Joseph Romero: In a Dutch television documentary, you
commented that the Concertgebouw Orchestra is the most difficult and
the most critical to deal with on a daily basis. Are you suggesting
that the Dutch are unaccepting and hard to convince?
Chailly: Yes, they never take anything for granted. You always
have to qualify your artistic reasons, your intellectual orientation.
That does not mean that they are not ready to accept it. On the
contrary, they are very open-minded. This is the dichotomy which is so
intriguing. Because of their own need to be convinced, they want to
know the inside-out of the reasons. I had to explain more in my early
days. Now, they know me better, so there is very little need for
verbal explanation during rehearsal. Because of the Concertgebouw
tradition with certain composers such as Bruckner, Mahler, Strauss,
Rachmaninoff, Brahms, it was necessary to get them on my side
JR: Would this also be true of the
Vienna Philharmonic with which you had a difficult relationship in
1988 in Salzburg?
Chailly: No, I had a problem with
the Vienna Philharmonic not because of the mentality but because of
the rotation system and constant changes of musicians in the opera
pit. That was the reason for my clash with them. It had nothing to do
with artistic issues. I conducted the Vienna Philharmonic last year in
an unconventional programme of Janacek, Korngold, Zemlinsky. It was
the first time they had ever played this music by Korngold and
Zemlinsky and there were no problems in terms of communication or
JR: How did a 32-year-old
conductor take the helm of a rather tradition-bound, old-world
establishment such as the Concertgebouw Orchestra?
Chailly: It happened unconsciously. In retrospect, this was
probably the secret. Had I been fully conscious of the circumstances
and what would follow upon my first appearance in Amsterdam, I
probably would not be here today. I came in with all the youthful
enthusiasm and power of a man in his thirties and conveyed my beliefs
to the orchestra. The process was natural. The orchestra appoints the
chief conductor. The board should agree with their choice, but it is
the orchestra which votes. Nothing can be forced on an orchestra of
highly trained musicians. You have to have reasons and a certain way
of dealing with them and the music which convinces epidermically. I
don't think an intellectual relationship is enough. It should be an
instinctive, emotional, epidermic contact. This was in fact what
happened in 1985 during my first concert here.
And if they were interested in you, it must have been linked to your
interest in new music since the Concertgebouw had only worked with you
in a concert program of Luciano Berio and other contemporary
Chailly: They needed and wanted a new
face for new music. Historically, they always chose a chief conductor
under the age of forty. Willem Mengelberg was only twenty-four when he
started at the Concertgebouw and he stayed half a century. This is the
glorious past of this orchestra. Van Beinum and Haitink were also in
their thirties when they were appointed.
your case was the decision unanimous?
overwhelming majority I would say.
JR: Was it the
younger members of the orchestra who lobbied on your behalf?
Chailly: I don't know the details, but in 1985 it was a
rather old orchestra. The orchestra is clearly younger and more
progressive today, although the overlap between those leaving and
those arriving is carefully coordinated. It is important that they
have time together. This is crucial if the orchestra's tradition and
sound culture are to be successfully transmitted and maintained.
JR: Why do you think that subsequent generations did not
respond to modern music when in fact Mengelberg was quite interested
in the music of his time?
Chailly: What I think we
both wanted when I was appointed was to return to the programme style
of Mengelberg. As you pointed out, he dealt daily with the music of
living composers: Richard Strauss, Mahler, Ravel, Debussy, Stravinsky,
Hindemith and Dutch composers such as Diepenbrock. I think that was
progressively lost in the forty years which followed. It is important
to have a clear sense of reality of the century that you are living in
and the music of your century. One of the very last composers of the
avant-agarde which ended in the sixties was Egard Varèse. What
followed immediately after - like the younger Stockhausen or Luigi
Nono - was the new avant-garde. Today, we talk about the
post-avant-garde. In that sense it is important that an orchestra be a
living element of culture with the knowledge and confidence to explore
JR: Some Amsterdam concert-goers
feel that you are like other conductors of your generation; that is,
that you are at your best in contemporary music. Would you agree with
this assessement of your work?
Chailly: It's easier
to say "best" in contemporary music because people know it
less. They think they know more about Romantic and late-Romantic music
and that is a one-sided point of view. The reason why some of my
performances of late Romantic music are regarded with a certain
anxiety, although less and less over the years, is because they sound
different. Public agitation occurred at the beginning because my
Strauss, Bruckner and Mahler sounded different and the public was
asking, "how far are we going to change our image of the past"?
And my answer is: I am at least a full generation younger than
Haitink. I would have started to worry if my Strauss or Mahler
sounded the same. That would be dramatic.
: Top - Paul Huf / Decca : Centre - Marco Borggreve.
Riccardo Chailly | Continue