Conductor  Edmond  de Stoutz

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie

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Edmond de Stoutz (Conductor)

de stoutz Born: December 18, 1920 - Zürich, Switzerland
Died: January 28, 1997 - Zürich, Switzerland

The Swiss conductor, Edmond de Stoutz, studied law at the University of Zürich. Then he switched to music and learned piano, cello, oboe, percussion and composition at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Zürich; later he pursued training in Salzburg and Vienna.

De Stoutz began his career as cellist in various ensembles, including two years as a cellist and a drummer in the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich. In 1945 he founded the Hausorchester-Vereinigung (House Orchestra Association). From 1951 this was the Zürcher Kammerorchester (Zurich Chamber Orchestra), with which he toured widely as a conductor. In 1962 he also founded the Zürcher Konzertchor (Zürich Concert Choir). In his programs he invariably included works by contemporary composers, especially Swiss. He was responsible for several Swiss premieres of works by Frank Martin, Peter Mieg, Paul Müller-Zürich, and Rolf Urs Ringger among others. In 1965 he was awarded the Hans-Georg-Nägeli-Medaille of the City of Zurich. He was also awarded the Prize of the Doron-Stiftung, and in 1991 Freiheitspreis (Freedom Prize) of the Max Schmidheiny-Stiftung. He conducted the ZKO until 1996, a year before he died.

His discography includes many concertos by J.S. Bach, Mozart, Igor Stravinsky, Giuseppe Tartini, and Othmar Schoeck.

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In October of 1987, the Zurich Chamber Orchestra visited Chicago under the leadership of its founder, Edmond de Stoutz.  I arranged to meet with him briefly before the concert for an interview.  A couple of times he grumbled that his English was not sufficient to express what he was trying to say, but his ideas did seem to come across quite well. 

We only had a few minutes, so we got right down to the heart of the matter . . . . . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:    Is it safe to assume that all of your work as conductor is done at the rehearsal?

Edmond de Stoutz:    Oh, no, no.  The performance has its own rules.  What I am doing in the rehearsals is to give ground rules, fundamental advice, and ideas which, if they wouldn’t be respected, the language would be wrong.  I’m terribly fond of having a musical language that has no wrong accent, and in rehearsal I fix that, but I don’t fix the way we would play it in the evening.  The evening depends on so many other things, like the mood of the moment, and the audience, and the acoustic.  The psychological situation of the evening is unexpected enough to give every evening a new aspect of the same piece we would play.  So the rehearsal is for polishing the language
not for deciding what we want to say but how we want to say it.  That’s quite another thing.

BD:    So then each night then you are inspired anew?

de stoutz EdeS:    I’m absolutely free, and that’s why there is a conductor.  Otherwise we could fix everything and let it go.  No, the evening is the moment.  Every evening is a special evening and is a unique evening.  We always play here and now, and that’s only one possibility.  The next day, if we want to imitate what we did yesterday it would be a dead concert.  Every concert has its right to be different,
even if it is worse or longer or shorter.  That is not important.  It has its own character, like human beings.  All human beings have the same programtwo arms and two legs and so onbut all are different.  Each person is an individual, and every concert is individual.  Beethoven proposes a symphony, but we make it, and we make it differently every day.  He accepts that and he expects that.  He gives us only the minimum of indications of what we must do, and we make the living body of it.  He gives the plan of the symphony, and we make the symphony.  But we are not alone.  The other half of the concert is made by the audience.  The audience listens, and the symphony really only exists in the heart of everybody who is present.  So half of the work is done by those who listen.  We are in contact with the audience, and together we make a concert.  We’re influenced by their thoughts.

BD:    What do you expect of the audience that comes each night?

EdeS:    I expect that I will be able not to disturb them with my thoughts, but to think of a way they can think with me.  By making a symphony, I try to get us to be of the same mind. 
‘Concert is a Latin word that means we agree with each other.  That is in concert; it’s not a fight.  It is to have an agreement, to agree to find our way together.  In French you say faire quelque chose de concertD'accord means to agree.  In German it’s Einverstanden.  We each can agree with what we say and what we do.  That’s what we try to find.

