Calling a spade a spade

Renowned conductor Vladimir Jurowski leads the IPO in a concert performance of Tchaikovsky’s opera ‘Pique Dame.’

Calling a spade a spade (photo credit: Courtesy)
Calling a spade a spade
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Vladimir Jurowski, one of the leading conductors of his generation, makes his Israeli debut, leading the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra in a concert performance of Tchaikovsky’s opera Pique Dame (Queen of Spades).
Born in Moscow into a musical family (his father is conductor Mikhail Jurowski), he began his musical studies at the Moscow Conservatory. In 1990, he and his family moved to Germany, where he completed his education. He first appeared on the international scene in 1995 at the Wexford Festival and was appointed music director of the Glyndebourne Festival Opera in 2000. Since 2006, Jurowski has been the principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. He also appears worldwide with leading orchestras.
As someone who grew up in an intellectual Russian milieu and moved to the West in his youth, the 40-yearold Jurowski has absorbed the best of the cultural traditions of both worlds.
“Our profession has changed a lot,” says Jurowski.
He explains that the role of a conductor is inseparable from the development of society and the role of a political or spiritual leader in a community.
“The profession of conductor was founded by two enemies – Wagner and Mendelssohn,” he says.
He goes on to elaborate that if the first generation of conductors were both composers, those who followed were mostly conductors, and over the years and generations the attitude toward the role of conductor has changed.
“Our profession reached its peak in the 1930s, with many outstanding conductors being active in that period. But it was also a time when strong totalitarian leaders came to power in different parts of the world, and there is an obvious correlation between the two processes: This is about people yearning for a strong hand,” he says.
Jurowski explains that after World War II, when the professions of conductor and composer finally separated, the former had a status close to that of a pop star.
“If at the time of Toscanini the conductor was as important as a political leader, then in the days of Karajan and Bernstein these two composers were almost like rock stars. So when we say that the conductor’s profession has changed, it means that society has changed. We live in a very strange period, when there are a lot of very talented young conductors who are being promoted very much the way pop stars are promoted.”
Jurowski admits that this situation does not really excite him, but he sees it as a logical development of the society we live in. “The myth of a powerful and charismatic leader, who organizes chaos into harmony, originated in the late 19th century and reached its peak in the middle of the 20th century and has now disappeared. Nowadays, the idea of a powerful personality who imposes his will on others is unthinkable, and there is something anachronistic in the role of conductor. At the same time, the overall professional level of an average orchestra player has grown immensely, which allows a conductor – who is now primus inter pares [first among equals] and not a dictator – to dedicate himself to music making.”
Jurowski speaks enthusiastically about the role of music in secure periods of history and in those when music was a means of spiritual survival, of musicians who are seen as a replacement of prophets and spiritual leaders, of a post-war period when, “according to Adorno, the beauty died in Auschwitz,” and its influence on the music that was composed in that period and the contemporary state of music and conducting.
Jurowski sees the contemporary approach to conducting as a sort of authenticity, when every piece is seen in its historic context “and is cleansed of the influences we impose on it. If we conductors are honest about our profession, we should play Baroque in one way, Shostakovich in another way, and Ligeti in yet another way. I believe that this ability to change is an important sign of our time,” he says.
Vladimir Jurowski conducts the concert performance of Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem between November 8 – 17. International soloists and Gary Bertini and the Ankor choir participate.