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The Lebrecht Interview
44 minutes | Sep 3, 2012
Norman Lebrecht talks to the American composer and conductor John Adams in the week that he conducts his opera Nixon in China at the BBC Proms. Adams who was born in Massachusetts is one of the most celebrated composers alive. Many of his pieces are in the repertory, including his operas Nixon in China, the Death of Klinghoffer and his opera about Robert Oppenheimer, Doctor Atomic all of which receive stagings around the world and all of which he talks about in this interview. Adams also talks about his early years learning the clarinet, imagining music in his head as he did his paper round and starting to conduct and compose. Adams turned down the chance to go to Tanglewood to learn conducting and instead drove to the West Coast to broaden his experiences. Here he encountered some of the early minimalist composers and was involved in performing concerts of music by John Cage. As he developed his artistic personality Adams rejected both Cage's ethos and that of the modernists. Adams has always been concerned with music as expressing feeling and was as open to influences from rock and pop music as he was to music of classical composers. In this sense he believes his openness to a variety of influences makes him closer to a fellow New Englander, Charles Ives. John Adams also tells Norman about his experiences with the US Homeland security, and how he was blacklisted and about his political views in this honest conversation. Producer Tony Cheevers.
46 minutes | Aug 27, 2012
Norman Lebrecht talks to the great Italian conductor, Riccardo Muti, music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Muti's career has spanned key orchestras including the Philharmonia Orchestra, the orchestra of La Scala in Milan and the Vienna Philharmonic. Elegant and erudite, this is the first extended interview Riccardo Muti has given the BBC. He reveals his thoughts and feelings about Verdi and Rossini, about his professional relationship with his mentor, Herbert von Karajan, and about his sense of being an 'outsider' in the world of music, a normal man with an extraordinary job.
44 minutes | Aug 20, 2012
Norman Lebrecht talks to the young Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons currently music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Born in Riga to musical parents Nelsons cites one of his earliest formative musical experiences as a performance of Wagner's Tannhauser which his parents took him to when he was just 5. He later took up the trumpet and eventually became a professional player in the Latvian National Opera Orchestra. He had conducting lessons with Neeme Jarvi and then came to the attention of Mariss Jansons whilst playing on tour with the Oslo Philharmonic and subsequently had lessons with him. He eventually rose to become chief conductor of the Latvian National Opera at the age of 25 and it was there he met his future wife the soprano Kristine Opolais. Nelsons has conducted at the Met, the Royal Opera House and at Bayreuth where he made his debut in 2010 with a new production of Lohengrin and where he returned this year. In 2007 he became Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra having previously only conducted them in a private concert and a recording session, never at any public concerts. His present contract with them runs to 2014 and he appears with them at the BBC Proms this week.
45 minutes | Aug 14, 2012
Norman Lebrecht talks to the British opera director Graham Vick whilst in rehearsals in Birmingham for Stockhausen's massive opera Mittwoch. Vick is one of the leading British directors. He works in all of the worlds' major opera houses directing the standard operatic repertoire and was for a number of years Director of Prodductions at Glyndebourne. But he is also director of the Birmingham Opera Company which he founded in 1987. It specialises in innovative and unusual productions of operas often in unusual venues such as factories or disused warehouses and this interview was recorded in Birmingham where Vick is currently in rehearsal for the British premiere of the complete version of Mittwoch part of Stockhausen's massive cycle, Licht. He talks to Norman about Stockhausen, about his approach to directing, his views on opera and about his background. Producer Paul Frankl.
45 minutes | Aug 6, 2012
Norman Lebrecht meets celebrated impresario Lilian Hochhauser, who along with her husband Victor, introduced British audiences to some of the greatest Russian musicians of all time, during the fraught period of soviet rule. Now in her eighties, Lilian - from a Jewish Ukrainian background - recalls the Cold War period which saw her and Victor pushing cultural and political boundaries to bring some of the most feted names in Russian music to Britain for the first time. Everyone from Rostropovich, Richter and Oistrakh through to The Borodin Quartet and the Kirov Ballet recieved their London debuts thanks to the Hochhausers.
