much of it is ‘high art’?

Sir Andrew:   You can’t really separate the two.  Opera is, of course, the ultimate spectacle.

BD:   Lo Spettacolo?

Sir Andrew:   Yes, Lo Spettacolo, exactly!  So you have this wonderful combination of drama and music, beautiful sets to look at, great voices that makes opera what it is, so when all the elements come together, then you have something that is absolutely unique.  When I first was invited to conduct at Glyndebourne in 1973, I was taken out to lunch by Sir John Pritchard, who was a very wonderful man who conducted here quite a lot over the years, and was my predecessor as conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and was my predecessor but one as music director at Glyndebourne.  We weren’t very close, but we did have a very cordial and friendly relationship.  I loved his sense of humor for one thing.  They invited me to take over a couple of performances of Capriccio that he was conducting at Glyndebourne, and so Capriccio was my first ever opera, which people think is a rather eccentric way to start.  But I think it’s a wonderful way to start, and it’s very easy to start with an opera that is about opera!  [Both laugh]

BD:   In which that question is not resolved!  [Vis-à-vis the DVD shown at left, see my interviews with Renée Fleming, and Lighting Designer Duane Schuler.]

Sir Andrew:   That’s right, yes, so one spends the rest of one’s life doing other operas to see if one can resolve it there.  He said, [imitating Pritchard in this very posh camp English accent]
Well, you know, the thing about opera is that there are more things that can go wrong, but when they all go right, there’s nothing like it!  He’s absolutely right, of course.  It’s an extraordinary thing when everything comes together and it’s an overwhelming experience.

BD:   Are there lots of times when it basically comes together, or most nights does it all fall apart?

Sir Andrew:   No, most nights it doesn’t all fall apart.  [With a twinkle in his eye]  You must be going to hear somebody else conduct!  [Much laughter]  When everything works together it can be truly miraculous, and I can think of a lot of experiences.  That Capriccio at Glyndebourne, which I’ve subsequently conducted basically the same production in several other places directed by John Cox, is a wonderful realization of that piece.  Last year at Glyndebourne I did a quite fantastic production of Pelléas and Mélisande with Graham Vick.  It was very beautiful, very wonderful to look at.  It’s all set in a single room with beautiful bronze walls, and a transparent undulating floor with flowers underneath it, which could be lit in all sorts of such wonderful ways.  I got so excited when I first saw the model of the set.  I told him it was absolutely wonderful, and he said,
The first thing you said to me when we talked about Pelléas was ‘I want to have color,’ and it’s true.  I remember that because I’ve seen quite a few productions of Pelléas that are all dark, and drab, and dreary.  Okay, there’s moisture dripping from the walls, and we know it’s a musty old castle, and they’re in a kind of time warp, but...

BD:   There’s one scene that should be like that, but the rest should be color.

Sir Andrew:   Yes, I think so, and the music is so colorful.  That’s what I feel.  There is this luminosity to the music that I’ve always missed in these very late Gothic realizations.  There have been many other things, too, such as Peter Hall’s Figaro, which, again, started life in Glyndebourne, but which I conducted here twice.  It is a wonderful, wonderful piece of work.

BD:   Do you only conduct wonderful works?

Sir Andrew:   No.  [Laughs]  I’m just trying to think of operas that I’ve conducted that I don’t think are wonderful...  I’ve conducted some operas that are uneven.  The two Rossini operas I’ve conducted at Glyndebourne are Ermione, which is a fantastic piece, but there are some uneven numbers in it.  I love the Neapolitan period of Rossini’s career when he had all these tenors at his disposal, but they’re hell to cast because where do you find four tenors with tops Cs?  Then I did Compte d’Ory, a piece of great charm, and it has one of the most beautiful trios he ever wrote.  The little trio for the end of the opera, which they sing in bed, is exquisite.  The textures remind me of Berlioz for some reason.  So, when you asked about pieces which are less than great, maybe Ermione you could say, but I think there’s such fantastic music in that it overcomes the shortcomings.

BD:   But there’s greatness in it?

Sir Andrew:   Yes, absolutely.

davis BD:   Is that what you look for as Music Director, and when selecting repertoire for yourself and others?  Do you only select pieces that either are completely great or, at least, have a lot of greatness within them?

