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Last update:
Feb 8, 2020

Musicianship

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 particular work has given him. Interviews are often about the non-musical or visible sides of a conductor’s life. One forgets that most of a musician’s time is spent learning to understand the works of composers to give 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. I, in any case, had no alternative.

Strong will and experience in music are a conductor’s most essential qualities. It takes a kind of general talent and idealistic personality to become a leader of an orchestra. A conductor should master an instrument, have experience from playing in an orchestra, and have education in conducting. There’s a bond between the conductor and the orchestra which may be described as a kind of telepathy. To convince the musicians, the conductor must have a strong belief in the work.
The conductor must display perfect technical command over the works performed, the technique must serve the music. The sole objective of the knowledge and experience of the performer is to respect the rights of the composer. Someone might discard this as hypocritical 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 a “subjective” angle, ruining the work completely. On the other hand, 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 architecture of the work and display good taste while avoiding the addition of superfluous personal elements. The idea of a 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. At some point, you find out that 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 an in-depth 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. I have come to the conclusion that it means being populistic, unnecessarily pleasing the audience, which might appear as a lack of daring when composing contemporary music. A kind of shortcut or quick reward which brings you impressive results. In my opinion, when composing and performing, avant-gardism, passion and distaste for sloppiness and ease 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 success. In the case of Sibelius, I think he consciously moved forward instead of remaining imprisoned in the style of his first two symphonies. An excellent example of a top musician who is strictly against commercialism is my friend Radu Lupu. He once performed a Schubert sonata which left me completely speechless: something happened, I don’t know what. The performance was so realistic and natural that the deceased composer himself would surely have been very pleased. Radu develops a breathing tempo correctly and thrives in the harmonies following natural laws.

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

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