We spoke to ASO’s Conductor Laureate Nicholas Braithwaite in the lead up to Symphony Series 5. Read on to hear his favourite ASO moments and his thoughts on conducting The Ring without Words.
What does the ASO’s conferral of the honorary title ‘Conductor Laureate’ mean to you?
As a conductor, one’s life consists very much of ‘fly in, fly out’ engagements – a week or two with an orchestra and then you don’t see them again for a year or more. There is little opportunity to maximise the abilities of either yourself or the orchestra. The first rehearsals are spent sniffing around like a pair of dogs meeting for the first time. I think the most meaningful music making happens over time with people you know and with whom you have a commonality of approach. Having this musical relationship means you begin the rehearsal process much further along the path.
I first started working with the ASO in the early 80s, was Chief Conductor between 1987 and 1991, and have since worked with them on and off. I feel we have a relationship of musical confidence. They know me with all my faults and whatever virtues I might have and can work around those, and I know them likewise. That is an enormous joy, and a privilege.
Having the honorary title of ‘Conductor Laureate’ is a wonderfully gratifying recognition of a relationship and
a body of work over a major part of my life. It is greatly meaningful and something that I treasure.
How has the ASO changed over the last 40 years?
When I first worked with the ASO it was a fine orchestra. By the late 90s it was much more than that – international press reviews for the 1998 Ring cycle praised the ASO to the highest level, in league with the best the world has to offer. There is now a solidity to their music making together with a confidence in their performance that puts them amongst the very best.
You’re renowned as a Wagner conductor, and in Symphony Series 5 you will conduct Der Ring ohne Worte. Do you still discover new ways to interpret Wagner?
I have never regarded ‘new’ as a synonym for ‘good’. I really hope I haven’t found new ways to interpret Wagner’s music because to me that implies imposing something onto the music that is not actually there. What I do hope I have discovered is a greater depth of understanding of what the composer is striving for and how I might realise that. The richness of this music and the philosophical drama that inspires it is never ending. Growing to understand it is a lifelong journey.
Do you have a favourite conducting moment with the ASO?
Yes. The one I am currently engaged on, whatever that might be! But there are some treasured memories: the performances and recordings of Shostakovich Symphonies 6, 7 and 8. Strauss’ Heldenleben with the incomparable Ladislav Jasek playing the part of Mrs Strauss on the solo violin. Actually, the list really is quite long!
What do you hope to see the ASO achieve in the future?
It would be really good to see the funding base increase for the player establishment, which would widen the range of programming possibilities greatly. The other thing would be a dedicated Concert Hall, the lack of one being – as I see it – a great restraint on the progress of the orchestra currently.
ASO supporter Sally Gordon had the opportunity to conduct the ASO at Classics Unwrapped – Unreel. You helped her prepare for the task – what advice did you impart?
My core advice to anyone starting out as a conductor is ‘standing at the heart of great music, the creation of some of the greatest artists this world has ever known, is a fantastic experience. Enjoy yourself, revel in the privilege, and have fun’