Sir Andrew:   Yes.  There are certain operas that no one would claim to be great works that are spectacular vehicles for certain artists.  For instance, we’re going to do L’Amore dei Tre Re by Montemezzi basically for Sam Ramey, because it’s a great bass opera.  [Although announced for the 2003-04 season, this opera, as well as Benvenuto Cellini of Berlioz, were dropped from the schedule due to financial considerations, and replaced by more popular works
Faust, and Pirates of Penzance.]

BD:   You need a good Archibaldo, and beyond that you hope everybody’s okay.

Sir Andrew:   That’s right.  It’s not a great, but it’s a very interesting example of its genre at that time in the development of Italian opera.  It’s got some fine music.  I wouldn’t go out of my way to conduct it myself, but I do think it’s an important piece to be heard when you have an artist of Sam’s caliber.

BD:   Did you select that for yourself to conduct?

Sir Andrew:   [Emphatically]  No!  Someone else is conducting it, but it needs to be well-conducted.  That’s the other thing.  You don’t say you’ve got Sam, so you don’t need anything else.  I’m very, very committed to the idea of finding the very best conductors to come and work here, and we’ve got some interesting people coming in who are going to keep the standard very high.

BD:   Being a conductor yourself, does that give you a good eye as to who’d work in this theater and would not work so well in another theater?

Sir Andrew:   To a certain extent you don’t know that until it happens.  Obviously, there are certain conductors who have perhaps been more at home in the concert platform than the opera house, and vice-versa, but I don’t like to pigeon-hole conductors that way either.  I wouldn’t like to be thought of that way myself, and there are certainly examples of conductors who perhaps are better known in the concert hall before coming in to conduct in the pit.

BD:   Having done both, is there a huge difference?

Sir Andrew:   There’s the obvious difference... in an opera you’re dealing with singers who are moving around the stage.  You’re dealing with a living drama on stage.  The days are gone when a production existed of people coming down to the front of the stage and singing their arias.  Sometimes that’s all conductors would long for
those good old days, or bad old days, whichever way you look at it.  So, there is enormous complication.  We’re rehearsing Jenůfa right now, and there’s some very complicated music in the third act where people are rushing around the stage.  To put that altogether is, of course, very difficult.

BD:   Then do you go to the director and ask him not to let them rush about so much?

Sir Andrew:   Yes, and then there is very often
or sometimes at leasta process of negotiation.  The best directors are always willing to listen to the point of view of the conductor, because the best directors are also the directors for whom the work comes primarily first and foremostin fact first and lastfrom the music.  They’re serving the music and the drama in the same way that we are, so if something isn’t going to work musically, the best directors won’t want to do it.  There have been occasions with Graham Vick where he’s had an idea that I’ve initially thought would be almost unrealizable, and then we’ve actually worked at it and found it could be made to work.  But if it doesn’t, then he’ll be the first person to agree to scrap it and do something else.  You might think that conducting a Mahler symphony would be a piece of cake, but believe me, no Mahler symphony is a piece of cake!  The problems are different.  Of course, the obverse is that when you have an orchestral concert, there’s nothing else to look at or listen to than what’s just going on with the orchestra.

BD:   So you have to be more precise make sure everything is illuminated?

Sir Andrew:   I don’t think of it that way.  Basically, the way I approach conducting opera and conducting symphony concerts is the same.

BD:   [Quoting the famous old cartoon of a conductor who has the following note on his score-desk]  Wave the stick until the music stops, then turn around and bow.

Sir Andrew:   [Laughs]  That’s right!  I love that story of a conductor, who for years would go on and reach inside his left-hand breast pocket, pull out this piece of paper, then put it back, and then start the concert.  Finally, he keeled over in the middle of a performance, and the concert master got up to make sure he was all right
which he wasn’t.  He felt for his pulse and there was nothing there.  So he reached into his pocket to find that bit of paper, which said ‘violins on the left, cellos on the right!’  [Much laughter]  For me, a balance between symphonic and operatic work is something I’ll always want to keep, and it’s something I enjoy enormously.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Do you like jumping across the ocean all the time now?

Sir Andrew:   Well, I’m not going to be doing that much jumping!  Basically, I’m here for the season
from beginning of September, the beginning of rehearsals, to the middle of March when we finish.  I’m going to Toronto between performances of Jenůfa for a couple of weeks to do some concerts there, and I’m going to the New York Philharmonic for a week in January, and in the last week of our performances here of The Flying Dutchman, I’ll be also going across the Loop to the Chicago Symphony.  So, that’s a kind of busy week for me.  There’s one day when I have a matinee in Orchestra Hall, and a Flying Dutchman in the opera house at night...  [Laughs]  I am getting as bad as Zubin Mehta!  Then I go to Philadelphia immediately after the end of the season, and I go to London and do some concerts there, and to take the BBC Symphony Orchestra on tour to South America.

BD:   But now that you’re here in Chicago for such a chunk of time, does that mean that you have to reorganize your whole life around that, and get priorities settled for other future engagements?

davis Sir Andrew:   Yes, I’ve had to decide what’s important.  I’m continuing to work with the major American orchestras, both in the winter season and in the summer.  This summer I’m at Tanglewood (Boston Symphony), and Ravinia, and Blossom (Cleveland Orchestra).  I’ve decided that with very few exceptions, the Continent of Europe
as we call it in Englandis probably going to not see me a great deal.  I want to continue my association with the BBC Symphony Orchestra that’s been so fruitful and enjoyable for me, and so I’m going to be doing concerts in London, and opera, of course, as well.  I’m going to Covent Garden next season to do The Midsummer Marriage by Michael Tippett.

BD:   Is it different for you to walk into Covent Garden as music director of Lyric Opera of Chicago than it was as director of the BBC, or Glyndebourne?

Sir Andrew:   [Thinks]  I don’t know.  I’ll have to tell you when I come back.  Ask me in two years’ time!  I’ve not been to Covent Garden a lot in the past.  The last time I did Rosenkavalier there, it was like anywhere else.  It doesn’t really matter whether you’re Music Director of the Heaven Philharmonic.  You’re only as good as your last performance, as they say.  How you’re regarded very much depends on what the kind of work that you deliver.  [Vis-à-vis the DVD shown at right, see my interviews with Anna Tomowa-Sintow, Kurt Moll, and Barbara Bonney.]

BD:   Is it comforting for you to know that you are Music Director here in Chicago?

Sir Andrew:   I’m very proud of being music director of Chicago, yes.  It’s hard to compare the Met and Chicago because they’re two very different creatures.  The Met is a big house that has a year-long season, basically, and does a tremendous amount of repertoire, probably three times the size of repertoire that we do in any given season.  The Met is doing twenty-four or twenty-five operas a year, and we do eight.  Chicago absolutely is on at least the level of the Met, but the whole basis of presenting the work to the public is a little different just because we’re not dealing with such quantity.  I suppose because New York is such a big international city, with people coming in and out, and such a huge area that it serves, it feels it has to do that amount of repertoire, whereas it’s a little different for us.

BD:   After being named Music Director, how long was it before you could comfortably say,
We in Chicago do such and such?

Sir Andrew:   Well, much to my slight embarrassment, actually, I was saying it long before I arrived here!  This sounds pretentious, but I have felt very much a part of the company, and that’s one of the joys of being in this house.  There is a feeling of family, as it were, that’s very, very strong.  One of the reasons why all the great artists come back here time and time again is because they enjoy the work, they enjoy the quality of the work, they enjoy the attention that’s bestowed on them.  This is just not, as it were, treating the stars like idols.  It’s treating the stars like wonderful artists, and this is the big difference.  There’s no fawning and flattery here.  There’s sincere appreciation of great work, and that is also something that the best artists appreciate.  There’s some genuine regard that’s not just based on their name, but on the value of what they do.

BD:   Is that ultimately why you said yes?

