For 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
How did your musical
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
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
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
"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
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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