BD:    How has the audience grown over the last 20, 30, 40 years?

EdeS:    It’s difficult to say, because I also became older.  We change all together.  It’s always a question of human contact.  I changed terribly because I’ve become old, and the audience changed because they become younger compared with me!  This gives different tasks to both of us.  They must look at an old man, and I must try to satisfy the hopes of younger people.  There is no recipe how to do it, but you must be always very open and very ready to feel and to notice everything that is expected of you, as everybody has to do.  When people have to live together, they must always be looking at what will be useful for the other one, not just for me.

BD:    Do you find that the public is different from city to city, or country to country?

EdeS:    A little bit, but if you think of a concert now, it depends more on the way of our playing to have a good or a collaborating audience.  It depends not on the city where it is nor on the nation nor on the continent.  In all continents you can have the feeling of acceptance of each other.  Of course there are places, especially festivals, where people have less possibility to listen because they look at the event more than at the music itself.  It’s easier to get to the point of the music in a modest town than in a big festival because there it is not so much of the inner life of the surroundings to look at.  It’s more the outside look.

BD:    Let me ask a big philosophical question.  What, for you, is the purpose of music?

EdeS:    The purpose of music to prove that life is more important than the days of your life you live.  When you live it as a limited life, or you have the feeling it is a limited life because you appear when you
’re born and disappear in a way.  But music is the proof that life is always there, without us or with us, before us and after us.  And it’s one of the most beautiful proofs because everybody is feeling that music is life because it takes time, it takes place, it makes joy, it talks to every psychological facet of your person.  In fact, everybody’s programmed the same way, but not all of us know their own program in the same way.  We are not all informed the same way of what we could feel and understand and do.  In fact, everybody could do everything, but not everybody knows it.  We have accents more here and more there.  That makes the difference between us.

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BD:    You say each concert is unique.  What about when you go into the recording studio?  Do you conduct differently there?

EdeS:    Yes.  Actually no, I don’t conduct differently, but the record is different to a concert.  [Laughs]  I have the feeling records are mummies.  It’s beautiful, but every time you look to it, it doesn’t move.  It’s always the same!  The symphony, say the Fifth Symphony of Beethoven, is on the certain record, and every day it is the same way!  That’s just the contrary of the idea of a concert and of music.  The record is very interesting because it is for the information, but I don’t think you see life in it.  You see only the picture of life, a photograph of life, and that is not the person itself.

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BD:    It
’s an interesting distinction.  Do you enjoy making records?

EdeS:    In a way, yes, because it’s a challenge.  It’s very difficult.  It’s very difficult to try to get a really natural attitude in a record because you are disturbed by the lack of audience, and you are disturbed by all the people who are concerned, such as the engineer and everybody who has a responsibility for something there.  Your own responsibility is a little bit too divided too much, so you are no longer so free as in a concert.  If you think of the life of a symphony, it is 20 minutes or 30 minutes.  Look at the way your life as a human being would be if one day or one week of that life was repeated three times or seven times.  It would be impossible.  You would become crazy.  Unfortunately, in a way that is the result of many records.  [Laughs]

BD:    But obviously you must think that the benefits outweigh the determents, because you keep making them.

EdeS:    I do it especially because there are many people who ask for our records.  When we play a concert, so often people say, “But couldn’t we have a record only to remember it?” and that’s legitimate.  I think that’s good.  If somebody wants to have a souvenir of his beloved friend, then he takes a picture.  That picture is a help, but it’s not the person himself.

de stoutz BD:    You have the entire gamut of music from the last three hundred years to choose from.   How do you select which pieces you will perform?

EdeS:    I chose always what is useful for my musicians.  I hate the word
education.  I mean, rather, it is for the development of every one of the orchestra, including me.  Our development depends on what we are playing, and we must play as much as possible.  There is a large choice, and we must have a large view of the whole musical culture to be able to speak an actual language.  It’s not possible to play Bach as it was played in time of Bach, and if somebody pretends to do it, he’s a liar.  Nobody can play Bach as it was played in the time of Bach.  That’s a simple lie.  You must play it as you now feel it and as you can play it with your own experiences.  It is the same with Tchaikovsky, and Mozart.  Everything that happened between Bach and me is influencing my way of playing Bach, and must influence my way of playing Bach.  If I say, “No, now I want to play like Bach,” first, I don’t know how it was.  Nobody knows.  Then it would be lying.  It’s really a very dishonest.  It’s not honest to pretend to know how it was actually done.

BD:    [Being Devil
’s advocate]  We shouldn’t make the attempt to approximate?

EdeS:    Well, of course, and we do it always, but it will stop at the approximation.  Do you need the same clothes, the same hair, the same everything?  That’s really the question.  There are people who think when they play Beethoven they must look like him.  They must make a face like somebody who is always angry, and that has nothing to do with his music.  It’s ridiculous to try to make a museum for music.  We must play with the spirit of the music, and not the costume of the music.  The spirit of the music will be understood by people who live today, and if they like Bach because it’s not as they expected, because it’s in a way strange, then it’s no longer Bach.  He wouldn’t like to be looked at as somebody strange as a performer of two centuries back.  Bach was actual, and you must actualize him.  We must make him actual, and not show how old his music is, how much work it is, how efficient his music is.  I am saying this about Bach, but it’s ridiculous to take only him.  It is always so.  You cannot pretend that you are not living now, and the people who listen are not living now.

BD:    Where is music going today?

EdeS:    We don’t know.  The future is not something we must be preparing for so terribly.  We must live the now.  Now and here is important enough to try to do it.  What music is now will maybe not be in 50 years.  It’s impossible for me to tell you and nobody can say it.

BD:    Then what direction is it heading today?

EdeS:    In what respect?  What aspect of the music do you mean?  The commercial aspect, or the style, or how we use music?  There are so many aspects for the question of music and its future that I don’t know exactly how to answer.  The style and the composers seem to be trying to come back from a certain atonality to a tonality again.  They try to please some people who are afraid by so-called modern music, but that’s not an answer to your question.  Rather, I would be a little bit alarmed by the music business.  It is possible that the business around music might become so industrialized that even the audience can no longer go to concerts of living performers for fear of comparing something.  Then if you begin to compare performances, it’s the same as if you want to buy a car.  You have to compare them.  In music, you must not compare; you must live!

BD:    What advice do you have for composers today?

EdeS:    To be sincere.  It’s difficult.  It’s very difficult not only for the composers, but also for the performers.  For everybody it is very difficult.  We can never be really sincere because we’re always speculating away.  But we must try to be as sincere as possible to save our dignity, if we have one.  [Both laugh]

BD:    What advice do you have for the conductors?

EdeS:    It is the same, and for me too!

BD:    To be sincere?

EdeS:    Yes.  I try.  I always try.  Of course, I cannot always succeed, but I try, and it’s my hope, with time, to be always more sincere.  We are only human, and music is human music.  We must never think that music is more than a human music.   The music we will perhaps hear after our deaths should be something else, I hope.

BD:    One last question.  Is conducting fun?

EdeS:    Yes.  Life is fun.  No day of my life I would want not to have lived.  Even the heavier days are finally very positive and very useful, and I am thankful for everything I ever saw and lived.  Really!  And that’s sincere.

BD:    Thank you for spending this brief time today.  I appreciate it.  Good luck with the concert tonight.

EdeS:    Thank you, also.

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© 1987 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on October 24, 1987.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1990, and again in 1995 and 2000.  This transcription was made in 2016, and posted on this website at that time.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

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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, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.