46 minutes | Jul 30, 2012
Norman Lebrecht meets Hungarian conductor Iván Fischer, who looks back on a career characterised by ground breaking musical achievements and occasional political controversy. Fischer recalls his elite musical education under communism, singing as a boy in the opera house where Gustav Mahler was once director. Being taught by both Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Hans Swarowsky during his studies in Vienna, where he initially set out to become a cellist, gave Fischer a unique musical perspective. He remembers what made both teachers great and how they impacted in his later decision to found The Budapest Festival Orchestra, alongside gifted pianist and countryman Zoltán Kocsis. Fischer describes the jealousy and bad feeling which initially greeted the new orchestra, and why his relationship with Kocsis deteriorated. He talks frankly about his discomfort with Kocsis's perceived closeness to Hungary's rightist political regime, and why he will continue to speak out against it. Iván Fischer has always been musically motivated by change: the desire to alter the status quo and unlock the potential of the musicians he conducts - he speaks passionately about what he sees as the crisis being faced by the modern symphony orchestra, and how they need to be reinvented or face extinction.
45 minutes | Jul 23, 2012
Norman Lebrecht meets pianist Menahem Pressler, founder of one of the most prolific and influential piano trios of all time: The Beaux Arts. Pressler looks back on a career which began in Nazi Germany, before he emigrated to Israel in 1939 and went on to win The Debussy Piano Competition in 1946. He recalls the teachers who helped him as a young pianist, including a German who defied the Nazi regime in continuing to teach him after it became illegal to do so, and his lessons with celebrated pianists Egon Petri and Leo Kestenberg. Pressler remembers how he formed The Beaux Arts Trio with violinist Daniel Guilet and cellist Bernard Greenhouse almost by accident while living in New York, before making their debut at Boston's Tanglewood concert hall in 1955. He reflects on the trio's changing personnel, which has seen Pressler as the one constant member while five violinists and two cellists have come and gone. Still performing now at the age of eighty eight and a renowned teacher and mentor to top chamber musicians like the Emerson and Ebène String Quartets - Menhem Pressler reflects on what makes a great chamber group and how music has sustained him throughout a long and distinguished career.
41 minutes | Jul 16, 2012
The Lebrecht Interview is the interview series that runs during the Proms season in which the writer and broadcaster Norman Lebrecht talks to key figures in the world of classical music. Today, Norman is in conversation with the Venezuelan conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and of the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela. Dudamel is a walking advertisement for the success of the extraordinary El Sistema music education project in which poor children in Venezuela are given the opportunity and financial support to train in an orchestra. A product of that system, Gustavo Dudamel has become a byword for joyous, passionate music making, his concerts celebrated almost as religious events. In this interview, Norman Lebrecht talks to the man behind the hype. How heavily does Dudamel feel the weight of reputation?
45 minutes | Sep 5, 2011
In the last edition in this series, Norman Lebrecht talks to the great English singer, Dame Janet Baker. The Yorkshire-born mezzo-soprano has mostly been known for her performances in operas by Mozart, Monteverdi, Purcell and Berlioz. In the concert hall she was renowned for her lieder singing especially Mahler, as well as English music, in particular the works of Benjamin Britten with whom she was much associated. The clarity of Janet Baker's voice and the dramatic intensity of her performances have given her a legendary status in the international worlds of opera and song.
