You’ve just been announced as Chief Conductor designate at the Bergen Philharmonic – congratulations!
Thank you; it’s absolutely lovely. I’m in Bergen right now, watching the sunlight streaming over the water. I first conducted them about five years ago, and right from the very beginning it’s just been a real pleasure.
Dazzling sunlight aside, why is it such a pleasure?
This is such a fantastic orchestra, and I think it’s a bit of a surprise to everyone who comes here. Even now, people don’t really know about it – it’s a bit like the town of Bergen itself, it’s sort of hidden away geographically. So I’m very much looking forward to spending a lot of time here and bringing their music to the wider world.
For those who haven’t heard the Bergen Philharmonic, how would you describe them, as a band?
When I hear them, the thing that always strikes me straight away is this combination of beautiful, mellow sound which also has a wonderful visceral quality that’s very rare. Their sound is based around traditional Norwegian string tuition, which is both old-fashioned but somehow energized, and those two qualities don’t normally go hand in hand. There’s also a lot of internal personality within the orchestra: they really feed off each other’s energy very well. It’s so hard to define, but what I would say is that they’re able to be incredibly flexible with their playing style, which certainly isn’t the same as a lot of symphony orchestras.
It sounds like they’re very exciting to work with, as an orchestra?
Absolutely: as well as that very special sound they have a fantastic attitude to making music. At the moment we’re doing Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius and it’s completely new to them; they’re used to doing more high-impact, high-Romantic works. But they have really taken to it; they have a huge amount of range and a real willingness to go on a musical journey. As a conductor it’s just wonderful to stand in front of that.
As Music Director of English National Opera you’ve done a huge amount of opera over the past decade; are you looking forward to upping your symphonic output?
This is a great opportunity to redress that balance a bit for me. The orchestra really want me to develop their repertoire; as I say, they’ve done a lot of high romantic, 19th century repertoire and Russian repertoire with [outgoing Music Director] Andrew Litton over the last 10 years and, I think now’s the time for them to explore some more 20th and 21st century, and add a little more classical repertoire to their diet.
You’re an exclusive recording artist with Chandos: do you have recording plans with Bergen Philharmonic in the near future?
Definitely. Technically, my contract at Bergen begins in autumn of 2015, but we’re well down the road of planning. We’ll do a Janacek cycle of discs next year, and that will be fun because Janacek is just not well known here – I think the orchestra will actually be giving the Norwegian premiere of The Cunning Little Vixen! And further down the line, we’re hoping to record lots of Schumann and a Beethoven symphony cycle. That’s just to get us started…
The season you arrive, from 2015, will coincide with Bergen Philharmonic’s 250th anniversary. That’s a happy coincidence…
I find it incredible that this orchestra, which so many people are yet to discover, was founded the year Mozart was writing his first symphony. That’s quite breathtaking to me. And it’s amazing to be coming in at such a pivotal point in an orchestra’s history, as it gives us a chance to look back but also keep a focused eye on going forward. It’s always a little daunting, and humbling, to think of that weight of tradition, but in good way. It underpins everything we do as we move forward. It’s exciting.
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra