Conductor  Eduardo  Mata
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


As I prepare this interview for website presentation, we are about to encounter the
doomsday date of December 21, 2012.  So if you are actually reading this, our worries were either unfounded, or some other kind of salvation has taken place on our planet!  We cannot know what tomorrow brings, yet we always must prepare for it and assume that there will be another day for our existence here on Earth.

Unfortunately, tragedies do happen, and each of us will meet his or her end at some point and in some manner.  To put it musically, the double bar will be placed on our individual scores.

On the morning of January 4, 1995, Eduardo Mata and a passenger were en route from Cuernavaca, Morelos, to Dallas, Texas.  Mata was piloting his own Piper Aerostar.  One engine failed shortly after takeoff, and the plane crashed near Cuernavaca Airport during an emergency landing attempt.  Both died.  Mata was 52, and thus in the prime of his life and career.  We can be thankful for what he accomplished and for what he left us in terms of recordings, and yet we mourn what could have been and what would have been had he been granted the biblical
three score years and tenor more, as conductors seem to often go on into their eighties and even nineties!   A school in Dallas has been renamed after him, and the state of Oaxaca (Mexico) established an Eduardo Mata Autumn Festival in his honor.  More about his life is in the obituary from The New York Times which is reprinted at the bottom of this webpage.

Fortunately for everyone, Maestro Mata did have a significant and distinguished career, and he made the most of his time.  He was in Chicago at the turn of 1990-91 for a production of Carmen at Lyric Opera, and it was just a few days after the New Year that we met at his hotel.  I had seen an earlier performance, and we both remarked that the audience that night had seemed just a bit tired
— perhaps from all that was going during the busy season . . . . . . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:    Let’s just start right there.  When an audience is a little bit tired or a little bit sleepy, is there anything that you as the maestro can do to pep up either the performers or the audience?

Eduardo Mata:    Yes, put a little bit of additional effort to try to liven things up.  Usually it pays back because somehow there is an interplay between the artists and the audience, and eventually they will come around.  I thought they did very much, in the sense that by the end of the second act they were much warmer than before.  They were very, very soft and very slow reacting in the first act, but they got much better and I thought that at the final applause for the artists they were quite enthusiastic, and most of the people I talked to were quite taken by the performance.

mataBD:    Oh yes, it was a very good performance.  It ran very well, and everything seemed to be unified...

EM: spite of the fact that we had two substitutions, and the adrenaline was flowing!  [Both laugh]

BD:    Is it easier or harder when you have a last-minute substitution in the cast?

EM:    It’s definitely more difficult, of course.  No question about that.  You never know what’s going to happen.  I had the chance to rehearse both of them on the day
that is, six hours before the performance.  I rehearsed Micaëla, and also the guy that substituted for our Morales.  But nevertheless, there is that additional tension.  You never know whether they are going to be up to the previous level.  Of course they were, but you never know.

BD:    Micaëla is a large part, but if it had been the title character, then would you have been under a lot more stress?

EM:    Yes, very definitely.  It would have been very difficult, although the understudy has to be there and has to watch the performances and has to learn the dialogue.  In these operas, you realize, it’s quite complicated.  I think probably one third of the length of the opera is taken up by dialogue, so it’s a lot to learn.  And you have to be concerned about the accent, the pronunciation of the French in the spoken sections, and that would have been a very serious challenge if Carmen got sick.

BD:    With the Ponnelle production, you have all of the special stage business and a lot of tricky things; it’s not just your typical Carmen.

EM:    Of course.  For instance, in the third act she has to climb those rocks.  It is very complicated.

BD:    She has to know exactly where she’s going.

EM:    Right, and time herself.  Not only to know where to go, but time herself so she can make it in the very limited amount of time that she has to climb those rocks.  It has stairs built upon it, but it’s difficult.

BD:    The stairs are built and then camouflaged?

EM:    They are camouflaged with the rocks, that’s right.

BD:     I knew she had to be there at a certain time, but I didn’t realize the timing was so critical.

EM:    Yes, yes.

BD:    Of course the timing is so critical in all of opera.  It’s not like a play.  You can’t just say your line when you feel like it.  You, the maestro, have to control it.

EM:    You have the parameter of the music as a fixed thing, so then we all have to meet in that parameter, which is the music.

BD:    When you’re conducting a singer on the stage, are you especially careful and especially aware of what they’re doing, to give them a little more freedom if they think they need it?

EM:    It all depends on the circumstances.  When it’s purely a musical reason, probably I will, or will be much more sympathetic to that kind of need.  Sometimes, when something unexpected happens on the stage
like some of the props didn’t work or for whatever reason one of the singers doesn’t arrive to a placeI have to wait... if that doesn’t spoil the musical line!  [Both laugh]  Hopefully it will not, but you never know.  Opera is a very complicated business.  It’s theater, after all.

