With the Orchestra now back from their travels to New York, the start of the LSO’s next series with Principal Conductor Valery Gergiev – a major exploration of the quintessentially Romantic composer Hector Berlioz – is just over a week away.
Gergiev and the LSO will be exploring some of Berlioz’s most powerful, groundbreaking works – Symphonie fantastique, Romeo and Juliet, The Damnation of Faust, and The Death of Cleopatra included – so we thought we should find out what it is that makes the French composer’s music so exciting to perform and conduct. Read on for Gergiev’s insights, and to find out what he’s most looking forward to about the series.
You’re devoting thirteen concerts this autumn to exploring Berlioz. What is it that you find so exciting about his music?
He sounds very contemporary, very fresh and unpredictable. He writes in his own style. That is what always brings my attention to Berlioz.
How do you approach conducting his works?
You throw yourself into the ocean of musical ideas … you simply go and swim in it!
How do you bring to life the very dramatic works, like Romeo and Juliet and The Damnation of Faust?
The words mean a lot in Berlioz’s music. It helps if you have Shakespeare leading the way with the words and then Berlioz leading the way with the music – it’s a fantastic team! Again, if it’s a very famous story, people don’t come to the hall for the first time to discover who Dr Faust is, or who Mephistopheles is. They come to experience the power of music telling a famous story, the images coming together – then you get a diamond and thrill people!
The LSO has a long history of playing Berlioz; what do they bring to his music?
I think the LSO has all the brilliancy that you need. The music of Berlioz requires an extremely romantic, tender and dreamy approach. For example, in Romeo and Juliet you need all the colours, the range and the beauty. Timbre is something that was very important for Berlioz; he knew how to write for the orchestra. All of this brilliant writing needs a brilliant response from the orchestra and the LSO is definitely 100% ready for any challenge concerning Berlioz’s music.
What do you hope audiences will take away from these performances?
It’s not an average day-to-day feeling. Two or three hours spent with Berlioz, an orchestra, choruses and singers doesn’t happen every day! I believe it’s a very promising combination: Berlioz’s compositions played by a hugely experienced orchestra who are brilliant, powerful and fully focused on how to do it. I believe that we are performing Romeo and Juliet and Harold in Italy together for the first time and I very much look forward to it!
There are eight chances to hear Gergiev conduct Berlioz at the Barbican during October and November. To find out more about the composer, watch videos and read other artist interviews, visit lso.co.uk/berlioz.
Gergiev’s Berlioz: 31 October to 14 November, Barbican