46 minutes | Aug 29, 2011
Edward Gardner is the Music Director of English National Opera and about to become Principal Guest conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. He talks to Norman Lebrecht about his career to date. Gardner was appointed to the post at ENO in 2007 while in his early 30s and began by conducting a new production of Britten's Death in Venice. He was born in Gloucester and began his musical life as a chorister at Gloucester Cathedral. He later went to Eton where he enjoyed the music making and education and then went to Cambridge where he says he enjoyed the conducting and performing that he did there rather than the more academic side of the course. The Royal Academy of Music followed but before leaving he was already working in the summer at the Salzburg Festival as a repetiteur encountering some of the leading conductors and operatic productions of the time. This experience has influenced some of his choices at ENO. He then worked with Mark Elder at the Halle Orchestra. So choral music and opera were both at the heart of his musical training. In 2004, before he was thirty, he was invited to be Music Director of Glyndebourne Touring Opera, an experience, he says which gave him the opportunity to conduct operas like La Boheme 20 times in different venues and acoustics around the UK. Since taking up the baton at ENO he has been involved with the planning of the company's repertoire and has conducted new productions of operas by Saariaho, Verdi, Bartok and Puccini. He talks about the challenges the company faces. How it has improved its image and work after a period of decline and argues with Norman about the continuance of the company's policy of performing operas in English. Producer Tony Cheevers.
46 minutes | Aug 23, 2011
Dame Monica Mason has spent all of her working life at the Royal Ballet in London. Now 70 she is about to start her final season as Director of the Royal Ballet. In conversation with Norman Lebrecht she talks frankly and warmly of the experiences her various roles in the company have given her. Born in South Africa she first encountered ballet in Johannesburg and began to dance. After the sudden death of her father when she was just 13 she tells Norman how her mother brought her to London where they lived frugally in a bedsit in Finsbury Park. Monica got a place at the Royal Ballet School and then unexpectedly was put in the company. Here she immediately encountered some of the great figures in international ballet whom she talks about in this interview.. The founder of the Royal Ballet was Dame Ninette de Valois who was then at the helm and a figure who fought for the company throughout the war years but who inspired fear in many. Frederick Ashton was the founder choreographer of the company and later held the post of Artistic Director. Monica Mason tells of dancing in his full length ballet Ondine to music by Henze which he found difficult to work to, but generally she was not one of his favourite dancers. Monica also talks about Margot Fonteyn who for many years danced many of the best roles and continued past the normal age when dancers retire partly due to the arrival of Rudolf Nureyev with whom she formed a memorable partnership. Mason also talks of dancing with Nureyev herself. She found a more direct working partnership with Ashton's successor Kenneth Macmillan who built his version of Rite of Spring around her . Macmillan was a troubled man subject to dark moods who, when he discovered Monica was considering leaving as her dancing years came to an end, persuaded her to stay as his assistant. She agreed and worked closely with him and was there when he died suddenly backstage during an evening performance. Monica Mason remained during the difficult years of the 90s when the Royal Opera House went through a troubled period, continuing as assistant to Norman Morrice, Anthony Dowell and then Ross Stretton. And it was only after Stretton's sudden dismissal that she went into the role of Director herself, at first she thought, on a temporary basis. Soon after she was offered the job. She reflects on her experiences as Director and how she has tried to move the company on, appointing Wayne McGregor as resident choreographer and commissioning a new full length ballet from Christopher Wheeldon. Producer Tony Cheevers.
46 minutes | Aug 15, 2011
Norman Lebrecht meets the conductor Valery Gergiev, head of the Kirov Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, and Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra and the World Orchestra for Peace. Gergiev also runs festivals in Russia, Holland, Israel and around the Baltic, and was recently charged with re-launching the historic Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow and St Petersburg. Undoubtedly one of the busiest musicians on the planet, Gergiev has been criticised for skimping on rehearsal and detail; he has also been accused of having too intimate a relationship with Russian power. In this extended and wide-ranging interview recorded at Gergiev's Festival in Mikkeli, Finland, Gergiev tells Norman about his childhood in Ossetia and his reaction to the death of his father when he was just 14; his own very special method of fund-raising; his controversial relationship with Vladimir Putin; and just what drives him to live life at his famously frenetic pace. Producer Emma Bloxham.
