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An Interview with Frédéric Chaslin - Music Director of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra
Conductor, pianist, composer and musicologist, Frédéric Chaslin has matched very well with the artistic ambitions of the ensemble that he manages and with whom he has many achievements.
Thank you for accepting our invitation of being our guest, in an interview, at the Romanian Radiobroadcast Corporation, Mr. Frédéric Chaslin. For how many years have you been directing the artistic activity of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra?
I have been the music director of this ensemble for a few years now and due to this orchestra I made my first visit in Romania, in 1998, at the ‘George Enescu’ Festival. Actually, it was the second time I was participating in that festival. The first time, I was having a small tour in Romania. I went to Cluj, Iaºi and then Bucharest. The first contact with the Jerusalem orchestra took place in Romania. At the time I was just a guest conductor and two years ago I was hired as a music director. Because of this position I decide the season’s schedule. I chose the conductors, the repertoire, and I have to create its identity. It is more complicated than conducting. You also need to have organizational skills, so it is a great responsibility. But I am always happy to remember that I made my debut with this orchestra, and in relation to Romania, because it is a country that I hold dear as every French music performer does.
How does one organize a season’s content, repertoire schedule and artists appointments?
There is one problem, stupid really, money. If you asked me whom I wanted to invite, I could easily make a list. But if you asked me whom I could afford to invite, I would have to make another list, very different from the first. We encounter many obstacles just like any other orchestra around the world. There are a few great artists today that I cannot invite, because that would mean exceeding the budget, so I developed two projects. One involves using the local talents, because I think it is very important that the artists of a small city like Jerusalem are offered the opportunity of performing in some concerts, together with the orchestra. After that they may go abroad and if they are well received they render a good impression for the orchestra. We become a sort of a learning ground for young musicians, students of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. Therefore, we keenly promote local talents. I also invite many other passionate foreign students by offering them the chance of a first appearance. They come to Jerusalem knowing that they can improve their abilities here. This could also mean enrichment. I cannot afford to invite great artists, but here, the future ones evolve. It is beneficial for our reputation, but this takes a lot of time to develop of course.
What are the most important projects for the 2013-2014 season, Mr. Frédéric Chaslin?
I called it the season of friendship. I searched in the history of the ensemble for the ones that had many encounters with it and created a particular identity for it. I found composers that wrote religious music, as Jerusalem is the most important city for spirituality. I set up a festival for religious music, Christian and Hebrew. There are also many young composers that wrote solemn opuses inspired by the Islam, Moslem and the Koran. Some of the compositions were prohibited, but I will always keep a balance between these creations. 60% Christian music, 20% Hebrew music and 20% Muslim music. I would like to do concerts with music from these three religions. Concerning the Christian music, I include the orthodox, catholic and evangelic music. This is one of the great fortunes that the orchestra should develop in the holy city, Jerusalem. We also perform at many anniversaries. I really like the idea, as it is for composers that celebrate 100 years, 50 years since their birth or important historical events related to Israel. At the end of last year we celebrated Richard Wagner’s 200 years’ anniversary. I wasn’t allowed to perform his music. We had a symposium and a concert with compositions inspired by Wagner or composers who inspired him and that was enough to raise a scandal. A man climbed on the stage during the concert and he shouted for an hour. There are things that happen only in that country, compared to others, but as you may know it is a more agitated place and one has to take it into account.
But do you have projects that include operas in the concerts?
I do not think that was meant for our orchestra. I will mostly work with the Tel Aviv Opera, which is a very good corporation, and 20 years ago I made my first appearance with this ensemble. We regularly do performances together. My collaboration will be even more favoured as I will own the position of artistic consultant at the Tel Aviv Opera and I will have the opportunity to propose the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra to accompany operas with concerts as well. The Jerusalem audience is inexperienced, without any considerate tradition and one has to uncover, to disclose the opera through concert. This will allow the audience to listen to many music scores without being bothered by the staging, choirs and the singers’ performances. We will start with Mozart’s works, which are very good for the orchestra and useful to revealing the musical theatre. They go well together. After that, I would like to expose the contemporary repertoire as well, the young composers. Israel has the largest percent of composers in terms of population. I often say that if you open a door you will find two composers hidden behind it. It is a country with great artistic potential and I want to offer them the chance to express themselves, especially for the musical theatre. In Jerusalem, prolonged effort is needed regarding the audience that has disappeared in the last 10 years. The orchestra had many activities. But then uninteresting programs were created. Nowadays we have to rebuild the audience, step by step. This season, the concert hall has been full. We will have to perform in two-three concerts and then an opera, contemporary compositions, something that is done everywhere.
How many months does a season last?
It starts in September and it ends in July. September is a month full of religious celebrations. That is when we have a small Israeli music festival. The season actually starts in the middle of October and it lasts until the end of July. There is a lot of work and passion ensued.
Translated by Roxana Þicãmucã and Elena Daniela Radu
MTTLC, The University of Bucharest