Imagine your job was to shape the musical programmes for the Philharmonie. City Savvy’s Lisa Burke has met the three people who do just that. This week, Gustavo Gimeno!
Gustavo Gimeno is the Musical Director of the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg; Francisco Sassetti, the Artistic Planner for Jazz and World Music. Lydia Rilling, meanwhile is Chief Dramaturg (contemporary music). This trio pave the path between artist and consumer at the Phiharmonie, and over the next three weeks you can read all about them.
Valencian-born Gustavo grew up surrounded by music. His father was a clarinetist and his older brother studied violin. As a boy he was “… very anxious, very active. I felt attracted to percussion in a quite natural way. This is what I wanted to do. Period.”
His role now, though, as musical director of the Philharmonic Orchestra covers all bases. Gustavo helps to both choose the music and perform it, though this can involve hard decisions:
There is so much wonderful music that I cannot say I love Stravinsky more than Mozart, Bruckner or Schumann, Beethoven or Tchaikovsky. They are all wonderful for different reasons. And they are all geniuses.
A Passion to Conduct
The path to this role has required that inner steel that musicians often need to succeed as well as a driving ambition. From 2001 to 2013 he was the principal percussionist with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (Amsterdam). But bubbling away underneath existed another passion.
I was always interested in conducting. It was part of my existence somehow but I was not conscious of it.
When the time felt right he went on to study orchestral conducting at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam, mentored by greats such as Bernard Haitink. And opportunity followed opportunity, leading Gustavo to this moment, in his second season as Musical Director of the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg, aged just 39. It is testement to his personality and talent: in the final interview stages for the role, the orchestra had a casting vote.
I was interested in how Gustavo manages to get the orchestra to work as one voice?
“I try to influence the atmosphere by the way I work and the way I think about music. At ten o’clock in the morning one person had a coffee, one came late… then I arrive. I try to be myself, do my job with passion and dedication, as well as I can. I always think that if I do this, I will influence some people and they will automatically influence others and in a few minutes, hopefully, the atmosphere is different and we start to behave as one entity.”
His colleague Lydia Rilling describes him beautifully: “For Gustavo, the way to express what you and I say with words, is with conducting. That’s the way he communicates. When you see him on stage he is not 100% present but 500%.”
“I play through a big section or one movement of a piece. They have the time to play, to experience, not only their piece by themsleves, but with their colleagues, with other sections and with the music; also my tempi and my ideas. [My brain] goes like a computer to find errors in a system. I’m listening, trying to register where are the problems? Why? How do I solve them? Which one first? Where could I relax? You listen, you retain, you analyze and you think, in order to make a strategy.”
In the rehearsal, I catch Gimeno scanning across the orchestral sections. Second violins – a certain type of bowing was required. The leader of the orchestra aids Gustavo by demonstrating ‘ricochet’ bowing. Turning to the violas: “I thought we agreed no diminuendo there”. The trombones were made to repeat a couple of bars until Gimeno could hear absolutely every single note. Gustavo is very precise in what he wants
Making his orchestra unique
With classical music, it’s rare that you’ll be the first with a score, unless it’s a long lost piece someone has unearthed. How does he make his orchestra sound unique?
“I don’t try to put a signature, consciously. It probably happens unconsciously. Some other recordings I listen to out of curiosity, but the source – the starting point – is the score. Somehow forgetting what has been done. Putting it aside. Really looking at the work and what has been written. How do you imagine it in your mind? And then you try to achieve this, with an idea of what this or that passage sounds like, and you search for it.”
Perhaps he has just flown in from somewhere, or perhaps he is tense from leaning over the podium in such a concentrated manner: Gustavo is constantly stretching his neck and back whilst we speak. “I commute between mainly Amsterdam and Luxembourg plus all the work I do outside of those two places, which is a lot: the States, Birmingham, London, Japan, Sydney etc.”
You have to be mentally and physically strong for this, I say, “… But music helps” comes the easy reply.
As for Luxembourg, Gustavo now has an apartment in the centre of the city so he feels more integrated. I wondered what he listened to himself, at home.
“What, listen to myself? I never listen to music [at home]. For obvious reasons – too many hours with this. Then you want quiet!”
The Coming Season
And what, in particular, is Gustavo looking forward to this coming season? Everything, because everything is worthy of being performed, and will be performed by the best.
“Everything that is planned is wonderful. All, without exception, great musicians pass by the Philharmonie sooner or later. It can be Chick Corea, a big orchestra like the Berliner Philharmoniker or it can be a great conductor or pianist. The programming is really outstanding. So I hope that people not only appreciate that but enjoy it.”
“You have the chance to listen to the best music played by the best performers. This is unique. Not every city can have that.”
To see Gustavo Gimeno and his orchestra this season, visit the Philharmonie’s website. There are some special packages available in the run up to Christmas for any Philharmonists.
Featured photo: Alfonso Salgueiro/published with permission