44 minutes | Aug 8, 2011
Richard Rodney Bennett
Richard Rodney Bennett is a contemporary of Birtwistle and Maxwell Davies but his musical life has pursued a very different path. From his childhood onwards music was there for him. His mother was a pupil of Holst while his father wrote children's books and ballad lyrics. But his frailty meant that the young Richard was sent to boarding school, so he hardly knew him. Bennett's musical mind was inquisitive from the start and after reading about her he approached the composer Elisabeth Lutyens for lessons. She invigorated him further. Soon after he went to the Royal Academy of Music but this didn't give him the stimulus he needed although it was there that he met one of his best friends Cornelius Cardew. Together they wanted to find out about the new music which was being written in the 1940s and 50s. For a while he was the only pupil of Pierre Boulez, and with Cardew he visited Darmstadt in Germany where the new music supremos of the era met and had their works performed. His prowess as a pianist meant he was called upon to play some of the more challenging music by Boulez, Stockhausen and others. But in parallel with this he was writing film scores and continuing to play jazz with friends. So already at the age of twenty his musical life was eclectic to say the least. In the late 50s and 60s his compositional career burgeoned with commissions and performances all over the world. His film scores included Far from the Madding Crowd, Nicholas and Alexandra and Murder on the Orient Express all of which earned him Oscar nominations. In 1979 after the breakdown of a love affair and with the pressure of responsibilities in the music world proving too much, Bennett moved to New York where he has lived ever since.Now 75 Bennett enjoys his life spent between New York and London, singing with his regular collaborator Clare Martin. In conversation with Norman Lebrecht Richard Rodney Bennett talks frankly about his life, his reasons for the different musical directions he has taken and why he no longer composes nor is interested in new music. Producer Tony Cheevers.
44 minutes | Aug 1, 2011
Norman Lebrecht meets the German bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff, widely considered to be one of the finest lieder singers performing today. Although only four feet tall, with very short arms - Quasthoff's mother was prescribed thalidomide during pregnancy - Quasthoff is nevertheless a towering presence on the stage. In this extensive and wide-ranging interview, Quasthoff reflects on his happy childhood, his very close relationship with his brother Michael (who died of cancer last year), and the challenges of rebuilding his marriage after its apparent collapse. Having said some years ago that he wouldn't return to the operatic stage, Quasthoff tells Norman how he's been lured back, and how his fundamental optimism has remained intact. Producer Emma Bloxham.
44 minutes | Jul 25, 2011
Deborah Borda's is Chief Executive Officer of the hugely successful Los Angeles Philharmonic. Her career has also spanned a range of the great American institutions, including the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the Detroit and San Francisco Symphony Orchestras and the St.Paul Chamber Orchestra. She has a reputation of toughness and a creative approach to managing in often difficult circumstances. She talks to Norman Lebrecht about the future of the American symphony orchestra and reveals her approach to dealing with crises that frequently befall arts organisations.
44 minutes | Jul 18, 2011
In the first of a series of interviews with prominent musicians, writer and broadcaster Norman Lebrecht talks to one of the world's most sought after conductors, Semyon Bychkov. Born in Russia, growing up during the Soviet era, he finished his education in the United States. He talks about living in poverty in Leningrad, crammed into a single room with his parents and brother, and having to share a bathroom with several families. He describes himself as obsessive about music, yet denies ever being a control freak. Married to pianist Marielle Labeque, he also discusses his difficult relationship with his brother, Yakov Kreizberg who died earlier this year. Producer, Jeremy Evans.
