[Scene Magazine] More than Mostly Mozart
This weekend's Santa Barbara Symphony program is an all-Mozart affair, led by noted Swiss guest conductor Matthias Bamert
By Josef Woodard, News-Press Correspondent
A prospect of hearing a concert in the all-Mozart category, and not just "mostly Mozart," is good news to lovers and believers of the might of Amadeus, and potentially convert-winning to others who have yet to see the light. That's the agenda at The Granada Theatre this weekend, when the Santa Barbara Symphony continues its season by turning over the podium to guest conductor Matthias Bamert, and a strictly Mozartean menu.
Mr. Bamert, a Swiss-born musician who lived and worked in London for many years, is well equipped for the task at hand, having served as music director for the London Mozart Players, among many other positions over the decades. He was head of the prestigious Lucerne Festival in Switzerland for several years in the '90s, and in London, his adopted hometown, had occasion to lead a few of the few ensembles in that orchestra-rich city, including the London Philharmonic, The Philharmonia and the BBC Symphony.
We checked in with the maestro earlier this week to fill us in on what's going on in the world of Mozart, the world of Matthias Bamert, and symphonic matters more generally.
News-Press: Will this be your first time performing in Santa Barbara?
Matthias Bamert: This is the first time that I conduct in Santa Barbara. However, I have conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra earlier.
NP: We will be hearing an all-Mozart concert here, from "Eine kleine Nachtmusik" to lesser-heard works. Can you tell me something about the particular program here, and how the pieces interconnect, or if there is another theme involved?
MB: The first composition is the Serenade K 361 for 13 wind instruments. It is a very big piece with seven movements and much longer than the Symphonies. It became famous because the third movement was used in the film, "Amadeus" by Milos Forman.
After this wind music, we will play "Eine kleine Nachtmusik," which is for string instruments only and certainly one of the most popular compositions by Mozart. In the last work on the program, we put the winds and the strings and perform the Symphony No. 25, also known as the "Little G Minor."
NP: Mozart is a specialty of yours, among other things. You led the London Mozart Players. Was he a favorite composer of yours from an early age, and is it a lifelong learning process dealing with his music?
MB: I don't think of myself as a specialist. Mozart is one of my favorite composers, and the older I get, the more I am attracted to his music.
NP: You have also been a longtime champion of contemporary music, and studied with Stockhausen and Boulez at Darmstadt. Do you feel that's a separate channel of your musical and conducting life, or does it live alongside and interconnected with the world of, say, Mozart?
MB: If we believe that music is a live art, as opposed to a dead one, then we have to perform contemporary music. Don't forget that Mozart too was one time a contemporary composer.
NP: You were music director of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra for several years. What was your impression of that experience in retrospect?
MB: The Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra is an international orchestra with only a handful of Malaysian musicians. Malaysia is a Muslim country and we were not allowed to play any music with a Christian connection.
NP: Are you enjoying the life of a guest conductor, and the freedom attached to that, vs. being locked in as a music director? Or would you ideally have a foot in both worlds?
MB: At this point in my life, I very much like to be a guest conductor. I can make music without heavy responsibilities of administration and fundraising.
NP: You are also a composer. Is that a pressing, creative concern for you, and something you would like to pursue more actively, if conducting didn't take up as much time as it does?
MB: I have earlier in my life composed, but now I am not a composer anymore. Like most composers who start conducting professionally, composing becomes very hard if not impossible.
NP: I wanted to ask about your experience heading up the Lucerne Festival, which I have been to once and found to be a very special event on the musical map. I was so impressed with the broad programming aesthetic, including contemporary works and artists, the commitment to music and that amazing hall and host city ñ and country ñ itself. Was that experience one you particularly appreciated, among your musical projects over the years?
MB: To head the Lucerne Festival was certainly one of the most interesting, stimulating and taxing positions I have held. Under my reign, the concert hall was built and inaugurated, and I started a separate Easter Festival and a Piano Festival in November.
NP: You lived in London for a very long time, a city with a handful of very fine orchestras. But looking more generally at the state of the orchestra in the world, are you encouraged, discouraged ... or both? Are things looking better than the doomsday prophets have suggested, despite logistical and economic woes?
MB: I have lived in London for 21 years and enjoyed its rich cultural life greatly. But now I have returned to my native Switzerland and live in the southern, Italian-speaking part.
It is heartbreaking to see symphony orchestras in the U.S. struggling and even folding. Especially when I see how in Asia more and more symphony orchestras are being created. What are we doing to our Western culture?
NP: What projects are coming up for you that you're especially looking forward to?
MB: I prefer not to elaborate on my future projects. A little bit of mystery is a good thing.