12Tone MagazineFor the August edition of 12Tone Magazine, Simon Casali-Krzentowski was interviewed by Thérèse Goudsmid, introducing the Hafnia Chamber Orchestra and commenting on the life of a young conductor.

        How did your musical education start?
I had my first violin lessons when I was eight. Until I started studying composition and, later on, conducting, I always practised the violin in the morning, before going to school. When coming home in the afternoon I had all the time in the world to run around, play outside and practise all my other hobbies. When I was approximately thirteen I took piano lessons too, but until I went to the conservatoire to study composition, I never intended to be a professional musician.

        Why did you decide to concentrate on conducting rather than composing?
I started my conducting studies in my third year as a composition student. At the time it was purely an interest to broaden my horizon as a musician. From the start I took it very seriously, but until the end of that first year it was to me nothing more than a way to improve myself as a composer. After that everything changed very quickly. I was invited to participate in a master class in Lithuania and started to conduct more and more projects at school. It is a great motivation to conduct your fellow students, with whom you normally eat and have fun with in the cafeteria.

        What do you find the most interesting or inspiring aspect of the conducting profession?
The most interesting aspect of conducting is no doubt the vastness of the profession. There are so many stages a conductor goes through. It all starts with the score that is lying in front of you. Thousands of notes that have to be learned and interpreted are waiting to be mastered. What follows is a battle to try to understand what the composer has intended. Sometimes the music in front of you can give you most answers, but it starts being fascinating if you know that that won't be enough. What about the era when the music was written? What about the composer? History is so incredibly important for us musicians, simply because we work with a notation system that is not accurate enough. How important are traditions? There are many rules which have not been written down. Sometimes because they are so obvious that there is no need to, sometimes because of bad taste. The most inspiring aspect of conducting is the fact that there is an incredible repertoire with divine music. There are so many great pieces to be discovered and learned...

"If people are not helped to learn classical music, it will become to them something like listening to a poem in a language they do not understand"

        What do you find the most difficult part of conducting an orchestra?
Since conducting involves so many aspects, it is important for a young conductor to know which of them are the most essential ones. Experience will give us various automatisms, but before we get there, there is a long way to go. During rehearsals it is of evident importance that we keep listening the whole time. We have to reduce our physical gestures, without them loosing their meaning and accuracy, to a minimum, to give our ears and mind every possibility to register the progress of music making by the orchestra. Here we have to make it clear to the orchestra what will happen in a concert. Once the performance starts, it's a completely different story.

        Who do you consider as great inspirers for your career?
It is always great to see musicians with clear and musical ideas. It doesn't have to be my taste to be interesting to listen to. That's why someone like Leonard Bernstein inspires me a lot. To him, everything was connected to music. The energy that he was able to create and the passion with which he conducted were something unique. It is therefore important to realize that as much as you are drawn to someone, it can never go further then pure inspiration. You have to go your own way, you have to find your own questions and your own answers. Of course others can help you, it's important to see what happens around us, but the solutions have to be our own.

        Do you have a favourite composer/conductor?
To choose a favourite composer is difficult, but I would have to say Beethoven. The way he constructs his symphonies from a simple building block, which can be a scale or a rhythmical interval, to a piece where everything is connected... There is always something restless in his music. Even in the soft and quite passages you feel how he wants everything to explode later on. I remember very clearly the first time I noticed how many crescendi and how little diminuendi he writes. It's like once he reached a violent or dramatic highpoint he didn't have the patience anymore to let it calm down in a soothing and polite way. I like conductors who draw immediate attention with their hands or their eyes. Someone like Daniel Barenboim is fantastic to watch. Everything is drawn to his eyes, simply a fantastic musician...

        How do you see the future of classical music?
I strongly believe this is the most important question we musicians have to ask ourselves. Music making has always been about the relationship between the composer, the performer and his audience and because of that I foresee a difficult time. Classical music has always been something which people have associated with the upper-class, but this perception is not the biggest threat to our profession. We live in a time were it is no longer usual to educate children with classical music, which is much more alarming. To understand music we have to understand the basics of the language, which is formed by themes, relationships between themes, harmonies, rhythmical structures, etc. If people are not helped to learn this language, classical music will become to them something like listening to a poem in a language we do not understand. We can follow the intonation, we can enjoy the way the strange sounds are being pronounced, but we will miss the essential message. Then we will listen to it like looking at a Renaissance painting without understanding all the hidden symbols left there by the painter. We can change this attitude, but it will take a lot of time. The problem is, that the children of today are the audience of tomorrow and therefore it will be very difficult to get an audience for the next decades. We just have to look at all the incredible pieces that wait to be performed, in order not to loose our confidence.

        Bernstein once said: "Technique is communication: the two words are synonymous in conductors."
        How important do you consider technique?
Technique can be divided into two categories. In the firsts one, technique has simply been developed to save time during rehearsals. If one would have to stop the orchestra every time something has to be made clear, there would be no end to it. In that way it is just a tool to communicate - and therefore very important. A conductor who cannot express his ideas, is like a pianist who cannot hit the right keys on the instrument in front of him. The other aspect about technique is the ability to show something which could have never been described with words. This is something far more fundamental than the first one, and I think that's what Bernstein meant. Then it doesn't matter if you use an eyebrow to express your idea about a passage or your whole body. This can only come with a great deal of experience and conviction. Everything that surrounds music will teach us that.

        How do you see the future of Hafnia Chamber Orchestra?
When I ask myself the question about the future of classical music, it gives me so much pleasure to see that there are constantly new ensembles being formed which enrich classical music everywhere. It's the clearest sign that music is very much alive and that it has enough grounds to stand on. I hope however that the function of the Hafnia Chamber Orchestra goes further than that. The first performances are always interesting to observe, because we get the opportunity to form a completely new ensemble, which has no history and traditions. These things will have to grow slowly and develop within the next years, but based on the first concerts I am confident to say that the potential of the orchestra is much more than I ever thought it would be.

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