La Stampa

La Stampa Interview with James Conlon: “Beethoven is like the Gospel, always new”

Alberto Mattioli

(Translated from Italian. View the original story online here.)

The Rai National Orchestra opens the season Friday in Turin

October 8, 2019 | Alberto Mattioli

Autumn, a time for firsts. The Rai National Symphony Orchestra resumes their season on Friday at the Auditorium and on Rai5, Radio3 and Euroradio live. It’s a season full of great conductors: Gergiev, Chung, Harding, Luisi, Gatti, Mariotti and so on. On the podium for the season’s opening is principal conductor and 60-year-old American James Conlon, in his Fourth season in Turin.

Maestro Conlon, is it already time to take stock?

You have to take stock. I am satisfied. Many young people have joined the orchestra, and this is a good sign. Also, because their level is very high and with the experience of the elderly it forms an excellent mix.

Is anything missing?

I think the orchestra should tour more frequently, both in Italy and abroad. We will do a big tour in Spain, but we should move more. And also go to places not used to “classical” music. For me it was very exciting to head to Matera (and not just because my great-grandparents came from Calvello, which is in those parts).

It will be a very Beethovenian season, because 2020 is the 250th anniversary of his birth. But do the musicians still want to play Beethoven and [does the] audience [still want] to listen to it?

Of course. It is like reading the Gospel or, if you’re not a believer, like reading Shakespeare: you will always find something new. It will never come to say enough. Also because, paradoxically, it ends up that the most popular songs are performed less for fear of performing them too much. It happened to me with the Fifth.

This summer in Salzburg you directed Plácido Domingo in Luisa Miller. How do you explain the different attitudes of #metoo between the two sides of the Atlantic?

I cannot comment on the merits of the charges, because investigations are underway. It is certainly true that the decisions taken in the United States and Europe have been very different. In Salzburg they have chosen a line (that of the presumption of innocence, etc.), I am a professional and respect contracts.

You direct many operas. Is there one you miss?

It is difficult to say, I have over a hundred titles in the repertoire. Indeed, yes: Les Troyens by Berlioz, which is a great challenge.

And in the symphonic [repertoire]?

Last season I directed Martucci and Respighi, very interesting composers, in Turin. Let’s say I would really like to do more Respighi.

Three reasons why he is happy with the orchestra in Turin.

First: the orchestra itself, which is a large orchestra. Second: the city. I love walking around the center. The third, obviously: food. I am “foody”: I like to eat well.

What in particular?

Nothing beats agnolotti del plin and a good Barbera.

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