About Recording Brahms’ Symphonies on DVD for Sony Classical

You declared that »Brahms’s symphonic repertoire seems almost to have been conceived for this orchestra«. Do you mean only the size, or also other aspects of the OSI?

Everything you need for a succesfull performance of a symphony by Johannes Brahms you can find in this marvelous orchestra OSI: temperament, technical perfection, discipline and an outstanding and natural feeling for phrasing and sound. This repertoire belongs to the most difficult pieces for orchestra and requires a perfect balance betweeen all this aspects.

You conducted many german orchestras. Why this project on a german composer with a Swiss-Italian orchestra?

Generally I don’t believe in local definitions of music. Brahms belongs to everyone, no matter of language, religion or origin. Don’t forget, german-austrian composers of all epoches are deeply linked to the tradition of italian belcanto. This is our basic grammar. And particulary Brahms has been admired all the time for his cosmopolitan point of view, his hungarian soul, viennese blood and italian temperament.

Denise Fedeli, in a press conference, spoke about a »philological interpretation« of Brahms’s symphonic works. It’s not strange to propose a philological interpretation of an author that was never forgotten in the orchestral repertoire?

It’s not Bach or Monteverdi, which compositions were first forgotten and then rediscovered, creating the problem of an historically correct interpretation.
One of the most wonderful things in music is to try and understand again and again what it means and not what it looks like. Especially our famous and so beloved romantic repertoire is suffering from the so-called tradition. Many misunderstandings and simply wrong facts about performing practice of that period destroy the real event of playing a Brahms symphony. It is urgent to rediscover our heroes from time to time to improve our idea of them.

Brahms is often presented, in the history of music, as a Wagner’s and Bruckner’s counterpart, a traditionalist bourgeois which refused the innovation of late romanticism. The new interpretation of Brahms’s symphonic works will overturn this image of the composer?

Yes and no. Brahms finished his first symphony 10 years after Tristan und Isolde was first performed. Every serious composer in the late 19th century has got a Tristan score in his library, so Brahms either. He was absolutely influenced by the Wagner way of orchestration and harmonisation as he was fascinated by Verdis Otello. On the other hand he established his one way and idea of making music and became one of most progressive composers ever. He opend the door to the world of Schönberg and Webern because he defined all parameters of music in a new sense. So I think, Wagner, Bruckner and Brahms maybe they couldnt stand each other, but at the same time they all have been linked.

In the program we find also many soloists: Frank Peter Zimmermann, Mischa Maisky, Marc-André Hamelin… How are they involved in this project?

Oh, they are not only attacched, I know them all very well and we did many projects together. They all are powered by the same curiosity like me on our endless search for truth. I can say that »rediscovering« is their passion as it is for me. I am looking foreward so much about their experience with that longlife topic.

You have been in the archive of the Brahms-Institut in Lübeck. Can I ask which texts have you consulted and why?

My main source of inspiration is allways the manuscript, together with the different stages of formation, for instance piano reduction, particell etc. The Brahms Institut is here the perfect partner. Further I studied the markings in the scores of Fritz Steinbach during his time as music director of Hofkappelle Meiningen in the late 19th century. He was a close friend of Brahms and we can learn a lot about real performing practice of this particular romantic repertoire. Very inspiring in that context have been also many historical recordings by Joseph Joachim, Bruno Walter, Toscanini and Hermann Abendroth for example.