Last update:
Oct 1, 2014


There is a certain significance to music which is sometimes hard to defend in this world. There aren’t too many opportunities for a musician to speak out about the immense revelation a certain work has given him. Interviews are often about the non-musical or visible sides of conductor’s life. It is easy to forget that most of musician’s time is spent on learning to understand the works of composers in order to give to the listeners all the dimensions and depths of the work in the best possible way. This is the core of musicianship, the imperative which directly forces someone to become a musician. In any case, I had no alternative.

Strong will and experience in music are conductor’s most important qualities. It takes a kind of general talent and ideal personality to become a leader of an orchestra. A conductor has to master an instrument, he needs to have experience in playing in an orchestra and education in conducting. There’s a bond between the conductor and the orchestra which may be described a kind of telepathy. In order to convince the musicians, the conductor must have a strong conviction of the work.

The conductor must display perfect technical command over the works performed but above all, technique must serve the music. The sole duty of all the knowledge and experience of the performer is to respect the rights of the composer. Someone might discard this as hypocrite nonsense but I feel it’s an essential requirement. These days many fear that their  interpretations don’t stand out enough so they give their performance  some “subjective” label, ruining the work completely. For example, the interpretations of Toscanini and Kleiber were indeed recognizable, but they didn’t resort to tricks. I think the danger of modern music-making is the lack of belief in the qualities of a given composition. One can recognize a great musical performance when the performer becomes unimportant and the composition feels greater than ever before.

The leader of the orchestra must build up the greater architecture of the work and display good taste while avoid adding personal superfluous elements. The idea of conductor being a sentimentally expressive shaman is overly romantic. Also the term “conductor education” is misleading. I  prefer “musician’s education”. Besides all things practical, one must be able to profoundly absorb the composition.

I remember reading in Georg Solti’s memoirs that when one begins to study a new score, at first one feels completely stupid. It is unpleasant to find out that you’re unable to understand or absorb the information, until little by little, effort by effort you’ve read the entire score. Then all of a sudden minor epiphanies appear and at some point you find out you actually have reached an understanding of the work. After that the puzzle is almost finished, a vision is born. It may be valuable that a greater comprehension is built right from the beginning through relentless work.

In Erik Tawastjerna’s books about Sibelius the composer states: “I cannot lie.” I have often wondered how Sibelius understood lying through art. Later I’ve come to the conclusion it means populism, unnecessarily pleasing the audience which might appear as lack of daring when composing contemporary music. A kind of short cut or quick reward which brings you impressive results. In my opinion, when composing and performing, avant-gardism, passion and hatred against sloppiness and easiness are needed. Too many things are done these days in the name of pleasing!

When lying through art the artist finds himself in a state of imperfection which dilutes the satisfaction brought by the superficial success. When thinking of Sibelius, I think he consciously moved forward instead of remaining imprisoned by the style of his first two symphonies. A good example of top musicians strictly against commercialism is my friend Radu Lupu. He once performed a Schubert sonata which left me completely speechless: something happened, I just didn’t know what. The performance was so realistic and natural that the deceased composer himself would surely have been very pleased. Radu is able to develop a breathing tempo in the correct way and thrive in the harmonies as in accordance with natural laws.

Taken from the book by Pekka Tarkka & Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Kapellimestari, published by Siltala 2009