Interview with conductor Christian Badea
Christian Badea will conduct the Symphonic Orchestra of the "George Enescu" Philharmonic tomorrow and on Friday, November 8 and 9. The programme features Rhapsody No. 2 in D Major by George Enescu, the The Firebird ballet by Igor Stravinsky and Concerto op. 104 in B minor for Cello and Orchestra by Antonin DvoÝŠk, with Mischa Maisky as a soloist. The conductor, who was appointed principal conductor and artistic advisor of the Bucharest Philharmonic, spoke to us about his projects and objectives regarding Romanian cultural life, the obstacles he's faced in his endeavours and, in particular, he gave us details about the Centennial Season which he designed for the next months.
I would like to begin by acknowledging with great joy the fact that you are returning more and more often on Romanian stages and, what's more, you have bound yourself to the Bucharest Philharmonic, an institution that is so representative of Romanian music. What does this increasingly close relationship with Romania mean to you, especially now, in the Year of the Centennial?
My relationship with Romania, with its cultural life, especially in Bucharest, goes way back, because I started it in 2012. I started a foundation, the Romanian Foundation for Excellence in Music, which I chair and with which I have taken on important projects. I have had projects with young artists as well; I have also instituted an international music festival in Sibiu. I did the Parsifal project at the Athenaeum, alongside the George Enescu Philharmonic, and it's a relationship that I have cultivated for a very, very simple reason: when I was a student, a pupil, I received a very, very serious education in Romania. Back then school was exceptional, teachers were very serious about their vocation and work ethic was important for everyone. The education I got in Romania - same as many of my colleagues - paved my way to many other countries in the world, which was very important to me. There are many examples for the power of Romanian education at the time, but in my case, what I got from Romania was good enough to compete with musicians in places like Brussels, Salzburg or New York. Having been given such a start, you come to a point in life when naturally, you feel the need to give back to the community you came from and improve things, build something, do something positive. In Romania, people tend to criticize and whine a lot. I'm not much of a whiner, but I do criticize. This criticism isn't necessarily perceived as an insult, but some people take it too personally. Criticism by itself isn't a good thing unless you also offer solutions. Firstly, I never step out of my field, which I know very, very well, and I wouldn't allow myself to criticize unless I come with ideas, solutions and concrete actions, because talk is cheap, actions are what counts. This is why I started the foundation, on which I spent a lot of effort, dedicated a lot of time and quite a lot of my personal money. I got completely involved. Of course, without having the influence and resources of a ministry of culture or a mayor's office there's not much I can do. But, through my projects, I at least try to set an example, or start a certain public debate, give people who want to improve things - and there are a lot in Romania - something to think about. I mean, we have good people here.
And now you play an active role in the way things work at the philharmonic. For this year, you have designed the Centennial Concerts at the Athenaeum - a complex series, which you have compared to "musical dramaturgy" in one of your presentations.
It really is musical dramaturgy. I also used the fact that we have a triple anniversary. First of all, there's the Centennial of Romania and, for this reason, I have designed the concert season as a chronology of important periods in history in the last 100 years and how they are connected to the music and culture of the last century, especially at the Athenaeum. As it so happens, the Athenaeum is celebrating 130 years since its inauguration this year too. What's more, the George Enescu Philharmonic is celebrating 150 years since its foundation. So there's a triple anniversary. Apart from the dramaturgy I tried to convey during the centennial season, we also have what we call the Centennial Concerts at the Athenaeum, which are exceptional. I tried to bring remarkable artists to these concerts; we try our best to produce high quality events. Of course, this is very, very hard, because the nature of legislation and financing, and the way things work in Romania, don't allow for much planning. Everything is done at the last minute and everything is very limited - in the sense that budgets only cover spending up until December 31. There are no multi-annual budgets. As artists, we work seasonally. We go from September to June the next year. But we have a period - January-February - which is extremely uncertain, because until the budget is approved on a national level, we don't know what resources we have coming our way. This style of work doesn't allow for long-term, grand scale projects. You can't even sign contracts until after January 1. This is very strange, because all the cultural institutions in the world work on multi-annual budgets, give contracts two-three years in advance so they can make sure the most sought-out artists will come. The Enescu festival is a different story though. After all these years, it has made a name for itself, and it has the privilege of an almost guaranteed schedule. However, until January 1 in the year of the festival, you can't know if you will indeed have those artists or not, because contracts can only be released after the start of the year. It seems strange to me. I'm used to working conditions in which these projects can be done. It feels like we're giving ourselves a handicap, like we don't allow ourselves to have all the tools at our disposal. At any rate, we managed to make the first three months of the season very good. Many artists weren't available because we asked them too late, but were still very interested, and we did manage to land some notable artists. For instance, we have David Grimal, who is coming in December, Valeriy Sokolov - the violinist who will come in November and play Brahms's concerto, and this week we have exceptional cellist Mischa Maisky, who will perform DvoÝŠk's concerto.
You have performed with him before, if I'm not mistaken.
Yes, I have worked with many important artists. When I was young, I worked with some legendary artists that are unfortunately not with us anymore, such as Milstein, Szeryng, Rostropovich, Bernstein and many others. I have worked with artists that are still active, and others that are very young, but nevertheless much appreciated. I worked with Mischa in Italy 28 years ago, so some time has passed. We performed Schumann's concerto together and it was a very pleasant experience. Mischa always has something to say. He always has a very personal approach to the repertoire. He is a super-creative person. He is a very open person and not only is he an excellent musician but he is also a very interesting human being. He has a specific and unique charisma.
Let's go back to the centennial season, which will focus on some main themes. One of them is the Generation of the 21st century.
