Gustavo Gimeno in conversation with Stephan Gehmacher Director General (Philharmonie Luxembourg)
SG: As solo percussionist of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra from 2001 to 2014, what would you say is the most important lesson you learned as an orchestral musician over the years?
GG: Probably the most important thing is to realise that we all – staff and management, musicians and conductor – love music and want the best for our orchestra, and that we all work together trying to achieve artistic excellence, which makes us proud and helps us to develop as human beings.
SG: Among the conductors you’re closely associated with, not only as percussionist but also through your formative period as an assistant conductor, are three famous chief conductors who have shaped a number of great orchestras over many years: Bernard Haitink, Claudio Abbado and Mariss Jansons. What makes the position of a chief conductor so special for an orchestra, in your personal experience?
GG: A chief conductor is a point of reference for an orchestra in several ways: they connect all different aspects of an orchestra such as the programming, the daily work in rehearsals, the process of selecting new members, etc. But in the end, the most important quality of a chief conductor – and a common feature of each of the conductors you mentioned – is to maintain musicmaking at the highest possible level as the main focus, with motivation, passion, honesty and humility.
SG: Talking about programming – for your first season in Luxembourg, you’ve selected the first symphonies of Mahler, Schumann, Beethoven, Bruckner and Shostakovich. 2015/16 feels almost like a whole season about the art of beginning something new…
GG: I totally agree. There is only one beginning for everything; it’s a unique moment. To start something means at the same time to deal with a past, to look ahead, to find out more about ourselves – all this in a particular context, with our own and other peoples’ expectations. With regard to music, I find it extremely interesting how such genius composers entered their own symphonic world, how they managed to find their own voice in the aesthetics and society of their time, and how we hear and experience it nowadays.
SG: The OPL is the first orchestra for whom you are the Music Director. I know of course why we have chosen you, but I’m curious what exactly made you sure you would choose the OPL.
GG: First of all, this orchestra has a very strong potential, and I believe in a future where we can develop and move forward together. The concert hall in which we’re lucky enough to rehearse and to perform is not only acoustically fantastic, but also one of the most important venues in Europe or even the world. Moreover, I love teamwork, I love to build up something together with a shared commitment and vision of the future. And we have all this at the Philharmonie and in the OPL, so I am very happy.
SG: What are the highlights of the season 2016/17:
GG: .»Bruckner is present once more in a programme that compels us to find answers to many questions: «Mahler always tells us what to look out for. It’s there in the score: ‹don’t rush›, ‹don’t drag›, ‹somewhat subdued›, but Bruckner just writes: ‹Slow›. Yes, but how ‹slow›? Less information, more empty space. It’s very tricky to make that sound organic and logical. But people should realise that, more often, Bruckner is just as refined as Schubert. There is a lot of ambiguity in tonal development – it’s not just a big organ sound.»
SG: What will be the biggest challenge?
GG: Probably the most spectacular orchestral challenge in the programme for 2016/17 is Stravinsky’s Sacre – which will be played no fewer than nine times, from Luxembourg to Madrid and Vienna. «I’m so familiar with the rhythmical complexity after all those years of playing, studying and listening to it that The Rite is almost as familiar as a pop song for me, but it is an exceptionally difficult work. The strings are used to playing melodic lines, but in it they have to play primitive, percussive accompaniment – it’s like counting bars. And of course the dance element and the atmosphere are important, but what about the balance?