BD:    Then the Capriccio question
— where is the balance between the music and the drama in opera?

EM:    Usually in good opera, as is the case with Bizet, it’s in-built.  Every good opera that I know of has the timing perfectly synchronized and perfectly built in between the theatrical aspects and the musical aspects.  I think that’s what separates great opera from just good, acceptable opera — the fact that in the libretto you can find this proportion and this correspondence of timing between what happens on stage, theatrically speaking, and the music.  It’s also the responsibility of the stage director, of course.  You may have the best libretto in the world, where every instruction is given, and then the stage director may spoil it.  [Both laugh]  Or the music director, for that matter!  It is usually more often the case that the stage director has a funny idea about something in the production that is unorthodox, and then we musicians have to cope with that and work around it.  It was not the case here, of course.

BD:    You’re the music director.  Do you work in collaboration with the stage director as the rehearsals progress?

EM:    Yes, absolutely.  In this particular case it was a different kind of collaboration because the original stage director, Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, died about two years ago.  So this staging of Carmen was prepared and realized by Vera Callabria.  She was his assistant at some point, and she was designated to reproduce the original creation which was done here some time ago.  So my work was entirely done with her, and in the course of the rehearsals we developed a good friendship and an excellent rapport.  We were able to work everything together.

BD:    This is very important, then, to work in collaboration with the stage director, rather than against the stage director?

EM:    It is crucial, absolutely crucial.

BD:    Is there anything you can do if you find yourself in a position where you’ve accepted a contract, and either you don’t like the stage director or you don’t like the ideas, or perhaps a different stage director that you didn’t know was substituted?

EM:    It all depends.  If the differences are so huge that you cannot persuade the stage director
or he or she cannot persuade youthen one of them may have to drop out.  If the differences are workable, you find a happy medium in which everybody can work and operate.  I have been confronted with that kind of situation before, and most of the times — I would say ninety-five per cent of the times — we find a workable medium in the middle.  But in this particular instance with Carmen it was a very, very smooth ride, very smooth sailing throughout the performance.  First of all, I admire Jean-Pierre Ponnelle very much.  Second, I think this is one of the best stagings of Carmen I’ve ever seen, and I have seen a lot of them.  And thirdly, Vera Callabria is a very talented stage director and a very nice person, a very easy person to work with.

BD:    How much was Ponnelle and how much was Callabria?  Did she introduce a lot of her own ideas, or just a few?

EM:    Most of the creative work can be respectfully traced to Jean-Pierre Ponnelle.  He was a man of genius, really.

BD:    You were talking about great operas and good operas and lesser operas.  Do you only accept contracts to do the great operas?

EM:    I am primarily a symphonic conductor.  I have been conducting mostly symphonic concerts for the bulk of my career.  I came relatively late to the opera field and, although I have a little bit of experience in opera in the last ten years or so, my primary training was as an orchestra conductor.  I have decided to get into the opera world, but I am very partial to the great composers of opera.  I am very partial to Verdi, Puccini, Bizet, Mozart, over all, plus Strauss and Wagner, of course.  I don’t feel a particular sympathy for the strictly bel canto opera.  What I consider the bel canto opera is that kind of opera where the main concern, the most important thing, is just the singing voice and the artifice that the voice can produce as a separate instrument.  I prefer the operas where the voice is just one element in an integral whole.  So I have decided to concentrate on that kind of repertoire because that’s where my idiosyncrasies are situated.  That’s the thing I know better, and ultimately I think that I can say something in that field.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    You spend much of your time in symphonic work and a little bit in opera.  How does it divide?

EM:    In the last ten years, I would say that seventy-five per cent of my time is spent with symphonic concerts and the remaining time is opera.  As you know, I am the Music Director of the Dallas Symphony and I’m also the Principal Guest Conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony, so that really takes a lot of my available time.

BD:    I want to come back to the symphonic work and the recordings just a little bit later, but let us stay with opera momentarily.  From all of these great operas, how do you select which ones you will accept and which ones you will decline?

mataEM:    It’s a matter of offer and demand.  I have been offered operas that I am not interested in, so I just simply turn them down.  That’s it.  It’s a matter first of all of dates, availability, and then whether I am interested or not in conducting the specific opera that is proposed to me.

BD:    So it really is quite an intricate mesh.

EM:    It is, and it involves a lot of negotiation, mostly between managers.  Of course, I am the last word about it.  [Both laugh]  I am one of those fortunate artists that keeps control of his time.

BD:    Do you make sure you have enough time to rest and to study scores?

EM:    Yes.  I do that, yes.

BD:    When you get into an opera, perhaps one that you’ve conducted a prelude or an excerpt from in concert, are you ever surprised how it fits into the opera when you put the whole thing together?

