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Interview with the violinist David Grimal
The Romanian Radio Orchestra, conducted by David Grimal, will hold a concert on the stage of the Radio Hall. The French musician returns to Bucharest with a Mendelssohn programme this time: Violin and Orchestra Concerto in E minor, Op. 64, and Symphony No. 4 A major Op. 90, "Italian".
How are the rehearsals going so far?
I think they're going well, I've been here before, so some of the people know me already, they know the way I work, so they're not surprised by any of it. For some of them it's the first time, so they're getting used to it. It's unusual for them, but I think it's good.
Tell us a bit more about the programme.
Mendelssohn is a very special composer because he is very fresh, full of light, full of life and very inspired at the same time. The performance shouldn't be heavy, it should have a lot of air, a lot of wind. Nowadays, especially, we need this kind of music, made of light and love.
What is the reaction of the orchestra usually when the musicians don't have a conductor, when they watch you playing the role of concertmaster?
It's not that they don't have a conductor, because I actually do the conductor's job. But I don't conduct. So it's with a conductor who doesn't conduct. Because from the concertmaster's place I don't do anything, I can't do anything, so much of the workhas to do with the fact that the musicians have to start listening to themselves, and play the way they do when it comes to chamber music - they have to be musicians again, instead of just playing their piece with no regard to their neighbors and friends. So they must love each other more, and listen to each other more. And then, after that, most of the work is done. I just have to give them some advice about the sound, the articulations, everything a conductor does, really. But I think that for some of them it's difficult, because they're used to obeying orders. On the other hand, for others, who are free, it is fun.
Is there, in your opinion, a point beyond which a conductor is needed?
Not! I've actually played huge pieces with my orchestra, for hundreds of musicians, and it works really well. And it doesn't take much longer. And it's cheaper. And everyone is happy. So, no, actually, I don't think so. If we take a look at the world, it is organized in a very vertical way. And economically, politically... very few people have a lot of power... Classical music is extremely, extremely conservative, the most conservative art. It loses its audience because it loses interest and does not want to reform, to evolve, and I think that this would be a great reform for the world of classical music - to show the world that it is possible to work differently. There is a conductor who does not conduct, that means there is less verticality, there is more freedom, more collective intelligence, more responsibility, more joy, more connection, more meaning. Usually, the conductor is the brain, and they are just musicians who play under his baton. It's a very primitive way of making music, in my opinion. Of course, there has to be some sort of order, some structure, someone to take responsibility. But not alone - all of us. This is how music should be.
This point of view reminds me of the worldview of an important French philosopher of the 20th century, Gilles Deleuze, who, analyzing such hierarchies, said that modern society should evolve beyond them.
It's not exactly the same thing because there is a hierarchy. As I said, it is not without a conductor, there is a conductor who does not conduct during the concert, because the goal, for me, is the collective music. And also there are leaders in each section. There is much less verticality. There's a lot more horizontality, there's a lot more collaboration, more awareness of playing, everything. The only conductor during the concert is the composer. As it should be. And we exchange music with the audience, like two communities communicating together. As it should be, once again. Besides that, it's great to watch an orchestra play exceptionally well and have fun on stage. What else could you want? Do you want to hear the great thought of one individual, who is above everyone else? And why would he be above everyone else, anyway? I doubt that he is. We all have our abilities, and there's not such a big difference between musicians. Like in politics - the president is not the smartest, he just wanted the job and got elected. But he cannot rule without scientists, without intellectuals, without economists, he must rule taking into consideration everyone's knowledge, because the world is too complex. When you play a symphony, you rely on everyone's talent, and the audience should know that. It's not just a guy who comes in with a baton and does magic. That's a lie.
Throughout the 20th century, many famous conductors have emerged, important names. Sometimes the conductor's name appeared in capital letters, large, and below, in small letters - Beethoven or Bach. You do not agree, I understand, with this status of some conductors?
I think it's completely ridiculous. It's marketing. Karajan, for me, was one of the worst people on this planet. I don't like his music, I don't like his way of making music, it's dark. He was just an incredible businessman; he knew exactly how to handle everything. It's marketing, it's an industry, you have to sell something; it is very much similar to the model of the society in which we live. Of course, it cannot be disconnected. But I think that joy, in society, and in art, should be at the center of everything. And if there were more art and culture in people's education, in the media, there would be no need to sell Beethoven under another name. And we could also play modern music, and everyone would meet in the concert hall, and they would be happy to share this, because, after all, the community of the orchestra is the community of the city. In every city you go to, the orchestra should be something people are proud of, they don't need someone in front of them to give value to the orchestra. It's the other way around.
How should we feel about modern music, what do you think?
I think we should be playing a lot more modern music, that way, more young people would attend concerts, they are much closer to modern music, but they don't know that. It's the same with children, when they listen to contemporary music, they feel a lot closer to it. There's also this very conservative attitude which, in my opinion, is the tombstone of the classical music world. Sure, we have to play Mendelssohn and Beethoven, they're wonderful. Absolutely, it is a joy and we should continue to play them as they are part of humanity. However, we should do more with composers, and musicians should be more responsible, they should be able to propose things, but it all comes down to education, and music education has not evolved in the last hundred years. It's ridiculous. I think artists should be citizens of the world and know history, politics, science, everything, they should be part of the world, not outside the world, to please some old people who come to concerts once a week. Music needs to be revitalized again, to be fertile again, because music is the greatest thing on the planet, and it's not normal that in most cases you get bored on stage, as well as in the hall. It's not normal, let's be serious. It makes no sense. It means the rules are too strict.
We don't need order, we need freedom, and freedom can't exist without order, so order will be there because we will seek freedom. Artists are here to open the window, not to close the door.
Translated by Cristina-Bianca Ion,
University of Bucharest, Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures, MTTLC, year II
Corrected by Silvia Petrescu