Ludovic Morlot is in town this week guest conducting the Seattle Symphony. It is the first time the young, French conductor has conducted the Seattle Symphony, but not the first time he has conducted a major American orchestra. In fact, while Morlot may not be on the tip of many Seattleite tongues, Morlot has been wining over audiences and critics across the country. He has guest conducted at the United States’s top orchestras — Boston, Chicago, and New York — while also maintaining a robust European career.
Morlot has also been winning over musicians as well with his podium temperament and clear sense of the music. This isn’t always the case with conductors as young as Morlot. Morlot is in his mid thirties. Older than Gustavo Dudamel in Los Angeles but younger than Alan Gilbert in New York.
The story of Morlot’s rise is familiar. In 2006 he stepped in, with only a few days notice, for an ailing Christoph von Dohnanyi and led the New York Philharmonic in a program of Brahms, Schumann, and Carter. Yes, Elliott Carter. The notoriously difficult to play and difficult to hear Elliott Carter. Morlot had never conducted Carter before, and as the New York Times said in their review of that concert “you never would have known it.” Morlot’s career has been accelerating every since.
There isn’t any Carter on this week’s Seattle Symphony program. There is, however, Prokofiev, Haydn, Dvorak, and Martinu.
This is the first post in a series profiling guest conductors with the Seattle Symphony. Future installments will incorporate video, audio, and some other types of media. You can read my Q&A with Morlot after the jump.
Zach Carstensen: What inspired you to become a conductor?
Ludovic Morlot: The orchestral repertoire more than anything I suppose. But certainly also the idea of making chamber music with one hundred people.
ZC: As you were learning the conducting craft, were there any conductors you admired?
LM: Many! Bernard Haitink has always been, and still is, a wonderful inspiration for me, as well as my mentors as a student in London and America — Seiji Ozawa, Colin Davis, James Levine, and Daniel Barenboim. But also conductors I have not had the chance to meet, particularly Rafael Kubelik, Pierre Monteux, Paul Paray, Charles Munch, Carlos Kleiber, and many more.
ZC: There are countless ways to conduct – from the dictatorial to the collaborative – do you have an approach that works well for you?
LM: As I stated before I believe the spirit of making music together as a team — as a large chamber music ensemble — seems the way to go for me.
ZC: When you guest conduct with an orchestra, how do you build the type of relationship with the orchestra that ends in a fantastic series of concerts?
LM: This is not unlike meeting a person really. I listen to what the orchestra has to tell me before I say anything.
ZC: What attracts you to the program you are going to conduct with the SSO – Prokofiev, Dvorak, Martinu, and Haydn?
LM: The Prokofiev and Haydn symphonies are so outstanding. I think both composers are on my top-ten list really. I also always had a natural attraction for all kinds of Czech art forms. So the Dvorak and Martinu make perfect balance for me into that program.
ZC: There seems to be an obvious “classical” connection between the Haydn and Prokofiev, are there are other connections between the pieces on the program that might not be as obvious?
LM: No other connections than all pieces being great music.
ZC: I have heard some conductors say they like conducting American orchestras because there is a high level of virtuosity across orchestras. Other than the virtuosity found in American orchestras today, are there other reasons why you like conducting American orchestras?
LM: I believe this is impossible to characterize orchestras nationally. Each group has its own identity — which can even vary depending on the repertoire, the conductor etc. But this is true that American orchestras have great pride in their history and this obviously reflected in the level of performances.
ZC: This is your first time conducting in Seattle, what are you expect your time with the orchestra will be like?
LM: I have no other expectation than bringing the orchestra and audience alike in Seattle a great week of music making and sharing musical thoughts and emotions.