ISSN 1989-1938
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Interview with Kent Nagano


Kent Nagano, with a calm and sensitive nature, is the man who was chosen by Olivier Messiaen to attend Seiji Ozawa on the preparation of St. Francis of Assisi’s world premiere.
Concise in his musical visions and gentle treatment, certainly two professional valuable skills, he prefers the challenge rather than routine. Kent Nagano is honest in his approach, he is able to give rise to contemporary works; he is always seeking a balance between the deep communication of his musical soul and dialogue with the public. After all, musicians and audience experience the magnanimity of sonorous art. In fact, Nagano wins the public for their magical relationship with a new world which combines affection and the consciousness of the musical art. The director who recently has  opened the Montreal’s new symphony hall, believes that his first responsibility is to ensure the interpretations’ integrity. He believes that the acoustic is instruments’ extension; the essential cavity where musical, spiritual and mystical experience is developed.
Kent Nagano ©B.Ealovega

Kent Nagano ©B.Ealovega

MI: What do you point up of your musical education? When did you start to feel passion for music?
KN: My mother was a pianist so music was introduced to the family from the moment we were born. We heardmusic in the house, and because I grew up not in a big city but in a very small town near the sea, far away from the metropolis centre, music became a very important role for two reasons: one, because we played music in the house all the time, so it was a way that a family became close together; and two, we were very much involved in the church, so lot of music in the church. I played the piano, so sometimes I was the company of the chorus, and my sister and brother and I grew up in the children’s chorus in the church. This was also a very big part of the community, so for us, music was like a language. It was something that was integrated into our entire lives, and you can say then that as a passion, music was there since we were children. Music could be a serious performance because all, myself and my brothers and sisters, we all played in the orchestra, we all, as I said, sang in the church choir, and studied; but also it could be a kind of entertainment if there’s nothing to do in a small town: no shopping malls, no television, no discotheque… So instead, we played music for fun, chamber music for fun at home. So, yes, I would say music was very important for the family from very early age.

MI: Could you, please, talk about your path in the orchestra conducting field?
KN: In my case, I began to conduct because I was studying composition and many of my fellow students, composition students, one or two had their pieces performed, and since I was also playing and working in the school orchestra I could assemble groups of musicians together, and do a reading and eventually a performance of some of my friends’ works. That was really how I began. So, in a way, this was the introduction to conducting ensembles. And then later, I found that more and more people simply began to ask me to conduct performances. So it was a very slow and not very glamorous way to begin conducting. Then, I stopped and worked in an opera house as an assistant. After I left the opera house, my first position as a musician was to overtake a symphony orchestra, and that was when I really began.

MI: This year 2011, in September, you will open the new concert hall in Montreal, with the music of Beethoven, and Messiaen. Why these composers? How do you choose them?
KN:The first program actually is a very complicated concert, sophisticated concert. Because for us in Montreal, which is in Quebec, Canada, it is an historic event: it is the first time, a concert hall dedicated to symphonic music, has been built. It is the first time. Of course, in Spain you have many concert halls, but we have performance spaces that are called multifunctional halls, so yes, you can give a concert there but you can also give ballet there, you can also give an opera there, you can also have a business convention congress, you can have your school graduation diploma, you can have civic meetings, you can have political rallies… It’s a space, a building that’s meant to serve several functions, and because of that, the acoustics are not always suited for the best kind of music making. They are more acoustics that are very general acoustics which are ok for singing, ok for speaking, it’s just are average on everything. But now, for the first time in history, Quebec will have a concert hall constructed specifically for symphonic music. This is something very important for us, very exciting, because the irony is that we have a long music tradition in Quebec. So finally we have a home for this music tradition.

Kent Nagano ©B.Ealovega

Kent Nagano ©B.Ealovega

To celebrate the first pieces will be three composers from Quebec, two of them are very well known, one of the composers is named Claude Vivier and perhaps he is our most famous composer, mostly known in France but also in Germany, England, and very well known in Canada. He unfortunately has passed away, so he did not live to see the concert hall. We will perform a piece of him first. Afterwards, a piece written by, perhaps the most important living Canadian composer, Gilles Tremblay who lives in Montreal. And then, the third piece will also be by a Quebec composer but someone who is very young, his name is Bilodeau, and Mr. Bilodeau is a kind of the symbolic of the next generation of Canadian composition.

