New AH signing Corinna Niemeyer speaks to Charlotte Gardner about her relationship with the Rotterdam Philharmonic, the mentors who have inspired her, her passion for working with youth ensembles, and her repertoire loves
Let’s start with the Rotterdam Philharmonic, as you were appointed its Assistant Conductor this past September. How does that feel?
I’m really excited! The orchestra has a really great mix of musical quality and artistic curiosity. The spirit of research. It also takes risks in concerts, whilst at the same time always keeping the quality and the emotional investment. These are things I really like and share, and this in turn helped with the audition, because I went to it energised: really happy about being invited, and wanting to get the most out of both the music and the relationship with the orchestra. It was only later that I found out that there had been 300 candidates. That was really, wow.
You’ve also worked with some exceptionally inspiring musicians as an assistant conductor, notably François-Xavier Roth and Iván Fischer. How did each of those relationships begin, and what has each of them given you?
They’re both very different, but what they each have in their own individual way is curiosity. For example Roth is experimenting a lot with period instruments, whilst Fischer doesn’t do things the usual way just because it’s the usual way. So to take Fischer first, I met him because I did my master thesis on orchestra seating, and had noticed that he seats his orchestra in unusual ways, based on what he sees in the score. So I went to Budapest to interview him about this. Then a while later he asked me to assist him in the Konzerthaus in Berlin; then a second time; then I jumped in for a rehearsal; and since, I have already been back to the Konzerthausorchester three times as guest conductor.
Then Roth has been a really important mentor to me. I first met him at the SWR Radio Orchestra in Freiburg when still doing my bachelors degree, at which point of course I didn’t have experience, but I did have energy! So he trained me. First he invited me to assist at a children’s concert. Next I did rehearsals for him in education projects, followed by rehearsals for contemporary projects. Then I assisted him at the opera in Cologne for Le nozze di Figaro, and also conducted performances; and now I’ve been back to the opera independently from him. So with him I’ve really done the whole process from being fully in the background to taking on my own projects.
Children’s and youth orchestras have remained an important part of your work. One project is the Philharmonie de Paris’ DEMOS children’s orchestra of beginner instrumentalists, which you’ve been conducting since 2016; another is your artistic directorship of the Orchestre Universitaire de Strasbourg. For your cross-border culture commitment between France and Germany, you were awarded the Prix de l’Amitié franco-allemande.
I am always amazed how intensively you can get into the music, even with an orchestra of beginners like Demos. Of course you can make an immediate difference in sound. Naturally they have a sense of beauty that you can help them discover and grow. And you can immediately feel how enriching the musicmaking is to their lives. For a rehearsal with 115 kids you need to be super concentrated, but they also give a wonderful energy back, it is very gratifying.
In Strasbourg it has been fun to develop the orchestra, musically of course, but also in terms of profile, because the orchestra is now really a cultural player in the city of Strasbourg and one of the most active university orchestras in Europe. So, whilst when I began there were sometimes only 100 people in the audience, the orchestra’s past two seasons have been completely sold out, and in fact we’re now having to send away up to hundred people at every concert! Many of the people at the concerts are new to symphonic music too, and I always present the works from the stage, so it’s fun to judge what each audience needs from me in order to have the most enriching experience: how analytical, how emotional, how short or how long. I love the connection with them.
What are your repertoire loves?
That’s a complicated question because I like so many different composers and periods! Also programming is important! Which pieces do you put together and why and how, that is a fantastic creative process.
Thinking specifically of the Rotterdam Philharmonic, they’re often on the big Romantic repertoire, so this appointment is a great opportunity for me to work on composers such as Mahler, who I love. Also Bruckner and Prokofiev, there are these moments of infinite beauty… To mention some others, I am always excited about Beethoven and Berlioz’s ideas and about the colours of Mendelssohn, Saint-Saëns, Poulenc and Stravinsky. But then I’m also completely in love with Mozart’s operas!
Indeed opera is very much part of the portfolio, isn’t it?
Yes, there are so many beautiful operas. I feel conducting operas keeps me in shape technically, because of course in a concert hall the conditions are better for keeping together, and I’m also trying to bring the same orchestral quality to the opera orchestra as I would in the concert hall. Then I also find it very interesting with opera to be bringing together a team comprised of so many different personalities, each with their own roles and artistic objectives, so that the production as a whole has the same direction.
Finally, what are the performances you’re looking forward to at the moment with especial pleasure?
I’m really looking forward to intensifying my Rotterdam collaboration, of course. I am also very excited that 2019 is a Berlioz year and I will be working on his music in projects with Rotterdam Philharmonic, with the Sorbonne Orchestra in Paris and with Les Siècles – at his birth place, and on period instruments! These projects will be an amazing musical journey!
I’m also looking forward to conducting a full production of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea at Sankt Gallen in Switzerland, in Ernst Krenek’s 1936 arrangement. Next year I have my debut with the Orchestre de Paris, with a Ballets Russes programme, which is perfect for me because I love the music and spirit of that crazy and colourful 1920s Paris period. Then another forthcoming Philharmonie de Paris concert will be conducting its previously-mentioned DEMOS children’s orchestra. Those DEMOS concerts have such a good energy. Many of the children’s families have never been inside the Philharmonie, and it’s always a really vibrant sharing of music.
Which is clearly what your overall philosophy on conducting is, i.e. a vibrant sharing of music!