Sir Andrew:   Yes, it is.  Everything adds up in this company to a wonderful experience.  The administration is wonderfully stable and imaginative and caring, from Bill Mason all the way down to the most humble employee.  But there’s also a great feel.  Bill Mason, I, Matthew Epstein, we all feel we have something in common with everyone – the stage hands, the orchestra, the chorus, the wardrobe...  I had a wonderful experience with them.  I was supposed to go to a board meeting, a lunch last week.  Bill and I had been talking about it the night before, but I am slightly absent-minded, I have to say, and so I came to rehearsals the next morning in jeans, and an old tee-shirt.  Then I suddenly realized,
Oh, my God, it’s the lunch!  So, I was whisked up to wardrobe, and put into a very nice three-piece suit from Wozzeck.  [Much laughter]  I was the best-dressed person in the room.  That’s the great advantage of working in an opera houseinstant attire!  But it was actually very nice because I knew some of the wardrobe people.  There were several of them I never met before, and our paths don’t necessarily cross that often, but it was nice to actually spend some time with them.  That’s a feature of this company, because everyone is united in this wonderful dream goal that we all have, and it shows.

BD:   I hope you’re here for a long time!

davis Sir Andrew:   I hope so, too.  I remember when I first went to Toronto in 1967 on an organists’ convention, I had a sense that this was some place that was not just another place I was just visiting, and sure enough, nine years later I was Music Director there.  Similarly, I found a special quality to how I felt working in Chicago.  I don’t like to talk about premonitions, but there are certain things, certain resonances coming up in your life that feel... [pauses]

BD:   Oh, go ahead, be operatic!  [Roars of laughter from both]

Sir Andrew:   Fate drew me here!  Is that good enough?  [Laughter continues unabated]  Is that operatic enough for you?

BD:   We’ll have to drag it out for three acts, but it’s a good start.  [More laughter, then we quiet down again]  Should someone write an opera about your life?

Sir Andrew:   Oh, I don’t think so, no!  It’s definitely not interesting enough.  Not too many great operas have been simply biographical.  Think of Christopher Columbus [Franchetti], which is one of the dullest works.  It was not a huge success.  [After its premiere in 1892, Toscanini conducted a few performances, and there were others with Tita Ruffo and Rosa Raisa.]

BD:   What about Palestrina?

Sir Andrew:   Yes!  [Laughs]  My point exactly.

BD:   [With a sigh]  I guess we’re never going to see that here...  [More laughter]  It’s too bad, I like that opera.

Sir Andrew:   Yes, it has some wonderful music in it, absolutely.  [Hindemith’s] Mathis der Maler, however, is a great piece.

BD:   [Brightening at the thought]  There, that’s something we should see.  Are people always coming up to you on the street saying
that you need to do this or that opera?

Sir Andrew:   There have been a few suggestions, and I’m sure I’ll get more.

BD:   Would you encourage that, or do you discourage that?

Sir Andrew:   It’s always interesting to know what people would like to hear.  It may be something that one person out of the entire subscription base wants to hear, but still, he’s taken the trouble to write to you and tell you.

BD:   I assume, though, at some point someone will say something and you’ll respond,
Gee, that’s an awfully good idea! and the wheels will start to spin.

Sir Andrew:   Oh, absolutely.  We’re open to suggestions from all and every quarter.  Being open to new ideas is part of what keeps the arts alive.  I was happy to say that there’s a gentleman who wrote me a very nice letter a couple of weeks ago, and he said he would love to hear Michael Tippett’s The Midsummer Marriage, which he will, actually.  [Davis would conduct it in Chicago in 2005.]  It was premiered in 1955 at Covent Garden, and it wasn’t a big success.  Interestingly enough, I first came across it about 1960, when the BBC did a studio recording of it, conducted by Norman del Mar.  I’d just become interested in Tippett’s music.  I had a friend whose sister was a violinist in the BBC Symphony Orchestra, so I managed to get myself into these recording sessions, and I remember Janet Baker was singing the role of Sosostris.  She was just beginning her career in those days, and was really a contralto.  It was fascinating, but that was a revelatory experience for me that brought me to the opera.  I can remember the physical sensation.  Actually, it’s more than physical, kind of a metaphysical sensation of listening to one particular passage, sitting on a couch at the back of the unpoetic BBC Maida Vale 1, where I spent the last eleven years, hearing this fantastic music rising up like smoke from a sacrificial fire.  [Studio MVI is one of the largest recording spaces available in the UK.  Equipped with a Studer D950 digital desk, MV1 is currently home to the BBC Symphony Orchestra.  It was also used by the BBC Radio Orchestra on some of its larger sessions until the early 1990s.]  
But it was amazing.  I do think it’s one of the great operas of the twentieth century.  It’s very difficult to put on.  It’s a magic opera.  It’s psychological magic which Tippett set out to be in the tradition of The Magic Flute, and Frau Ohne Schatten.  It has lots of Jungian overtones, and some occasional unfortunately risible lines.  Tippett always wrote his own librettos, and there’s usually a moment where it’ll slip into pathos.  But still, the music is so extraordinarily evocative.  There’s a magical and mystical quality about that music that’s very rare in our age.

davis BD:   I’m glad to know it’s coming.

