24 Feb 2014

A Moment with Mark Wigglesworth

At the end of this month and the beginning of next month, the Utah Symphony is pleased to welcome back conductor Mark Wigglesworth for not just one, but two performances. On February 28 and March 1, Wigglesworth will be conducting Albert Schnelzer’s “A Freak in Burbank” (it’s the US premiere of the piece), Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto (with Alexander Melnikov on the piano) and Jean Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2.
On March 7 and 8, after a week of vacation in the Utah countryside, Wigglesworth will return to conduct Amadeus Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 (the Haffner Symphony), Witold Lutoslawski’s Symphony No. 4, and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”).
Wigglesworth was more than happy to provide us with answers to some questions. Here’s a preview of what you can expect from him.
This show is the US Premiere of “A Freak in Burbank” by Albert Schnelzer. What drew you to this music?
Living composers have to combine the desire to be original with the need to be accessible. New music has to speak to people, but if the sound world is too familiar, there is no point playing the piece at all. I think Schnelzer achieves an ideal balance between innovation and tradition. Plus it sounds fun – not the most common quality in contemporary music!
What is the difference between conducting a newer piece like “A Freak in Burbank” as opposed to a classic like Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony? Does the tone of the concert change when there is a modern piece in the mix?
Playing new music is enormously liberating. In the absence of any performance tradition, one is truly free to be the best musician one can be and to employ one’s imagination as sincerely and personally as possible. There is no looking over your shoulder to match any previous performance or pressure to come up to people’s private pre-conceptions, whether amongst the musicians in the orchestra or within the audience, itself. When you give a premiere you know it is the best performance that piece has ever received! Conversely playing a well-known work – and there aren’t many more well known than Dvorak’s ‘New World’ Symphony – one has to try and make sure that one is not overly inhibited by expectations from the past. There is something wonderful about being part of the tradition that makes up a great work’s living history and I love performing pieces that are popular because they are truly great masterpieces. But the aim is to make them sound as fresh as when the ink was still wet on the page, to give the feeling to those listening that they have never heard the piece before. It is a mistake to try and be different for its own sake, but to try and remember how it felt to hear the work for the first time normally does the trick. The shock of the old!
In the first show, Alexander Melnikov will be playing Grieg’s Piano Concerto. What do you like about having a piano soloist in the show?
Everyone loves the piano! It has a universal, almost objective quality that often transcends the person playing it. Not that our soloist needs transcending. I’ve worked with Alexander Melnikov before, and I know he will give this much loved piece all the personal lyricism and public drama it requires.
Do you have a favorite out of the six pieces you will be conducting?
The cliché answer is to say that they are all great works. And they are. But I have to be honest and say that Dvorak’s final symphony was the first piece of music I genuinely fell in love with. It was the first recording that I ever bought and was the first piece of music that made me realize what music really can be. It is a privilege to be able to connect back so deeply to that innocent wonder and childlike thrill.
It’s our honor to welcome you back to Utah and for two shows in a row. Do you have any plans for the week that you’ll be here aside from conducting the Utah Symphony?
As a countryside lover I’m looking forward to getting out and about. I’m sure it will be just as exhilarating as the music.
All of us here at USUO can’t wait for the exhilaration. For more information about Mark Wigglesworth and to listen to some really good music, visit his website at www.markwigglesworth.com
Visit www.utahsymphony.org for concert and ticket information.