For some people different standards apply than for ordinary mortals and everything they touch turns into gold, and they don’t get caught up in it. Pablo Heras-Casado is such a homo universalis. The young Spaniard (Granada 1977) was voted the ‘2014 Conductor of the Year’ in December 2013 by the prestigious Musical America’s. Rightly so? Premature? Considered on potential growth?
Heras-Casado masters all genres of classical music: from baroque to modern and from chamber music to opera. He conducts the largest symphony orchestras of the world, but he is equally fond of the Freiburger Barochokester and the Ensemble Intercontemporain.
The conductor is therefore busy. Very busy. Today he is, so to speak, still in New York, tomorrow in Amsterdam and the day after in Freiburg. Or Madrid, Vienna, Barcelona, Brussels… If you look at his diary, you’ ll start to feel dizzy.
He doesn’t like Skype, hates e-mails and the telephone connection fails twice. But three times is a charm and that’s where we are now: me in Amsterdam and him in Neumarkt, where he is on a Schumann tour with his “Fabulous Freiburger BarockOrchester” and his “dream team” with Isabelle Faust, Alexander Melnikov and Jean-Guihen Queyras. Then comes Carmen in St. Petersburg, a concert with all modernists in New York and Die Zauberflöte (the successful Amsterdam production of Simon McBurney) at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence.
He started his career as a singer and his roots lie in early music. What made him decide to conduct? And, since he’s an all-rounder, does he have a preference for a particular style? Period? Genre?
“Singing has always been prominent in my life, that’s how it started. It was (and still is) the most important factor in my life and in my career. Why did I start conducting? Because I wanted to share my ideas, my energy. Besides singing, I also play the piano and violin, but conducting gave me the opportunity to really open up to the outside world and to make my mark on a work. In this way I was able to make my voice be heard better, that was also what I insisted on. I made the decision when I was 14, 15, so I was a very curious boy.”
“I have no preferences. I am a musician, that’s how I feel and I want – and I hope, that I can do it – to embrace all music. I can’t say that Schumann, a composer who is now on my menu every day and whom I adore, is a bigger composer than, for example, de Victoria. Or Praetorius.”
“I love everything, I’m really an omnivore and I want to try everything. I don’t tell you anything new when I tell you that I love most what I’m doing right now. Right now it’s Shostakovich, I’ve come to love him sincerely and for the time being I can’t get enough of him.”
You made your debut at the Met with Rigoletto, it was a revival and the orchestra and the choir had already rehearsed the work with someone else, perhaps at a completely different tempo. It strikes me as very difficult…
“I have very few rehearsals, yes. Actually only one orchestral rehearsal and then the two dress rehearsals. And a special rehearsal with the singers. But it wasn’t difficult at all. We are talking about a world class orchestra and Rigoletto is part of the standard repertoire: it has to be possible. And don’t forget that every performance is actually different! Even if we’ve already had the premiere, you can still control things, which is quite nice.”
Nowadays you hear many singers complain that because the orchestras play so loudly, they get into trouble if they want to sing softly. In an interview, Samir Pirgu, a young Albanian tenor, quoted a statement by Harnoncourt, in which the latter said that it is actually difficult for orchestras to play piano. Forte and fortessimo are much easier.
“It is indeed a problem, the orchestras often play too loudly. And many conductors have no idea at all about singers and their possibilities. I think it’s different for me, also because I started out as a singer myself.”
“You can’t escape a conflict that needs to be resolved, especially when you’re working on a large project, which is always the case with opera. Working with a director also requires diplomacy. Still, I think that you can solve all problems and disputes through dialogue, there must always be a way to get closer together. But you have to be open-minded and I am, I’m open to everything.”
As part of the Verdi year, you recorded a CD with Plácido Domingo’s baritone arias together with him. How did you get involved in that project?
“It was the maestro himself who asked me for the project. It was really amazing to be able to discover Verdi’s beautiful music that way. We had a lot of time for it and we took a lot of that time. It was the chance of my life to get to know Verdi through Domingo.”
Trailer of Making of:
“For Archiv, the label for which I have now become the ‘ambassador’, I am going to record a lot of early music, a lot of unknown works, also many premieres. Including a lot of music by of all the Praetoriuses.”
“I find it very exciting, it is also a huge challenge. As I said, I love to be challenged and to try everything. That’s how I felt about the very first project I did for Archiv, El Maestro Farinelli.
I actually find the title misleading. The CD is called Il Maestro Farinelli and there are only two vocal numbers on it, even though Farinelli was in fact a singer? You’ d expect some more vocal fireworks, wouldn’t you?
“It’s a little complicated. Of course Farinelli was the greatest singer of his time! But it’s all about connecting. Farinelli has sung everywhere: in several Italian cities (Milan, Florence, Venice), but also in Munich, Vienna, London. He had signed a contract with the London group of Nicola Porpora, at the time the most notorious rival of Handel, but his connection with Spain was of a different, and also very emotional, nature.”
“In 1737 he broke his London contract to come and sing at the personal request of Queen Elisabeth Farnese for her manic-depressive husband, Philip V. Every evening he serenaded the king (he sang ‘Alto Giovane’ by Porpora for him) and a miracle happened: the king was cured. Farinelli stayed in Spain and until his death in 1745 he continued to sing for the king.”
“But of course his merit was much greater. Not only did he cure the king of his melancholy, but he also established a connection between Italian and Spanish – and German – music. The enormous repertoire, the diversity of works and composers, the enormous musical boost, we all owe that to him. You could say that Farinelli was a factotum between Italian and Spanish music.”
“I wanted to put forgotten composers on the map, hence José de Nebra, after all he was the father of the Spanish opera and the zarzuela. It is unbelievable that this beautiful music is almost never performed any more! Or take the Armida overture by Tommaso Traetta: the music is infectiously beautiful! Of course, these are not all pure masterpieces, but: should they?”
trailer of his Farinelli CD:
In the NTR documentary that the Dutch TV has made on you, you come across as very energetic. Do you owe it to the countless double espressos that you knock back one after the other? Are they meant to keep you awake?
Laughing: “I really love espresso, I love the taste and the smell. And – yes, I need it too, it keeps me alert. It has also become a kind of routine, without which I don’t go on, I need my espresso. I do drink it a lot, but I don’t drink it all day! And certainly not in the evening, then I prefer something else”.
The NTR documentary about Pablo Heras-Casado can be found on the website of NTR Podium.