EM:    Very seldom is the case because most of the time when I play an excerpt, I know the opera, so very seldom it’s a surprise.

BD:    Is it ever a surprise the other way, that you find it strange to extract the piece and then put it into a concert?

EM:    It happens more often that way, yes.

BD:    Do you do opera-in-concert sometimes?

EM:    Yes, I have done a number of operas in concert version.

BD:    Does it work without the staging?

EM:    It all depends on the quality of the music.  I have had both experiences — operas that work and operas that don’t work.  I can mention to you operas that work that I have done several times, like Fidelio.  It works very well in concert version.  The year before last I did a concert version of The Gambler by Prokofiev which doesn’t work at all.

BD:    Did you do it in Russian or in English?

EM:    I did it in English, following eight performances that I did in Florence the year before of the fully staged version.  I miscalculated and thought that it would work, and it didn’t.  So there are examples of both instances.

BD:    But I assume that the people who came to the concert performance of The Gambler were not dissatisfied?

EM:    Well, some were not.  Some were.

BD:    What do you expect of the audience that comes either to opera or to concert?

EM:    Involvement.  We have the competition of the electronic media because there are several
records, television, radioand the difference is still very, very important in favor of live music.  The thing that I expect the audience to do is get involved; participate.  That makes all the difference in the world, and the artist on stage feels it.  You started this conversation by mentioning that the audience was slow reacting in the last performance of Carmen that we did here.  In that sense, it is up to us to warm them up!  Any stand-up comedian can do it if he notices that the audience is not really laughing as much as they should.

BD:    [With a sly nudge]  So, are you merely entertainers, or are you also artists?

EM:    [Smiling]  Well, I think we’re both.  We’re basically artists, but what we do is also a form of entertainment... of a different category, if you want, of a very spiritual quality, sometimes, but I think we’re both.  More than entertain, I think we have the obligation to communicate.  That’s a great aspiration of all artists.

BD:    You have the different audiences each night, and you have this expectation.  Is there any way that we should go out and grab more audiences, either from football games or television or rock concerts?

EM:    It’s becoming increasingly difficult to grab audiences from spectator sports and other forms of entertainment.  Education
or the lack of educationhas a lot to do with that, but there are, of course, very distinct exceptions.  One of them, I should say, is Lyric Opera, which has basically a sold-out season.  I shouldn’t be saying this, but I say it anyway because it is a rarity in contemporary United States now, but the Dallas Symphony has a sold-out season.  It’s very difficult to find a ticket for an individual performance, as it is to find a subscription ticket.  I know that in the Lyric Opera in Chicago was very much the same thing, which speaks very highly of the quality of the things that are presented there, and also speaks very highly of the promotional efforts.  But it is difficult.

BD:    If all your performances at Lyric and in Dallas are sold out, should you be adding additional performances occasionally? 

EM:    In Dallas we were forced to create a “new night” in the transition to our new hall.  We were living in a hall for three thousand five hundred people up to 1988, and in 1989 we moved to a facility that is one of the preeminent concert halls of the United States
and the world, for that matter.  But it is much smaller.  Two thousand and two hundred seats is the capacity of the Meyerson Center in Dallas.  So we had to add one performance just to compensate for the loss of seats.  But then, because of the expectation created by the concert hall and by the “new sound” that the orchestra was producing in this fabulous hall, we had to create a fourth performance.  In addition to that we created Sunday series, which are free, as a way to allow some people from the cityparticularly for people that cannot afford the very expensive price of tickets in Dallasto come and hear the symphony.  So yes, to answer your question, we have to exercise our imagination and try to create new series and new ways to attract people and serve them.

BD:    Free concerts!  Just show up and you attend the performance?

EM:    That’s right, but you have to put a request.  You have to go up and pick up a ticket.  You have to make the effort to collect the ticket.  It costs nothing, but that shows that people have interest and really want to go, so it takes a little of an effort.

BD:    I was just worried that maybe all of a sudden you have this twenty-two hundred seats and five thousand people descending upon you.

EM:    It has happened!  It has happened in the first instances.  Then we had the opposite reaction.  People thought that it was so difficult to get in that they started to withdraw from the concerts, but now the pendulum has swung the other way.  We have a balanced situation.  We have the concerts basically full.  They are not complete programs of two hours of music.  They are usually without intermission, an hour and five to an hour and ten minutes of music, but we have had full houses recently.

BD:    Do you find that that encourages people to try and get tickets for the full concerts?

EM:    Very much so.  We have had a lot of requests for new subscriptions, which unfortunately we cannot fulfill.  So the only answer for that is to give more specials and increase our series.

BD:    How many concerts do you play a year in Dallas?

EM:    We play twenty-one different programs throughout the year in the main season, and now we have a festival that takes place in the summer of about seven weeks.  We also have a lot of school concerts, and the City of Dallas give the Dallas Symphony a grant to play free concerts in parks.  So that’s another way to expand our visibility in the community at large.

