Last update:
Oct 2, 2014

WDR Symphony Orchestra, Cologne

For the last decade I have regularly conducted The WDR Symphony Orchestra in Cologne. My working relationship with the orchestra solidified during autumn of 2010 when I started my 3 year contract as their principal conductor.

During my first season Brahms, Beethoven, Schönberg, Bruckner and Stravinsky are the main composers. Through these composers we will build our mutual understanding of sound and musical style.

The orchestra has different series, like the contemporary programme in which I especially concentrate on works of 20th century German music, e.g. by Bernd Alois Zimmermann (from Cologne) and Karlheinz Stockhausen. I think it is wonderful that people in Germany and Finland understand that music is connected to the history of its people, and that it needs no further justification. Through the tradition of Sibelius and more contemporary generations of composers in Finland there is genuine interest in modern music, which is why people attend premieres with great interest. This is also true in Germany. Musical experiences are considered a part of life and they are taken seriously. For example, our performance of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony was a collective experience. After the performance the concert hall was taken with piety. I quickly felt music still has a meaning.

My home is in Helsinki, my work in Cologne, Oslo and elsewhere in the world. Continuous travelling and separation from one’s family is rather hard. Then again conductors usually are in great shape in their 80’s, so I think I’ll manage while I’m this young, as long as I listen to my body and work with suitable intensity. And if this job wouldn’t bring me satisfaction, I wouldn’t have the energy for it. Successful performances never wear me down, on the contrary.

I have breakfast rather early, after which I read scores until rehearsal. It is the score to be played that day, or something in near future. I absorb music at much higher capacity in the morning than after work. Also when at home, I like to read any score which requires intensive thinking before noon.

My way of life is quite ascetic, as I often need to familiarise myself with new works even after long rehearsals. Studying new scores often prohibits me from socializing too much during the week. I’ve formed a good connection with the orchestra also outside work. Some people invite me to different things, for example, tennis. Exercise is indeed the best thing to do when I’m not working. Lately I started playing the violin again. Mostly I’ve played and practised with my son, Anton.

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