43 minutes | Sep 6, 2010
Now 65, Patrice Chereau is one of the most highly regarded French directors. He began his career directing at his Lycee and running a theatre in the Parisian suburbs in the 1960s. Not long after he was invited to Italy and to Germany initially directing plays by the classic dramatists. His first job in opera was a work by Rossini at Spoleto but the occasion which caused the greatest controversy was in 1976 at Bayreuth when he directed Wagner's Ring Cycle with Pierre Boulez conducting. Chereau was not the first choice - Ingmar Bergman and Peter Brook were asked but both turned it down. Then, after Peter Stein accepted but then withdrew, Boulez approached Chereau. His production was deemed controversial in its setting, drawing as it did, heavily on the years of the 19th century Industrial Revolution and many staunch Wagnerites were incensed that the centenary Ring should be in the hands of a French production team. But the production is now seen as hugely influential in the effect it had on opera directors all over the world. It was widely seen on television in this country and abroad. Patrice Chereau talks candidly to Norman Lebrecht in this interview recorded at his home in Paris about the Bayreuth experience including the hostility of the audience and the problems caused by his late appointment as director. He also talks about the works which attract him: Wozzeck and Lulu by Berg and Janacek's From The House of The Dead, all of which deal with difficult and sometimes expressionistic subject matter. And about some of his films which deal with issues of sexuality including L'Homme blesse and Son Frere. Producer Tony Cheevers.
45 minutes | Aug 30, 2010
Sir Clive Gillinson
Sir Clive Gillinson began his musical life as a cellist, holding positions in the Philharmonia Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra. When that orchestra got into financial difficulties in the 1980s he was asked to become Managing Director. He held the position for twenty years, turning around the fortunes of the orchestra and establishing relationships with some of the leading conductors like Michael Tilson Thomas, Mstislav Rostropovich and Sir Colin Davis. He also helped plan some of the most innovative and succesful concert series in London musical life, developed the orchestra's education department and established LSO St Luke's in a previously derelict church. Gillinson was also behind of the launch of the LSO's own CD label. In 2005 he became Chief Executive and Artistic Director of Carnegie Hall in New York one of the leading concert venues in the world. It actually consists of three halls and presents hundreds of events every year. Clive Gillinson talks to Norman Lebrecht about his life and career, the challenges he's faced in his various orchestral roles and the differences between working in the arts in the UK and America. Producer Tony Cheevers.
45 minutes | Aug 23, 2010
Norman Lebrecht talks to the American born pianist Stephen Kovacevich in the year of his 70th birthday. Originally from Los Angeles, Kovacevich's father was Croatian and his mother American. After studying with the Russian pianist Lev Schorr he won a scholarship which brought him to London where he met and studied with Dame Myra Hess. She helped him develop the sound he made at the keyboard. In 1961 he hired the Wigmore Hall and made an acclaimed debut in music by Berg, Bach and Beethoven: the Diabelli Variations. This was the real start of his career in public which continues to this day. His recordings date back to the 1960s when he made acclaimed concerto recordings of the Beethoven and Bartok Concertos with Colin Davis and of Beethoven Cello Sonatas with Jacqueline Du Pre, both artists he admires greatly. More recently his latest recording of the Diabelli Variations has garnered praise. He has mainly confined himself to the great Classical pianist composers, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms with occasional forays into the twentieth century though he's never played the music of Rachmaninov in public, the pianist he most admires. Throughout his playing life Kovacevich has suffered badly from nerves and he talks frankly about this and the way his more recent conducting career has helped him to deal with them. Producer Tony Cheevers.
45 minutes | Aug 16, 2010
Norman Lebrecht meets the acclaimed American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato. The sixth child of an Irish Catholic family in Prairie Village, Kansas, she married young and was almost thirty before anyone was prepared to back her talent. In the decade since then, she has taken on mezzo roles in Rossini and Handel with a wide-eyed zest that audiences find irresistible, and an openness that appears to be innate. The very model of a 21st-century communicator, Joyce DiDonato writes a chatty blog and decorates it with photographs that she snaps wherever she goes. She tells Norman Lebrecht about her early life in Kansas, her studies in Philadelphia and Houston, and how she bounced back from a string of rejections to become one of the world's great operatic stars.
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