Jump to page content Skip to navigation
26 April 2019

«I felt at home from the beginning»

von Matthew Studdert-Kennedy

Gustavo Gimeno
In conversation with Matthew Studdert-Kennedy

By the end of the 2018/19 season, you will have conducted more than 100 concerts with the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg, in ten different countries, playing a huge repertoire from Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach to Gustav Mahler and you will have released seven discs. Do you feel at home yet?

I am! When I hear these numbers, I am surprised because, in a way, it feels somehow still «fresh» in the positive sense of the word, we are still discovering repertoire, growing, finding goals for the future. Despite the numbers, we are in the first steps of our collaboration but with an already a well-documented past. It feels substantial already.

I often surprise myself realizing how well I know the orchestra. I have the feeling my gestures are better understood, I realized that we know each other very well: the musicians understand what I mean with just a glance. But I have to say that I felt at home from the beginning.

I read an interview many years ago with a famous Music Director who claimed that when he returned to his orchestra, he knew them so well he could tell what the orchestra had been doing since the last time they had worked together. Does it feel that subtle?

Not exactly. We have our sound together, which we find again after a few minutes of rehearsal. The orchestra is my instrument. I can’t tell the sound is different after some weeks apart, but I know we have our own identity.

photo: Marco Borggreve photo: Marco Borggreve

What can you tell us about the program next season?

The growth and development continues in several directions. One is the late romantic repertoire, Mahler and Bruckner. We will enjoy working on Mahler’s Symphony N° 3, it is a very important project. We didn’t perform any Bruckner in 2018/19, coming back to him will be very rewarding. We learn a lot about sound and about his music, which is always a miracle and a mystery.
We will make our third Verdi opera (Macbeth, after Simon Boccanegra and Rigoletto) and join together Schubert and Rossini on one programme. Rossini is not only great music, but it’s also very good for the culture of the orchestra.

Verdi: Rigoletto | October 2018 | Photos: Sébastien Grébille

The musicians really enjoy accompanying singers, playing this refined and «transparent» music, which leads me to Schubert who is a wonderful composer too. The touring activities continue: in September, we will go to South America our first intercontinental tour. It is one further proof of what we are covering together!

You will premiere the new violin concerto from Francisco Coll in February 2020. How did this commission come about?

I advised the violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja to listen to the music of Francisco Coll and she found it so good that she talked about commissioning a new piece. We were touring together in Valencia and the composer was in town the night of our concert. The two met and she was so impressed by his personality and his music that we’ve officially commissioned a new violin concerto.

Sir Simon Rattle, who was already interested by the composer, soon joined the commission with the London Symphony Orchestra, and then several orchestras. We now have the big plan to record a disc with only music of Francisco Coll, which will be the first.

Across the season we will have two Artists in residence at the Philharmonie, Isabelle Faust and Daniel Harding. What can you say about them?

I admire them both. They have a wonderful instinct but are also extremely intelligent musicians. They are very conscious of the way they do things without being distant or too analytic. They put the understanding of the music at the service of the performance. I always listen to their recordings when I study a work.
I used to talk about Isabelle Faust with Claudio Abbado, who was also a mentor of Daniel Harding. Abbado, without always being aware of it, brought people together. I’m now friends with many musicians who I’ve met through him.

2020 will be an important year for two composers, Ludwig van Beethoven and Gustav Mahler.

Beethoven is a composer I love and conduct regularly. I was a student in Amsterdam when the complete cycle of the Mahler’s symphonies was given there. I couldn’t afford to go to every concert but in front of the Concertgebouw, a big screen was set up to broadcast live the concerts and the morning rehearsals. It was there, the first time I saw Abbado conducting (Mahler’s Fifth Symphony), a moment I will never forget.

Cover photo: Marco Borggreve

Concerts