BD:    Do you decide the programs for all of these concerts?

EM:    Yes, except the pop concerts.  The orchestra has a very, very extensive and ambitious project of subscription pops concerts, and I have nothing to do with that part of the programming.

BD:    For the rest of the season, how do you decide which works are going where, and make sure that there is a balance?

EM:    That’s the sixty-thousand dollar question.  [Both laugh]  You have to always take into account the repertoire that we are offering, which is usually very limited on any given year.  The repertoire that each individual soloist can offer in a given year is small, so you have to play with that, and you have to play also with the balance between instruments
how many pianists, how many violinists?  Are you going to present a cellist, guitar player, singers, etcetera?  You have to balance that with choral works, unusual or new works, premieres and commissions.  You have to use your imagination and your intelligence to mix the very well-known repertory with the less known repertoire and new music.  I think we all have a duty to new music, and we exercise our duty in a modest but meaningful way.  We play quite a number of contemporary pieces in Dallas, both of very well-known composers and young, unknown as well.

mataBD:    Do the Dallas audiences take to the new music, or do they just tolerate it?

EM:    It depends who you talk to.  [Both laugh]  In every city there is a small segment, a small minority of music-lovers that buy a lot of records, that keep up to date with the magazines, and with the new, the premieres around the world, etcetera.  It’s a small nucleus of persons, but I would say that it is as important to feed the tastes of those people as it is to give the majority of our audiences the chance to her their favorite repertoire. So if you analyze the programs of the Dallas Symphony, you will find indeed a cross section of what the audience may be like just by looking at the programs.

BD:    You yourself are also a composer.  Do you ever program one of your own pieces?

EM:    No.  I don’t consider myself a composer anymore.  I quit composing about seventeen years ago, and I think that there’s lots that I could claim for myself are well deserved by many other composers who are full-time composers.  I don’t have that pretension anymore.

BD:    Is that something you might return to eventually?

EM:    Yes, probably in the near future I will return to composing, and I expect to take advantage of so many years of experience conducting an orchestra and put it to work.  But for the time being, I don’t intend to play my music.

BD:    Does the fact that you did write quite a bit of music during the early part of your career make you a more sensitive conductor to both the new and the old repertoire?

EM:    I don’t know about that.  Ultimately the audience has to judge whether my performances are more or less sensitive.  What I can say is that my training as a composer helped me tremendously in the way I approach scores.  I analyze them, and I like to project them to the audience.  That I know for sure.  I don’t know how they project or how they are received, but that’s not for me to judge.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    You’re Music Director in Dallas, and Principal Guest Conductor in Pittsburgh.  How are the audiences different in those two cities, if at all?

EM:    Yes, there are some differences.  I would say that segment or that minority we were talking about just a minute ago is slightly larger in Pittsburgh than it is in Dallas, simply because Pittsburgh has an older tradition.  Pittsburgh has been a great symphony orchestra for many, many years, so they are a little bit ahead of us in terms of the audience potential for receiving new things.  Also, they have had the tradition of the great masters in the hands of conductors such as Reiner and Steinberg, which has, of course, educated at least one important segment of that audience, the older segment.  But in any other sense, they could be compared; the Pittsburgh and the Dallas audiences are not too far apart.  I would say that the only cities where you will find a very, very big difference are New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles with that cosmopolitan population, and Chicago.  The level of exposure that an audience has here in Chicago cannot be compared to the level of exposure that a member of the audience has in Dallas or in Pittsburgh.

BD:    Has the advent and the ease of purchase of recordings changed this balance at all?

mataEM:    In a way it has, but in a way it hasn’t because we cannot really believe in the illusion that just by buying records you know much more about music.  I still think of recordings as presentation cards for the artists, more than anything else.  It’s good information, but the real thing is live music.  It’s not that I am against recordings; I do a lot of them, but I just feel the need to set things right.  The truth of our profession is live music.  Communication.  That’s the essence of it.  You can almost compare it to live theater and television.  They are completely different mediums, and as long as you are aware of that difference and act accordingly, you will be a much more balanced artist and will have a much better chance of success.

BD:    Do you conduct differently in the recording studio than you do in the concert hall?

EM:    Definitely.

BD:    How so?

EM:    First of all, when you’re conducting in the recording studio, you have to be recording by small segments, just like they make movies.  You record a segment, not always in order, and of those little segments the conductor, the producer and the technician put together the final version.  So it’s a completely different technique.  It’s a completely different approach.  It’s very difficult in a recording to let mistakes go by, because those mistakes will be there forever.  That’s the reason why we should not really allow serious mistakes to happen in a recording.  But mistakes are incidental in live performance because the most important thing in live performance is the line.  It’s like discourse, or like reading poetry.  It is important what you say, and if sometimes you don’t say it as cleanly and as perfectly as you would like to, it really doesn’t matter that much if the message is getting across to the audience.  So in that sense there are meaningful differences between one medium and the other.

