In this brief interview, the conductor Gilbert
Kaplan talks to Marc Bridle about his forthcoming performance of Mahlerís
Resurrection Symphony with the Philharmonia Orchestra and his new recording
of the work with the Wiener Philharmoniker.
would you describe your relationship to Mahlerís Second Symphony?
GC: Well, I have thought about this a lot and
the only way to describe it is as the equivalent of a love affair. I
first encountered this music when I was 25 and it kind of wrapped its
arms around me and never let go. Itís a love affair my wife tolerates.
has your view of the symphony changed over the years?
GC: One of the big issues with this symphony is
its title which is called Resurrection. I have never myself embraced
the notion of life after death and therefore the programmatic aspects
of this work have evolved over the years. A great awakening came when
I conducted the first performance of the symphony in China, which they
had never heard before, and I discovered that the Chinese word for resurrection
is in fact equivalent to self-renewal. So for those that canít embrace
the notion of life after death, as I canít, the symphony can still have
great meaning beyond the musical meaning of self renewal, rebirth during
your own lifetime, and recommitment to everything that is important.
And I find that that affects the way that I conduct the end of the symphony
- this big glorious chorus which can be taken very seriously, though
I think very exhilaratingly, and thatís affected by my view of the work
as a whole.
you find orchestras have pre-conceived ideas as to how they think the
symphony should be played and how do you persuade them to accept your
own views of the work?
GC: Orchestras are of course captive of the conductor,
so when I come to an orchestra I am likely to want to hear a first rehearsal
to hear how they played it the last time. Now, Mahler is such a brilliant
orchestrator, and so interested in detail, that he never really trusted
conductors. He writes in so much of the score what you should do, even
writes what you should not do, he writes Ďdonít slow down hereí Ė how
did he know you were going to slow down there? Ė but ultimately you
have to convince the orchestra, not only by your authority, but also
by your musical ideas, and mine are very personal. I am probably credited
with coming as close as possible to following these thousands of directions
that Mahler has put in the score but Mahler said that in every performance
a work must be reborn and you must bring your own light and your own
experience to that. Itís a highly personal thing for me and I think
that orchestras feel that and they come with me. Iíve never yet had
an experience with an orchestra not embracing my view of the piece.
in your view, are the significant differences between the new performing
version and existing versions of the score?
GC: These are late changes that Mahler made, and
there are hundreds of them, but why they didnít get in the score I donít
know. For some people the differences will not be audible, but these
are a matter of life and death to Mahler - you are not going to hear
the trumpet play something that the bassoon used to play. But every
time Mahler conducted it he would go back to a master score and enter
corrections and find new colours. Mahler, more than any composer, in
my view at least, was capable of expressing feelings in music Ė it is
the reason people cry at concerts, not because they are sad Ė and Mahler
gets under your skin and touches those moments in your life which brings
you back into contact with them. This happens because of those details
in the score and those changes he made were just tweaking it one more
notch. Iím sure youíve had the same feeling with your own writing Ė
just as everyone must have in journalism Ė in trying to find the right
adjective when another one would have worked. The reader may not know
the difference but the writer does.
writers believe that the Wiener Philharmoniker has an ambivalent approach
towards Mahler. Do you accept this?
GC: Well, Iíve heard this view expressed also
and it is true to say that during Mahlerís time the orchestra was certainly
less attentive towards his music than they ought to have been. But at
the press conference announcing my new recording with the Vienna Philharmonic
the head of the orchestra stood up and said they loved the experience
of working on the new score for many reasons, one of which was that
they had a bad conscience about not having a played a single premiere
of Mahlerís music when he was in Vienna. And so he said, ĎToday we have
finally played a premiereí, because this recording of Mahlerís Second
is probably the first time we are hearing the score the way Mahler really
wrote it with all the changes put in. I also think that view exists
because Mahler was much less played in Vienna, but not nearly as much
as some critics say. If you look at the facts they have played Mahler
quite a bit and, they are Viennese, and have that wonderful style of
the sliding strings and seem uniquely able to get the music to dance
so beautifully. I donít think I have ever conducted an orchestra that
was more in tune with whatís in the score. They needed less direction
because they just instinctively played it. So whether they like it or
not, in the old days I donít know, but today they just love it.
did you learn from conducting this work with the Wiener Philharmoniker?