Sir Andrew:   Yes, I want to do it here very much because it’s music that should be heard here, but you’ll have to keep this in the vault for a while.

BD:   That’s all right. 
I won’t say anything about it until it’s announced by the opera company.  Do you like having to plan so far in advance?

Sir Andrew:   Well, yes and no.  The business of planning a season is exciting, so basically we’re only planning one season at a time.  It just happens to be five years down the road.  But that is fun.  On the other hand, sometimes I’ll say that I’m having a vacation period, and when asked where I am going, I say that I haven’t the faintest idea.  There’s the one area of one’s life where one can keep a little spontaneity, and decide where to go at the last minute.  It’s not so easy to do when once you have children, and I have one son, so I usually do book vacations a little way in advance these days.  [Photo at left shows Davis, Rolandi, and son Edward.]

BD:   Are you encouraging your son to go into music, or are you keeping him away from it as much as you can?

Sir Andrew:   No, I’m certainly not keeping him away from it.  I’m not pushing him into it either.  He’s very musical, but I think he has other talents as well.  He’s only eleven, so we’ll see.

BD:   But for any kind of music career, now is when you’ve got to start.

Sir Andrew:   Well, yes.  I certainly do encourage him, but if you’re going to be musician, and have to be a musician, then nothing could stop you.  If he does decide to become a musician, nobody will be happier than I, but I certainly don’t want to force him in that direction.  There are plenty of choices in life, and it is a difficult profession.  It’s hard work, and to get to the top you have to work very hard and be prepared to push yourself all the time.

BD:   I’m glad you’ve dedicated your life to it.

Sir Andrew:   It’s been the most fantastic and rewarding thing that one can imagine.  That’s the thing
I just adore what I do so much, even when there are difficult times, and something very hugely challenging comes along.  Funny how things pop into your head...  I remember a few years ago, just before Christmas, the last week before we all went off for Christmas holidays, we did a studio recording of Dallapiccola’s Ulisse with the BBC Symphony Orchestra.  It’s a long piece, and it’s had very few performances.  I happen to like Dallapiccola’s music, although probably he’s one of those composers who is better in the smaller forms.  But the piece is incredibly difficult.  It’s the hardest I’ve had to work at...  Well, that and Harry Birtwistle’s The Mask of Orpheus, which we did in the Festival Hall about three years ago.  They were both very, very tough, and yet immensely rewarding.  Interestingly enough there’s a Suite from Ulisse.  I don’t know if Dallapiccola made it himself, but its basically orchestra and baritone.  So, theres a lot of the protagonist’s part, which I’d like to have a look at.  I’ve heard about it because Alan Opie, who sang the role of Ulisse in our little recording, said to me afterwards, “Well, I’ll never see that again!  Then, about a year later he said, Do you know what?  I’ve done the Suite a couple of times since!  Its forty-five minutes from the opera, and he’s an important composer who one doesn’t hear at all these days.  Its very seldom that his music comes out.  It’s out of fashion.  Schoenberg disciples have been more or less banished.  They’re definitely not postmodern, or neo-romantic.  Labels I have no patience with.  It’s all a marketing ploy, really.  Music is music, and great music is great music.  You can only say there are certain styles that come and go.

BD:   If it sounds good, it is good.

Sir Andrew:   Yes!  That’s about it, isn’t it?

BD:   [Noting the time]  I must let you go.  Thank you so much.

Sir Andrew:   A pleasure.


© 1993 & 2000 Bruce Duffie

These conversations were recorded in Chicago on November 8, 1993, and October 30, 2000.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1994, 1999, and 2001 (on the final broadcast of WNIB as a Classical Music station); and on WNUR in 2004, 2010, and 2016.  This transcription was made in 2018, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, 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.

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.