BD:    I thought we were finally getting to the days of the long takes.

EM:    More and more we’re approaching that way of doing recordings.  Another welcome development in that is that the final authority is coming back to the music director or to the conductor, as opposed to some years ago where the final one responsible was the producer.  It used to be the A&R producer of the recording who had the final say and the control of the knobs and the sound console.  You’re absolutely right, and in that sense the recording technique has evolved for the better, but I still think that one has to be careful in separating the two mediums.  We have to be very careful about establishing those differences because it’s not the same.  Regardless of whether we’re making long takes or short takes, they’re different mediums and one should approach them as such.  It’s the same as with concerts in television.  Something needs to be done in terms of how we broadcast television concerts.  People are getting tired of these stationary cameras just taking instruments.  I have seen a number of examples of creative ways to approach this problem.  We have, for instance, Allan Miller, with that masterful piece of cinematography, The Bolero, in which the score comes alive in such a wonderful way.  [Note: The film won an Academy Award in 1974 for Best Short Subject.]  The camera is inside of the orchestra, and gives us not only the players are they are performing their respective solos, but gives us atmosphere, gives us a number of visual parameters and visual takes that make the score so much more interesting.  I think we have to evolve in that direction as well for the broadcasting of concerts by television.  Again, it’s trying to make the best out of a different medium.  When people are captive in a concert hall, they are there to concentrate exclusively on the music.  But television is a different medium, so you have to remember that the audience could easily get tired and switch the channel.  So there has to be also a visual emphasis, a visual interest.

BD:    You’ve got to grab them.

EM:    You have to grab them; that’s right.

BD:    Do you ever feel that you’re competing with recordings when you play a piece in the concert hall?

EM:    No, because I don’t think you can compare apples with oranges, and the live performance is always a live performance.

BD:    You don’t feel that the audience is bringing both apples and oranges into the hall?

EM:    Sometimes they do, and that’s why I speak so much about this thing because I would like to erase that possibility.  I can’t, but I try as much as I can to let people know that live music is a completely different business.  I wish they wouldn’t, but of course they do.  Sometimes they mix.  They hear a live performance and they compare it to what they heard at home the night before.  Some people even think that it is a good discipline to listen to a lot of recordings before they go to listen to live performance.  That’s maybe good up to a point, just to be familiar with a score, but when you create and build prejudices in terms of an interpretation, then it can only act negatively on your behalf and on behalf of the artist.

BD:    So if they know the score enough that they can discover new things in the concert, that’s fine?

EM:    That’s wonderful.

BD:    But if they go to criticize and say, “That wasn’t as good as...”

EM:    That wasn’t as good as, or that wasn’t the way I heard it last night in my sound equipment.

BD:    Do you find that your performances change over the years, so that perhaps a record that you made ten or fifteen years ago is not at all representative of what you’re doing today?

mataEM:    That’s absolutely the rule.  The other thing would be the exception.  That’s the rule.

BD:    Then people come up to you and say, “That’s not the way you used to do it.”

EM:    That’s right, very often, and I’m so glad when I hear that!

BD:    Do they ever come up and say, “You’re wrong” or, “You’ve missed it” or, “You’ve lost it?”

EM:    Not with those words, but I have had people that told me, “I like better what you did two years ago with that piece than what you did now.”

BD:    Probably because they heard it twenty times, and this they heard once.

EM:    Right, probably.  But I also hear the other, “I heard you doing such-and-such three years ago and I didn’t like it as much, and then tonight, you really...”  It happens always.

BD:    Let me ask the great big philosophical question.  What is the purpose of music?

EM:    [Ponders a moment]  Communicate a poetic message.  I cannot even say beauty, because beauty can be construed in many ways.  It’s just a poetic message, and that poetic message can be sometimes ugly.  Sometimes can be dramatic, sometimes can be tender or contemplative or aggressive.  But in the same way that we experience emotions through the visual arts and experience emotions to the spoken word or to the written word, we experiment with very, very concrete, specific emotions through sounds.  Sometimes you cannot even define music as melody or harmony because sometimes those parameters are not even important in music.  What is important is what you communicate on the poetic level, and I think that’s the essence of it.  You want to communicate with interpreters or the intermediaries between the composer and the audience.  Tacitly what we do is we assume the voice of the composer because the music does not exist as an abstract entity.  The music doesn’t exist in discourse.  The music is created in the moment it is sounding, so the interpreter has a great responsibility.  But we all try to go in the same direction, which is to communicate with the audience and make them experience something which we consider to be of great importance in poetic terms.  As I said before it can be either beautiful, ugly, aggressive, tender or contemplative.  There are many forms of beauty, and the wonderful thing about music is that it has its own language.  It’s one of the most abstract arts par excellence, because a lot of what the music tries to say cannot be described in words, and that’s absolutely wonderful.