The first purpose of the Generation of the 21st century theme is to attract musicians, especially Romanians, but also foreigners, young people, and to incorporate them in the season. For instance, this season will feature Daniel Petric„ Ciobanu, and later Andrei Ioniț„ will come back. Valentin R„duțiu and Ioana Cristina Goicea have already been here. We will have young performers, Romanians and foreigners, people who have already made a career for themselves and will surely become some of the greatest artists of the 21st century. Especially as Romanians, I think it's the duty of the Philharmonic to present them to the Romanian audience. The second aspect has to do with the Philharmonic's mission. At least in my view, the Philharmonic needs to be an institution that accomplishes its mission in the most concrete way possible. There are many things included in this mission. One of the most important objectives is creating new audiences, attracting new audiences. I'm talking about children, high school pupils, students - the category called young professionals. Here we need to create projects, programs and events that attract them. We can't expect people who have never been to a concert, or might have gone only a few times, to immediately come and buy a subscription for 20 concerts. This isn't likely to happen. So we have to find creative ways to attract them without sacrificing the quality, and they will come. I know they will come because I've seen a great interest during the projects I've done. The best example I can give is the Parsifal project, Wagner's most enigmatic opera. I presented the first act two years ago and I've had groups from theoretical high schools in the audience, 15-16-year-old children who came there and were completely transfixed, absolutely enchanted. After that, they wrote all sorts of short essays, which I read. I think that when you do something that has great artistic value and you do it very well, people perceive it, even if they don't have a musical education, even if they don't have the background. They instinctively realize it's something good that they need, a sort of spiritual nourishment. But we have to be careful when approaching it. It should be done in the most aware and constructive way possible, because we need the audience to grow with us.
The project Classic is Fantastic has been going on for several years now. What other things could be done to attract the younger generations?
I have an objective which, right now, seems to me the only possible one. I don't mean it with arrogance, but to me it seems very relevant and important. In the year of the triple anniversary we spoke about - the Athenaeum, the Philharmonic and the Centennial - we have to think what the Philharmonic used to mean and what it means right now. The Philharmonic is a very important cultural institution because it has a long and exceptional tradition of artistic and cultural excellence, coupled with the Athenaeum, which has remained the cultural emblem of Bucharest (because nobody has been capable of building a concert hall before). The Athenaeum is a concert hall that always manages to surprise and overwhelm. I see many artists who go inside for the first time that go: "Wow, it's great, is extraordinary!" It has atmosphere, personality, which is very important, but what I mean to say is that the most important objective and what we have to do is to think about the golden years of the Philharmonic. The golden years of the Philharmonic are the period between 1922 and 1942, 20 years during which George Georgescu was the director of the Philharmonic and George Enescu, Dinu Lipatti, the greatest conductors and soloists would come to perform there, so it was a sort of celebration of the best the musical world had to offer at the time. And this would happen every week, for over 20 years. It wasn't done for a festival, it wasn't any sort of special occasion, like an exceptional or grand scale gala, as we like to label these things today. Nowadays, we like those special, one-time galas, preferably with some mapping on the building before we go in, with videos, gimmicks and all sorts of bells and whistles. We should be focusing instead on building an institution that will consistently bring the best of what Romanian tradition and Romanian talent (younger and older musicians, composers, interpreters and, at the same time, the best foreign artists) has to offer, on a daily basis. All this has to be done with the Romanian public in mind. I'm sure it can be very interesting and I'm absolutely certain that we are capable of making this happen week after week. For example, I have received many enquiries about the the Mischa Maisky concert from abroad. Many people asked me where they can purchase tickets online. I had to tell them I was sorry, but the tickets had been sold out a long time ago. Foreign journalists are coming from Paris, from Spain, people who realized that what we are trying to do is of the highest quality. When you do this, people respond to it. I'm not talking only about the Romanian audience, I'm also talking about the audience abroad. When we organize a season where artists like Maisky are the norm, not the exception, a regular part of the season, as it were, it's very possible to also attract a foreign audiences, maybe even make them regulars. This way, we will be able to promote Romanian artists and shine a light on them in front of the whole world, so they won't remain only on a local level. So it would be possible for very good Romanian artists to be seen by foreign audiences, by the foreign press etc. I firmly believe that today we can't just retreat, like we did in Ceaușescu's years, and say we're only a small village where we do what we want. There is the European Union, the world has actually become very small, you can just take a plane and be anywhere in a few hours. This is also why it's very important for us to have a clear notion of our national identity in the context of Europe, in the context of the world. In a way, presenting what we do best - music - to other people and countries helps us know ourselves better . As the saying goes - any Romanian is a born musician.
I would like to end with a short introduction, an invitation to the concerts on Thursday and Friday? What programme have you prepared for us?
The programme showcases, of course, Mischa, with DvoÝŠk's concerto, but begins with a Romanian piece, Rhapsody No. 2 and features another slightly nationalistic - this time Russian - piece, Stravinsky's Firebird. Each of the pieces was placed in the schedule for a reason, regarding the centennial season and the golden age. Why? Rhapsody No. 2 was composed by Enescu, who was a regular guest at the Philharmonic. Then Stravinsky, who was also a guest in Bucharest and conducted his own works. At the time, he regularly conducted the Philharmonic as part of the Philharmonic's season. DvoÝŠk's Concerto was performed by some of the greatest cellists who came here - Casals, Cassadů, Janigro, Piatigorsky - all the great cellists of the 20th century came to Bucharest during the golden age. It wasn't a special occasion, such as the Enescu Festival, which is very, very good, but lasts only two weeks - after that it's over, we don't have the same quality. I think it's a pity and that we deserve better.
Translated by George Arion, 2nd year, MTTLC