In listening to your past recordings of other works, there is excellent phrasing and pacing in your interpretations. There is a clear line of focus undistracted by any hint of idiosyncratic form or gesture. What have been the major influences on your interpretive style?
The greatly admired and legendary Austrian conductor Carlos Kleiber (1930 – 2004) is regarded as the supreme conductor of conductors. The rigorous depth of his analytical interpretations and transcendent performances wrested from his orchestras were peerless. Another conductor that left a lasting impression on me was German Kurt Masur (1927 – 2015), who was one of the last of his kind arising from the grand traditions of the early twentieth century. I recall studying Masur’s interpretation of the Beethoven Ninth Symphony during his tenure with the New York Phil Harmonic (1991 – 2002). American conductor Lorin Maazel (1930 – 2014) was a guiding light and mentor who profoundly impacted my professional career. He possessed a photographic memory for scores and held a commanding presence on stage; Maazel was a man whose sparse words were more than compensated by an unrivalled baton technique. As I get older and reflect on my old mentor, Maazel, I see his conductor’s mind’s eye in every word and seemingly chance utterance and how orderly and structured his brain worked.
Your conductorship of the MSO Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony performance in July this year was critically acclaimed. Beethoven’s last symphony is said to be the “symphony to end all symphonies”, which is of enormous scale to articulate Beethoven’s utopian idealism. What onus of responsibility did that impose on you?
I have conducted Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony more than thirty times with different orchestras. With each performance, I appreciate more and more the fine structure of each of the four movements and the sense of theatre that culminates in the well-known “Ode to Joy” Choral movement. My task as a conductor is to take my audience on that journey from the spiritual struggle of the first movement, the frenzied activity of the second, and the sweet melancholy of the third, leading to the heart-stoppingly memorable fourth movement. To harness the people’s power to achieve Beethoven’s vision was challenging but made so much easier by outstanding Australian choristers, the MSO Chorus and MSO musicians.