BD:    Is the music that you conduct for everyone?

EM:    Yes, I think so.  Definitely.  Absolutely!  Yes.  But by the same token, if only one or two people get the message, that’s enough in a given performance.  If a lot of them do, wonderful, of course, but it’s enough if only one or two people in the audience really get the message.  I have that feeling.

BD:    Then the next time they come, maybe another two will get it?  

EM:    That’s how we judge the success of a piece of music or a performance, by how many people get moved by it.  In that sense, recordings are very frustrating because it is very difficult to confront whether the audience has been moved or not.  They cannot communicate with you.  In a live situation, they clap.  Or don’t.  [Both laugh]  But in the case of recordings, you just have to take for granted if the critics like the recording that perhaps some of the general public will as well.  But that’s not taken for granted, because after all, what a critic writes about a performance is just one man’s or woman’s opinion.

BD:    I assume, though, that you make sure the record pleases you first?

EM:    Absolutely.  It has to please me first.  Otherwise, how could I believe in it?

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    How much interpretation do you find and use in the scores, and how much do you slavishly just stay exactly with what’s on the printed page?

EM:    Everything is interpretation!  There are a lot of schools of thought about that.  I used belong to the school of literalists, but that really doesn’t mean anything.  One has to go after the spirit of the music, and more often than not the spirit of the music is well beyond the notes, well beyond the music paper.

BD:    Is this what separates the better conductors from the lesser conductors
how much they can find in the scores?

mataEM:    I don’t know if that separates the good from the bad, but as an audience, I’m much more interested in not only the conductors but the interpreters in general that probe and probe and try to get to the bottom of the spirit of the music.  Now I may consider that a conductor that does that is still wrong.  Am I going to judge him a bad musician and a bad conductor just because he’s wrong?  People often ask me who are my favorite conductors, and I say, “In which piece?  And furthermore, in which movement of which piece?”  [Both laugh]  It’s very difficult to please everybody.

BD:    I’m not going to ask you to do this, but could you assemble the opening part of a movement with this conductor and the development with another conductor and the recapitulation back with the first conductor, and yet another conductor for the minuet...

EM:    It could be done that way, or it could be that one single piece of a composer is masterly done by just one conductor or one violinist or one singer.  It often happens that you hear a performance that for the time being you consider definitive
until the next one.  [Both laugh]

BD:    There’s been a charge leveled occasionally that because of the recordings and because of the immediacy of broadcasts, all of the music is becoming too much the same.  There’s not enough individuality of performance anymore.  Do you agree with this?

EM:    No.  What’s happening now, it’s as you say, the awareness of what’s going on all over the world and the blurring of national distinctions and idiosyncrasies.  That’s a fact, but the awareness is due to the facility of communications
recordings and televisionbut I think there are fashions about interpretations as well.  It was very fashionable at the beginning of this century for string players to do a lot of glissandi, slides.  Then they became not fashionable at all, and now it’s coming back.  This is probably a poor example, but my point is that there are fashions also about interpretation, and I don’t particularly care about fashion.  What I care about is the depth of the interpretation itself, and what an artist is showing me that is new or distinct about a piece — and not necessarily new because that’s not even a good word.  What an interpreter is showing me that I need to know about the piece that will communicate to me that poetic message that I was talking about before.

BD:    Being from Mexico, do you bring a bit of Mexican music with you wherever you can?

EM:    Yes.  I don’t force the Mexican music on audiences or promoters, but I have a very strong belief, particularly in two composers
Carlos Chavez and Silvestre Revueltas.

BD:    They are the masters of Mexican music?

EM:    I think they are, and whenever there is sympathy, a priori sympathy for this music, I try to play it.

BD:    Is there a special sympathy in Dallas?

EM:    Probably.  The orchestra has developed a great sympathy and a good feel for this kind of music.  They play Chavez as the Mexicans.  They really play Chavez very well and Revueltas, and have done repeatedly so for the last ten or fifteen years.

BD:    Is there a connection between the music of Mexican composers and the music of composers from Spain?

