For two decades now the L’Orfeo Barockorchester ranges among the most prominent players on the Early Music stage. According to the Neue Zürcher Zeitung the international ensemble. directed by its founder Michi Gaigg, boasts uniqueness with sets it apart from any globalized uniformity. This quality is based on widely diverse musical synergies. A spirited approach, a sense of continuity, healthy dynamics in the ensemble and an inquisitive nature are the ingredients for Michi Gaigg’s recipe. Against this background she creates her own colorful, sensual, temperamental and unmistakable handwriting. The internationally acclaimed Austrian ensemble is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2016.
Carme Miró: We’d like to know about the beginning of L’Orfeo Barockorchester. Could you tell us more about the orchestra, how did you decide to work together?
Michi Gaigg: I set up my first orchestra, called L’Arpa Festante, in 1983 in Munich, Germany, and I have been its leader for 12 years. When my daughter became six years old I decided to go home to my parents place because she was about to start school and she really needed a steady place. So in 1994 I moved back to Austria with her and at the same time I also got a job at Anton Bruckner Private University in Linz. I had a really good violin class with about ten students and they were all pretty good. There I met my colleague Carin van Heerden, she was an especially good recorder and oboe player, as I cannot live without an orchestra, I started a second one – L’Orfeo Barockorchester in 1996 together with Carin.
It was a very special time because in 1996, it was hard to find a good baroque cellist in Austria. The orchestra could get bigger and bigger and of course we looked for people in other countries. So now we have musicians from Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany and the Czech Republic but of course, most people are from Austria. It is really a cultural mixture. And we enjoy that a lot because every nation has some special things and we learn from each other and that is very nice even after 20 years.
We were really lucky. We would have never kept alive in Austria because there are no substitutions but I still had all the L’Arpa Festante contacts in Germany, so we could immediately start with a label and good connections, otherwise L’Orfeo would not be alive. Since Austria is a small country and I think people prefer people from other countries, from abroad, it is still very hard for us here.
CM: Really? Because it seems like a very cultural centre.
MG: Indeed it is. Unfortunately not so much for the local musicians. For us it is very hard, we do not play at big festivals for old music in Austria. We are never invited.
CM: We know that you have started with Nikolaus Harnoncourt. How has this great Austrian conductor influenced on you and your career?
MG: I got a CD maybe when I was 16-17 and I just wanted to order the orchestra suites by Bach. I ordered one, I opened it and listened…I had never heard anything like that before, so I looked at the CD cover. It was very hard to pronounce his name or the names of the old instruments at first and I became very curious and asked all the people around me whether they knew anything about him. At that time, I was studying at the Salzburg Mozarteum and by chance, I learned that he was teaching there. I was very lucky to have the chance to experience his training at that school.
At that time, it was very hard because he played cello and he had only about five or six pupils and it was fantastic. He gave everything to them – instruments, music, everything. I was so fortunate to spend this time with him, and given the fact that we were not too many students, which was really wonderful. And his stories… it was always a pleasure to listen to them, to all the lessons and of course there was a lot of practice too. He played a lot with his students, he did not just talk to us, he really played. He taught us not only how to play our instruments but also to learn our pieces and have a good style. It was extremely interesting.
CM: As a conductor how do you approach classical music taking into account the way how this was performed historically?
MG: When I studied modern violin I used to play a lot of classical masterpieces such us Mozart or Haydn. When I took up baroque violin I did not play Mozart or other classical artists for at least ten years because there were a lot of things to learn so I never played music before 1600 – before Monteverdi and I had to learn it. I never did medieval music, but I started with music from the 1600s and then there were so many things to do: to learn how to play like a singer, how to speak on the instrument and a lot of good bow technique. It was fantastic after this experience coming back to pre-classical and classical music. It was one of my most fascinating experiences – after ten years to come back to this music, which I have known since I was young. I never thought it could be that exciting but it was actually a completely different story.
CM: How important is the Italian school?
MG: I think the Italian ensembles like Giovanni Antonini, Rinaldo Alessandrini and so on… are really a great examples of the Italian school. They are doing it great but it is not my big thing. Of course, I love Vivaldi but I think I am not doing that good with Italian composers. It is completely another world and I love it, I love to listen to them but it is not the high point of L’Orfeo Barockorchester. We are more into French music and of course pre classical and classical Mannheim school and German music. In my opinion, I was very curious about classical music because there is a connection between the French and the Italian traditions. But what makes me sad sometimes, is that people often claim that everything comes from the Italian traditions, but I have to disagree. If you really want good classical music you have to know the French musical traditions. Many great things come from French traditions, not the Italian ones. I think that in general Italian music is very hierarchical.
