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As soon as the clarinets started, I had tears in my eyes


As soon as the clarinets started, I had tears in my eyes

Former principal flutist, the Spanish Jaime Martín, will conduct the Festival Orchestra at the Müpa Budapest on February 28 and 29 and on March 2. We asked him about the change from an instrument to conducting, his defining musical experiences and the exciting program of the concert, the connection between Ravel and Mendelssohn.

Váradi Júlia: Being a worldwide well-known conductor you are so popular, that it seems, between your concerts you are traveling most of your time from one country to the other all over the world. How do you decide, which orchestra is more important for you when they invite you to conduct?

Jaime Martín: It’s almost impossible to answer this question. Two years ago, I started my relationship with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra as Chief Conductor and at the same time I continued as Music Director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. I love having the opportunity to explore both the symphony and chamber orchestra repertoire with musicians I know very well. To be a guest conductor is completely different, there is a limited amount of time to get to know each other. The first rehearsal with a new orchestra is when I have the chance to listen to the orchestra, to feel how the music moves with a new group of musicians, and the orchestra has the chance to see what kind of musician I am, what are the things that are important for me. Few years ago, when I started conducting full time, a neighbor asked me what attracted me about conducting. Was “power” the attraction? I didn’t have to think very much to answer that what attracted me to conducting is freedom.

V. J.: You have been to Budapest already. How do you think of coming back and conducting the BFO?

J. M.: Yes, I’ve been to Budapest several times during my life as a flute player. I have performed here with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and Sir András Schiff, with the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestraconducted by Dohnányi, but I have never conducted here. I’ve always been a fan of the BFO, I think is one of the top orchestras of the world. The last time I heard the orchestra live was in Spain, extraordinary performances of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4! During the more than 15 years as principal flute of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, I had the opportunity to work with Iván Fisher, a musician I have always admired.

V. J.: How do you prepare for the very colorful concert in Budapest, where you will conduct Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, in which he pays tribute to friends who died in the war, as well as Dohnányi’s piano concerto-like work, the musical paraphrase of the song Twinkle, twinkle little star full of humor and finally Mendelssohn’s grandiose Reformation Symphony, which he wrote in his early twenties?

J. M.: Ravel’s “Le Tombeau” and Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony are works that have been very close to my heart for a long time, and the Dohnányi Piano Variations is a new piece for me. I have to say I’m very happy to discover this work! One of the things that attracted me to music when I was 9 years old was the sound... the sound of an orchestra playing live in a concert hall. How some sounds combine with others to create a completely new sound, like mixing blue and yellow to create green. Ravel is a master of orchestration, as an orchestral player I always enjoyed playing my part in relation to the other instruments in the orchestra, and now as a conductor I love the opportunity to be able to listen from the distance and help to shape the sound palette. For some reason, when I think of Ravel, Mendelssohn comes to my mind. The music is completely different, but there is something about the sound that for me is very related. I would describe Mendelssohn’s sound as somehow “luminous”, and that reminds me of Ravel. This particular work, the Symphony No. 5 is a curious case, where Mendelssohn became very insecure and decided to hide the manuscript, hoping it will never be found again. I find this music very deep, moving and completely irresistible!

V. J.: I have an unpleasant feeling about all the three wonderful pieces - even the humorous one by Dohnányi, that they all must do something with the war as such. It might be only my own personal thought but maybe you have also close ideas to mine?!

J. M.: I can see what you mean, but this was not my intention, or at least my conscious intention. There is no doubt the word ‘war’ is unfortunately too present in our lives right now, and maybe these connections were in the back of my mind. Of course “Le Tombeau” is a tribute to friend of Ravel that died during the war, but the Reformation Symphony is more about religion, Mendelssohn used to talk about this work as “my Church Symphony”, where ‘Catholic’ counterpoint mixes with pure Lutheranism. The middle movements of the symphony could represent Faith and Despair, as often has been pointed out.

V. J.: Having spent many years as a highly regarded flautist, how and why did you decide to change your instrument to be a conductor?

J. M.: As an orchestral musician I was always curious about conducting, I even attended conducting lessons while I was a flute student in The Netherlands. But I enjoyed so much playing in the orchestra that it didn’t even cross my mind to change. During my years as a flute player, I had the chance to work with amazing conductors, coming from different traditions, approaching music from completely different angles, and I found this fascinating. Why the same orchestra in the same hall sounds different today from yesterday with a different conductor? Later in my life, (in my mid-forties) someone asked me to conduct a youth orchestra and not long after that I was offered my first job as Chief Conductor of the Gävle Symphony in Sweden, and at that point decided to leave my position as Principal Flute of the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

V. J.: How do you remember, when did you first feel in your life the amazing love and affinity to music which has been with you from the beginning? What was the trigger for that?

J. M.: When it was 9 years old, my father took me to my first concert, the program was Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony and Pictures of an Exhibition by Mussorgsky. As soon as the clarinets started the Tchaikovsky I had tears in my eyes, and that was a surprise to me. I was not expecting that! I don’t think I was moved by the music but by the sound of the music, I found it magical and exuberant. The day after I said to my parents that I wanted to play the violin, but later found that the only way to study violin was through private lessons. I didn’t want my parents to spend money on me (I’m the oldest of six brothers and sisters) and discovered that I could have flute lessons for free, so the flute it was! Thanks to the flute I had the chance to play the best music and meet wonderful musicians.

V. J.: Do you still teach music as a flute professor at the Royal College of Music in London, or that does not fit into your calendar anymore?

J. M.: I stopped teaching at the Royal College of Music when I accepted my first job as a conductor. I always loved teaching, and I enjoy when old students ask if they could play for me before auditions or concertos!

V. J.: Dénes Várjon is the piano soloist at the concert, you will conduct. I am sure, you know him. How do you feel about working with this great pianist?

J. M.: I have never met Dénes, but I have heard his playing in recordings. Few days ago, I watched one of his masterclasses teaching a Beethoven sonata, which I enjoyed so much! He can make the piano sound like many different instruments, a beautifully controlled touch, and the most profound insight, so inspiring... I can’t wait to meet Dénes in person and make music with him!