In between these pieces, we have asked Quebec and Canadian poets to write small poems, small texts to give a reflection of the meaning of the text that Schiller wrote for the end of Beethoven nine, that “all men are brothers”; but to write these poems in a way that it uses 21st century language and 21st century feelings. So these three Canadian Quebec pieces, the three poems, then will be intermission and then, after intermission, then comes Beethoven nine. And our hope, our idea was that when the public hears the Schiller text at the end, “all men are brothers”, we should leave them democracy, and we should be free and we should be equal. That will also be a very inspiring experience because the same theme was at the beginning of the concert as well. Olivier Messiaen is there because in Quebec we mainly speak French, and of course Messiaen is one of the greatest French composers of the 20th century. And so in a kind of homage to the relationship with France, we are playing Messiaen’s music, but it features two soloists who are from Canada, particularly famous Angela Hewitt from Ontario and around Jean Laurendeau from Montreal. They’ll be the two solos in Turangalîla, and then Joshua Bell, the great New York violinist, will come and also play on that scene performance. Then the final program, because we do three programs for the opening of the hall, first opening, is a concert for families. I really wanted to let the orchestra show but the concert hall, yes, we built it for those of us who are enjoying music today but especially, we built the concert hall for tomorrow’s public, so for the children we built the hall. So the festival will close with a concert especially for the children and their parents. Peter and the Wolf the great Prokofiev classic work, and Carnival des animaux, and La boîte à joujoux by Claude Debussy, and then the Borodin String Quartet will then close the opening festival with a concert of chamber music, because we’ve never had a concert hall we’ve also never had a proper venue for chamber music, so it will be a very important and exciting experience for all of us in Quebec, I think. Again, I think for most European countries including Spain, you have many great concert halls, I’ve played in many of the great concert halls, but for us is an important and a very dynamic new beginning.

MI: After California, Lyon and Berlin, which is your musical experience in Canada?
KN: I can’t really speak for all of Canada, because even though I lived for a short time in Toronto, which is the English part of Canada, almost one hundred per cent, I would say one hundred per cent of my music making experience is in Quebec and specifically in Montreal. Quebec is to me one of the most special places in the World. It’s true I come from California, I’ve worked in France, in England, and now and Germany, but in Quebec is where I really feel like a bird, I really breathe free and feel very close like it’s a kind of spiritual home. It is unusual to come from San Francisco but you feel at home in Montreal. And I think it’s because in Quebec you feel North America, the new world, but also you feel very strongly Europe. For me, as a classical musician, almost all of our great musical tradition comes from Europe: Germany, Italy, Spain, France, Holland, England, Poland and Russia. I mean these are all great European centres. Far away, in California is so far away from Europe that is hard to feel that you are close; nobody speaks any languages in California, we just speak “Californian”, we don’t even speak English in California, we have our own kind of dialect there. But being in Quebec you feel European aesthetics, you also feel European sensibilities. It makes for a very special relationship combining music and European community but at the same time being in North America, so it is a wonderful place to be. Also, I must say it’s one of the most beautiful places in North America. Mountains like the Alps, forests like Scandinavian, rivers like the Rhine, beautiful churches and architectures with French and Italian and Spanish influence; and walking in the streets of Montreal you can go from street to street and you are French, Italian, German, Spanish… It’s a very cosmopolitan area, I would say, the most cosmopolitan area in North America, and to me it feels like home.

MI: What do you suggest in order to spread the contemporary music and be performed more frequently?
 KN: Well, of course this is being a subject since the time of Johann Sebastian Bach. Always people are questioning contemporary music. In my own experience I found that people follow, they follow you into new music if somehow you are able to convince them that you will give them only the highest quality. Unfortunately, most contemporary music is not very good quality. This is normal. At the time of Beethoven, we remember Beethoven but we’ve forgotten ninety nine per cent of the other composers. Of course we remember Johannes Brahms very well, but we’ve forgotten ninety nine per cent of the other composers. It’s always being the same. Only very few exceptional artists will write music that is so special that it stays above time. It’s been my experience that if I try very hard, only give the audiences and the public, because the public is very smart, they are very sensitive, just the best quality that is possible, maybe they like it maybe they don’t like it, but they will be able to feel something if the quality is superior, and they want to listen to more. This is above the only advice I can give us: try to give only the very best to the public, because the public they know the difference.

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