CM: What are the biggest challenges for female conductors?
MG: When I was younger I just did everything but then, in the middle of 40s, I could feel that everything was getting harder and harder – you need a lot to focus on and awareness to lead, to conduct, to do a recording. You have to do everything and also take care of your own things. Maybe, it is good with baroque orchestras but for pre classical music I just decided to conduct because it was too hard. I never thought about whether it was a male or female thing, I had to do it. Actually, I have been doing this for many years, although nowadays I am conducting more than playing and we are always making more and more big projects with big orchestras. If we are 14-15 people it really works.
I never had any difficulties when becoming a conductor; I do not think that it is a very big issue in Austria even though it is still a very male dominated world, with not many women in high positions. I think in Germany it is better because people there are more open- minded towards the idea. Generally people in northern countries think it is fantastic, in contrast to the southern countries where it is still quite difficult.
As a whole in the modern world, for a female conductor to be accepted is still rather hard, but fortunately things are changing.
CM: How important is your project in your personal and professional life? You have many projects – how do you manage them all?
MG: Firstly, I feel very privileged because my job is my hobby, or my hobby is my job and it is a very big thing in my life. Of course, there are many things I have to do, which are not all connected to music, like the whole organization of the orchestra, booking concerts, finding projects, etc.. I’m always involved and fortunately I do not work alone. Perhaps, at times, the work is not so enjoyable, I also have to find rehearsal place for each project because even after 20 years we still do not have our own rehearsing place. But what is really important is that we are like a big family with very deep and strong relationship among us, everybody helps each other, brings something to the orchestra and it works, otherwise we could not survive.
CM: We know that your repertoire is mainly baroque music. What are the priorities when you choose a project, how do you create it and how long does it take?
MG: Last year our aim was to do something with singers. It is just the most wonderful thing to work with human voices. And in our team, we have the brilliant dramatist Christian Moritz-Bauer. He does not play in the orchestra, but he is a very vital person in the organization. I develop the ideas with him and now we can extend our projects more and more by ourselves and we can recommend them to be labeled. And sometimes it works, sometimes it does not. But when an idea is born, we make everything possible for it to come true. And usually it takes us between 1 and 2 years for the whole initiative to be accomplished.
CM: How many people are involved in the programming of the project?
MG: Christian Moritz-Bauer and me more or less. Of course, sometimes we get people from abroad asking to work with us on different projects. And the festivals, these days, they just tell you what to do, so you have to perform what you are asked to perform, instead of what you want and you have to adapt.
CM: Are you planning to record the opera La Finta Giardiniera by Mozart? It is a completely different version from the René Jacobs version and we were honored to hear and witness your performance at the DonauFestwochen.
MG: Of course, we have planned it. We wanted in the first phase of this project to play it and then, to record it but there were many difficulties.
There are a lot of arias that we are not doing and because it has changed too much, it is not really interesting for the ICT label. You either have to do all the arias or the original German version. So it became more and more expensive. We have this live recordings of maybe five live concerts but afterwards we had to put all the missing parts to fit it, the bits that we did not do at the concerts and that it’s not really honestly done.
And because there is no version in German, we really wanted to record it.
CM: What would you say to the next generation of (female) musicians who want to become conductors?
MG: What I admire in the new generation is that the technical standard has increased incredibly during the last ten years and that is fantastic. I think it is very important that they don’t lose patience. The whole palette of emotions. As we are in danger of losing the deep relationship to ourselves with all these new technical stuff, I sometimes wonder whether we are going to miss something or it is simply some kind of a necessary change. But we have to work hard, to learn to play with our whole body, with all our senses.
A lot of things are not necessary anymore, so young people should make more effort in doing and learning them. For me, the big threaten is to lose this huge palette of emotions and expressions.
CM: It is known that in The University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, the conducting classes are recorded. What do you think about that?
MG: I think it is important, especially for some students and being able to look at your movements could be very helpful indeed.
But I think the most important relationship to the orchestra is the way of rehearsing, being able to keep their concentration and that is what you have to do as a conductor, as a leader.
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