The Israeli conductor Daniel Oren became a world-renowned musician thanks to his determined mother. He knows everything about opera: his talent as a singer was discovered by Leonard Bernstein at the age of 13, at 22 he was appointed Music Director of the Teatro Dell'Opera in Rome, while now he is the Music Director of the Arena di Verona Opera Festival. Although several coincidences made him an expert in opera conducting, he never turned away from the symphonic repertoire. On April 22&23 he will conduct the Budapest Festival Orchestra in the Budapest Congress Center with a crushing Romantic program and the solo of the Israeli violinist, Guy Braunstein. Interview.
It was highly important for your mother that you become a musician. What was her reason for this?
Daniel Oren: My mother was a classical Yiddish mom. She planned her life around my personal, artistic and professional growth, and she supported me until the very last moment of her life. She was a very cultured and determined woman who believed that her child had a mission: become a musician and bring the message of music to all the world. So, my father and she encouraged me to study cello, piano, voice, and then conducting. I owe them everything I am today.
What was your family like? Were there any musicians among them?
D. O.: I grew up in a family that originally was half Arab, and half Jew. In that period, it could have been the reason for fighting within families, but I must say I never saw any kind of "conflict" happening during my childhood. I was loved and protected a lot by my parents – the same I try to do with my children now – so I was lucky. There were no musicians in the family besides me, only the great determination of my mum who saw my talent immediately.
How did you meet Leonard Bernstein? How do you remember the impressions he made on you when you were only 13 years old?
D. O.: I met Bernstein on the occasion of auditioning for singing the child's part in Chichester Psalms, conducted by Bernstein himself. Again, my mum insisted so much in order to let me sing directly in front of him. Isaac Stern was also there. I remember I just wanted to sing and play at that moment; I played the piano myself and sang "Nel Cor più non mi sento" by G. Paisiello and some Yiddish songs. As I know, he was deeply impressed and had no doubt that I was "the" child. He was an extraordinary person, very human and careful about people around him; I remember him during rehearsals speaking with all musicians about their families, he was concerned with their problems and their life. This is, according to me, the demonstration of how deep and simple he was, while at the same time being one of the most acclaimed musicians worldwide.
You are famous all over the world for being an opera conductor. Are operas closer to your heart than orchestral music?
D. O.: I actually became more "used" and expert in opera repertoire because of several coincidences: I became musical director at Rome Opera House when I was only 22, so I was kind of "forced" to become proficient in opera conducting quickly enough. Then, I was quite a good singer myself, and it turned out that I was very useful to the singers to understand a lot of things both about voice and phrasing. And last, but not least, I believe that voice is the instrument that comes closest to God, so I particularly enjoy working on operas. In any case, I must say that I never stopped conducting symphonic repertoire and that it is equally a great pleasure for me; musical instruments can create the same spiritual and magical atmosphere of voices.
What is the difference?
D. O.: For a conductor, symphonic and opera repertoire are different mainly in the factors you have to consider while rehearsing and conducting. In symphonic repertoire, the orchestra is the main instrument and source of inspiration; you must concentrate on it and the musicians while you interpret a piece. With opera and singers, orchestra is fundamental for interpretation, but also must play in relation to the singers. My aim is always to let the orchestra express itself without covering the singers in volume, and to create as wide a range of colors as possible.
In Budapest you are going to conduct two beloved and well-known pieces with the Budapest Festival Orchestra: Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 and Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor. How do you feel about them? Is there anything you would like to add to these beautiful masterpieces that we never experienced?
D. O.: Each conductor, besides having the orchestra perform a piece in the most proper way, has to create something at that very moment. Music is such an iridescent art: you never know what happens at that moment of performing and sharing. I am used to inventing little nuances which don't twist the score, but which usually enhance certain effects. I will follow the inspiration, which is also given by the orchestra musicians and the soloist.
Have you met the BFO before?
D. O.: No, I’ve never met the Orchestra before, but I know it is a great orchestra, with a long tradition. I am sure I will find great musicians with whom I will share many emotions.
The interview was made by Júlia Váradi.