EM:    Very little.  That has to do with the historical development of Mexico.  Mexico is an independent country since the process of the Mexican independence war started in 1810 and ended in 1827.  At that point there is no record of any originality in concert music in Mexico, so really all the originality of concert music in Mexico starts with the twentieth century.  Spain, as you probably know, did not have too much to offer in terms of music in the nineteenth century other than Tonadilla and Zarzuela.  Both forms of musical theater were relevant, but did not offer too much in terms of a distinct language that composers of great category would use.  Albeniz is Albeniz, of course, and what I mean by that is that Albeniz is just a man of genius, a man of great talent, somehow limited in his orchestral writing, but a wonderful writer for the piano.  Granados is a wonderful pioneer of what was going to be recognized as the Spanish style in concert music.  But really, the great composer of Spain in modern times is Manuel de Falla.  The development of Manuel de Falla happens almost parallel to the development of concert music in Mexico in the beginning of this century.  So therefore there was very little communication in concert music.  If you take folk music, that’s another story.  In folk music, almost everything — I would say ninety per cent of the sources of Mexican contemporary folk music are from Spain.

BD:    So it’s more than just a language connection?

EM:    Oh, it’s more than that.  It’s just an affinity for the language of music, for the particular expression of music, particularly music with words.  Sones, jarabes, huapangos, all these forms closely associated with Mexican folk music can be traced one way or another to Spanish models.  But I make that distinction because, curiously enough, in concert music it is not the case. You may feel in the music of Revueltas certain traces just because Revueltas has a very popular extraction as a human being, and then the music reflects a lot of things that are characteristic of Mexicans.  But if you try to establish a direct connection between Revueltas and Falla, you won’t find it.  It’s via the folk music.

BD:    Do we know why there is the connection in the folk music and not in the concert music?

EM:    Because up to now, we Mexicans are still very resentful of the conquistadors and the fact that we were a colony
not exactly a colony but very close to a colony from Spain.  Now that’s starting to disappear, fortunately, but up to the revolutionary years of Mexicothe big revolution that took place at the beginning of the century between 1910 and 1930 more or lessthis sentiment of the great majority of Mexican, educated Mexicans, against their Spanish background was very strong.  Of course, that permeated the arts as well.  You can see in the mural painting of Rivera, Siqueiros, Orozco there is that innate, intuitive hatred of the Spanish culture.  It’s a paradox, because we have it in our blood and we can’t help it.  It’s there!  All our surnames are Spanish, but it is like the reaction of an adolescent, rebelling against the parents until it comes to a point where you accept what you are.  Then you respect and love your parents.  That’s still to come, but it will come very soon, hopefully.

BD:    Do you conduct at all in Spain?

EM:    Yes.

BD:    Do you bring Mexican music to Spain?

EM:    Yes.

BD:    How do the Spaniards react to it?

EM:    Very well!  There is, as I say, an innate connection there, so as far as that is concerned the likes and dislikes in this particular instance, the likes of the audiences and sympathy of the audiences, there is no problem.  We have that connection.

BD:    How does Mexican music travel elsewhere in America or to other countries in Europe?

EM:    Depends where you play it.  Not recently, but in the last fifteen years or so I used to conduct very often radio orchestras in Germany and in some other European countries.  Very often they will ask me to do Revueltas and Chavez, and it was generally very well received.  I have seen this music programmed repeatedly in radio stations sponsored by the state in most of Europe.  In the United States, it’s very often a matter of fashion.  At some point Revueltas was very fashionable.  At some point Chavez was as important in this country as Copland or Roger Sessions or Henry Cowell; then it became less so.  I feel that there might be a renaissance of interest for this kind of music, not only about Chavez and Revueltas, but also the composers from Latin America in general
Ginastera, Villa-Lobos, Cordero, Orbon, etcetera.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Do you have any advice for young conductors coming along?

mataEM:    I have been asked that question many, many times.  Remember that the baton doesn’t really sound.  We don’t create the sounds with the baton.  We create the sounds or re-create the sounds with our imagination, and that takes depth, culture, imagination, and an impeccable musicological research.  We all have to be very well prepared to be not only faithful to our instincts, but highly responsible.  We are assuming the voice of the composers, whether we like it or not, and that’s a huge responsibility.  As long as we remember that we have that responsibility over our shoulders, I think we will be much more honest and better artists in the long run.  That’s the only thing that occurs to me.

BD:    Do you have any advice for someone who wants to be an orchestral player?

EM:    Orchestral music has a lot to offer.  It has been judged to be in crisis recently by a lot of people, and there are many pronouncements about the imminent disappearance of symphony orchestras.  Fortunately, none of those predictions has become true.  I still think that there is a great vitality in our business and a lot of terrain to be covered.  I think the musicians themselves — I’m not saying the musicians as opposed to conductors, but all musicians — have to fight for our place in society, and persuade people that we are not only important, but crucial for the culture of our time.  So to answer your question, to be a player, a playing musician can be a privilege and should be regarded as that.  If we all think alike, everything else will become superfluous if we keep thinking along those lines.

BD:    Is conducting fun?

EM:    It can be fun and most of the time it is.  I prefer to think that it is far more than that
— not only fun, but it’s a fulfilling experience.  It’s a lifetime experience.  It’s a privilege and a responsibility.

