Vladimir Jurowski @by Drew Kelley

Russian-born Vladimir Jurowski is one of today’s most sought-after and dynamic conductors, who also acts as the Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor of the celebrated London Philharmonic Orchestra. As the LPO website informs, a wide selection of Vladimir Jurowski’s live recordings with the Orchestra  was released on its LPO Label, including Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3 and Symphonic Dances; Tchaikovsky’s Symphonies 14, 56 and Manfred; and works by StravinskyZemlinskyBrittenShostakovichHonegger and Haydn.

In September 2017 Vladimir Jurowski becomes Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra. He also holds the titles of Principal Artist of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Artistic Director of the Russian State Academic Symphony Orchestra. He has previously held the positions of First Kapellmeister of the Komische Oper, Berlin (1997–2001); Principal Guest Conductor of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna (2000–03); Principal Guest Conductor of the Russian National Orchestra (2005–09); and Music Director of Glyndebourne Festival Opera (2001–13).

By all means, he is a treasured example of successful British-Russian cultural and musical collaboration, acclaimed and celebrated worldwide. This year Vladimir Jurowski celebrates a decade of his musical relaionship, or as he himself puts it, “marriage”,  with LPO. Our correspondent met the Maestro and asked him to sum up the 10 exciting years of making music with his London orchestra. 

Maestro, congratulations on your 10th year anniversary with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. This year’s Summer Gala event celebrated this wonderful milestone of yours. How do you feel about this?

It has been an immense privilege to have worked with the musicians of the London Philharmonic Orchestra for so many years. The Gala was a wonderful opportunity for me to revisit moments of my own musical history which hold a special place in my heart, and to do so alongside so many musicians who are themselves longstanding and very dear friends. It was an evening of celebration and of thanks also to the close network of people who have supported us and continue to do so.

What led you from guest conductor to Principal Guest Conductor?

I guess the LPO saw a strong potential in our relationship when they asked me, in 2003, to become their Principal Guest Conductor. And they were right: it developed into something much bigger, and in less than three years the Orchestra requested me to become their Principal Conductor,  following the retirement of Maestro Kurt Masur. It was an honour to be joining the whole canon of great conductors. I suppose that from the very first concerts we performed together there was this very special ‘chemistry’ between the Orchestra and myself – it simply worked!

What defines your conducting style and technique?

My main goal in music-making is always  to try and fulfil a composer’s original idea and play the work as the composer would have intended it being played. So the score is my “all and everything” — the Law, foundation of all my ideas and eternal source of inspiration. Thus, the interpretation is always based upon my personal understanding of the score, which in itself is the testament of composer’s will. Finding my own way to music, going deep down into it, is a hard intellectual, emotional and spiritual work. Nevertheless,  the main focus is the music itself — not what we think of it. It is like being a midwife to a piece of music! One has to unlock it, help it to be born (every time anew). The way one achieves this with an orchestra is at the heart of what any music-making is all about. Still, as in every job, there is also the artisan side to what we do that is just as important. For instance, I do not  believe in grand, balletic gestures which impress the audience. These gestures often have no effect on the musicians in the orchestra, while it is always the orchestra who should be the actual goal of our conducting efforts: we, conductors,  have to make the orchestra our powerful ally,  so that it could project our musical thoughts and give them sound and body. A lot of it is achieved through hard and detailed work during rehearsals — this is about 85% of what we do. The remaining 15% is done in the concert. This may appear small in comparison but without this magical 15% our preliminary work remains fruitless… So, apart from being a good “coach”, a conductor should also have the real ability to rise to the occasion and lead the group of musicians through a concert or an opera performance, be their support and inspiration onstage, as well as behind the scene.

What is your relationship with the orchestra? How has it evolved throughout these 10 years?

The Orchestra’s passion and enthusiasm for music is really infectious and is something with which I immediately connected when I first worked with the ensemble. Together we have forged a unique, common understanding of music. It is friendship, partnership, complicity — all these things at once! The fact that the LPO is Resident Symphony Orchestra at Glyndebourne, where I worked as Music Director for 13 years, gives us a unique opportunity to collaborate in the opera and concert repertoire in equal measure. Performing Tristan und Isolde together at Glyndebourne in 2009 really changed our relationship. It was a real exploration, a discovery for all of us. It made our marriage, already good, even stronger. The same can be said about such monumental pieces as Mahler’s Eighth Symphony or Britten’s War Requiem — these performances have become the landmarks of my relationship with the orchestra.

What highlights would you like to share with us?

Creative and daring programming is at the heart of what we do as an orchestra. Introducing audiences to new ways of thinking about pieces, of creating unexpected juxtapositions, is not only exciting, it is, in a sense, our duty. We want to take audiences on that adventure with us as we explore. Together with the Southbank Centre we have curated festival such as The Rest is Noise in 2013, and the response of the audience was phenomenal. We have also explored the legacy of such great composers as Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Britten and Schnittke, dedicating a year-long festival to each of them. And in 2018 we are going to dedicate a festival to the works of Igor Stravinsky.

New works, are equally integral to our ambition as an orchestra. I like the idea that someone has taken the liberty to create sounds that have not been heard before and in doing so has opened up a new universe through his or her imagination. Music is only capable of survival as an artform if we keep reinventing it. It is that important. Over the years we have collaborated with many great composers of our time: Marc-Anthony Turnage, Julian Anderson, Magnus Lindberg, Peter Eötvös, just to name a few…Working with Brett Dean on Hamlet this Glyndebourne season has been astonishing, challenging and exhilarating. Looking back at our more ‘conservative‘ programmes we should not forget such monumental experiences as performances of Liszt`s Faust-Symphony at the BBC Proms, Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony at the Proms and at Carnegie Hall in New York. The trip to Moscow or Vienna with Britten’s War Requiem… Putting on Mahler’s monumental Symphony of Thousand (Symphony No.8) at Southbank Centre will remain an unforgettable experience .

The LPO family also includes the London Philharmonic Choir. What is your relationship with them?

The English choral tradition is one of the most incredible aspects of music making in this country. The UK’s amateur choruses are of the very highest quality and that is why we have been able to make such extraordinary music together with our ‘house choir’, the London Philharmonic Choir and its Director, Neville Creed. I really believe it is the finest large amateur choir in London and together we have worked on classics of the repertoire like Mahler’s Symphonies No 2 and No 8, The Requiems by Verdi and Brahms, and Beethoven’s Ninth. But it is some of the other projects that have really shown off their versatility and ability to turn their talents to the new and unfamiliar – Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera, Taneyev’s St John of Damascus or Janacek`s Eternal Gospel Cantata. In the new season we will work together on something totally different – Bach’s Christmas Oratorio – it couldn’t be a more different sound world but I know the choir, and the Orchestra, will take it in their stride.