GC: Well, I learnt how much an orchestra can do
without a conductor. There are certain things which if you let an individual
musician play naturally, and if you donít get in their way, magical
things happen. There are plenty of moments when Iíd like to believe
that without a conductor chaos will happen and there wouldnít even be
a clear point of view. In the second movement, for example, where thereís
just the dancing Ė an Austrian Ländler Ė and you donít need to
do much. You just set the tempo and let them play the music as they
know best. In the dramatic moments, the marches, the power, the contradiction
of feelings, thatís very much set by the conductor, and particularly
when it gets very personal. You do bring your own life to this, but
for some things this orchestra doesnít need any conducting.
concert performance with the Philharmonia is not of the new edition.
Why is this?
GC: Mainly because the new edition is not yet
published. The recording with the Vienna Philharmonic was made by entering
about 500 corrections into their parts, and itís the feeling of the
publisher of the new score Ė which is the Universal Edition, Mahlerís
traditional publisher, and my foundation as co-publisher Ė that the
first live performance would be with the printed parts. I have changed
in the parts of the Philharmonia all of the very significant changes,
correcting all the wrong notes, for example, moving the notes which
were written for one instrument to another. But some of the fine points
are things that I do any how, that come instinctively to me, mainly
from knowing the music, so while it will not be officially the first
performance of the new edition it will have the essentials of that new
RFH has a notorious acoustic for big works like Mahlerís Second. What
will you be doing to ensure that the clarity of the choral writing particularly
emerges as it should?
GC: Iíve conducted in the Festival Hall before
Ė twice Ė so I know this hall and I know the problems you are referring
to. Youíll really have to come and observe how I deal with it because
it is difficult to describe in non-technical ways as to what one does
to overcome a certain lack of reverberance. But I must say that the
RFHís acoustics are not really as troublesome as people make them out
to be. It seems fashionable to say that the acoustics for the Festival
Hall are appalling Ė and perhaps for some works they are Ė but I can
say - and I should disclose my interest in this because I am a member
of the board of governors of the South Bank Centre Ė that of course
it wonít sound like a performance from the Musikverein or Carnegie Hall
Ė at least not yet. We are planning on restoring the acoustics to a
very high level over the next few years Ė but as for now, a work like
Mahlerís Second will survive the hall very nicely because it does fill
the sound. Weíll have a vast chorus there on Tuesday night Ė over 240
voices Ė a great orchestra, with whom Iíve played the work five times,
so there should be no excuses at all.
there any conductors, recordings or concert performances of the work
that stand out in your mind as having been extraordinarily insightful
GC: Well, of course, the first one I heard was
of Leopold Stokowski and the American Symphony at Carnegie Hall, which
points out another interesting phenomenon. I heard a tape of that performance
some years ago and I was not as impressed with it as I was when I heard
it live. And that goes to show that we speak so much about performance
and not enough about music. You can imagine someone hearing a first
performance of Beethovenís Ninth Symphony Ė not played especially well
Ė and theyíd be overwhelmed by the music because they wouldnít be able
to compare it to one thing or another. Having said that Ė Iíd prefer
not to comment on individual conductors because most of them are my
friends these days, even the dead ones Ė but I do think that Britain
had a wonderful succession of great Mahler conductors. Iíll mention
only two Ė Klaus Tennstedt was one of the foremost and I learned a lot
from watching him and Jascha Horenstein, perhaps not that well known
because he never had his own orchestra. But his recordings Ė and especially
that of Mahlerís Third, which I think is the foremost recording of the
work Ė if that doesnít put me in trouble with some of my other conductor
friends Ė are simply outstanding. I learnt a lot from Leonard Bernstein
who pointed out to me that the real hero of this music is Mahler and
not the conductor and that if you really look into the score youíll
find these magical things that no conductor could ever really improve
upon and yet there are so many conductors who donít have enough time
to study the score so they miss some of these things. You canít get
a good performance by simply following the technical side of the score,
but you canít get a great one if you donít.
future plans do you have for Mahlerís Second?
GC: I try not to conduct more than three or four
times a year. I always want it to be fresh, with a different orchestra
and a different chorus so my next concerts will be in Washington DC
with the National Symphony Orchestra in the Spring and, then, later
that Spring in Moscow. Iíve conducted about five times in Russia, a
few times in Moscow, but itís always exciting and I try to learn the
language before I go so I can actually communicate with the musicians.
And my Russian has become pretty good. I havenít done one with the Berlin
Philharmonic yet and I suppose Iím unlikely to for the time being as
Simon Rattle is the conductor there and does this piece extremely well,
and likes to conduct it. Iíd be surprised if heíd let a guest do it.
Gilbert Kaplan conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra
on 4th November at the Royal Festival Hall. His new recording
of the world premiere recording of the new edition with the Wiener Philharmoniker
is released in the UK on 4th November on Deutsche Grammophon.
Pictures: © Tanja Niemann/DG & Adrian