BD:    You’re approaching your fiftieth birthday.  Are you where you want to be in your career now?

EM:    No, because my expectations and my ambitions and my goals are always higher and more distant than wherever I am, and they seem to get even further away as I get older.  That’s not to say that I am an unhappy person.  I am basically a very happy person, but as I approach my fiftieth birthday, I realize how many things I have not done and how many goals look further away than ever.  I was saying to my wife today, I have more questions than answers as I grow older.  [Both laugh]

BD:    That seems to be the human condition, I’m afraid.  The more we learn, the more we find we need to learn.

EM:    Right.

BD:    Are you coming back to Chicago?

EM:    I don’t know yet.  I don’t really know yet whether dates and opportunities will coincide.  I hope so.

BD:    What are the next recordings that are coming along?

EM:    I can give you a preview of some of the recordings that are coming out early in the year, like a Spanish record, the complete Three-Cornered Hat with the Dallas Symphony, and on the other side we’ll put the five pieces that Arbos orchestrated from the suite Iberia by Albeniz.  Then another record with Stravinsky’s music will be coming out containing Petruschka and Le Baiser de la Fee, the Fairy Kiss Divertimento.  Those are the two imminent records.  Later in the season I will be recording The Rite of Spring and the Scythian Suite by Prokofiev, which will be released probably by the middle of the year.

BD:    It’s interesting that you say, “...And on the other side...”  [Laughs]

EM:    That’s right, because I have that prejudice of the LP records!  Actually now they are side by side.  It complicates things, but that’s right. You’re absolutely right.  Old habits die hard.

BD:    How are we going to tell our children about
the flip side?

EM:    That’s right!

BD:    How are we going to tell our children we used to
dial a phone?  And what is clockwise?  Although you are wearing a watch with hands on it...

EM:    Clockwise, that’s right.  It will be difficult to explain.  You’re absolutely right.  [Note: While setting up my machine to record this conversation, we both commented about the virtues and defects of open-reel equipment vs. cassettes, and Mata noted,
“I remember anthropologists in Mexico going on field trips to record folk music, always using the Nagras.

BD:    Thank you for coming to Chicago.

EM:    Thank you for giving me the chance to talk to the Chicago audiences through your station.

mata          mata

Eduardo Mata Is Dead at 52; Conducted Dallas Symphony

The New York Times, Published: January 05, 1995

Eduardo Mata, a Mexican conductor who was the music director of the Dallas Symphony from 1977 to 1993, was killed yesterday when the plane he was flying crashed near the Cuernavaca airport in Mexico. He was 52 and lived in Xochitepec, Mexico. Also killed in the crash was Maria Anaya, a friend.

In his years on the Dallas podium, Mr. Mata improved the orchestra's performance standard and brought the ensemble into the national and international spotlight. He campaigned vigorously for the building of the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, which opened in 1989.

He also made dozens of recordings with his Dallas players for the Dorian, RCA, Pro Arte, Telarc and Vox labels. He also recorded with Canadian and European orchestras. In recent years he was recording a series for Dorian devoted to Latin American works with the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Caracas, of which he was principal guest conductor and artistic adviser.

Mr. Mata was born in Mexico City, and studied with the composers Carlos Chavez and Julian Orbon at the Mexican National Conservatory. As the recipient of a Koussevitzky Fellowship in 1964, he continued his studies at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass., where he studied conducting with Max Rudolf and Erich Leinsdorf and composition with Gunther Schuller.

When he returned to Mexico that year, he was appointed to his first conducting post, as music director of the Guadalajara Symphony Orchestra. He was appointed director of the University of Mexico Philharmonic in 1966. In the 1970's, before taking over Dallas, he held directorships of the Phoenix Symphony, the National Symphony of Mexico, the San Salvador Festival and the Casals Festival.

In Dallas he was also a principal guest conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony and the director of the National Opera of Mexico. He also had an active guest conducting schedule, appearing regularly in Cleveland, Philadelphia, Chicago, Baltimore, San Francisco, London, Berlin, Frankfurt and Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Known for his clean, direct interpretations, Mr. Mata was at his most eloquent in music by Silvestre Revueltas, Alberto Ginastera, Heitor Villa-Lobos and other Latin American composers. But he also conducted and recorded a broad repertory that ranged from Mozart and Schumann to 20th-century American, Russian and French composers.

When he gave up the Dallas podium after 16 seasons, he became conductor emeritus. He was also the principal guest conductor of the New Zealand Symphony and the artistic director of the Solistas de Mexico in recent years.

He is survived by a son, Roberto, and a daughter, Pilar, both of Mexico City.

© 1991 Bruce Duffie

This interview was recorded in Chicago on January 4, 1991.  Portions were used (with recordings) on WNIB in 1992 and 1997.  The transcription was made and posted on this website in 2012.

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, 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.