A Conductor Brings Nearly a Century of Experience to Beethoven

That’s normal. I don’t have to apologize for it. My first ideals were what I heard Furtwängler do. I heard him numerous times, in rehearsal and at concerts. It shaped my musical world; it was amazing. But, little by little, I learned that there are alternative ways to interpret Beethoven’s music that are at least equally inspired in what he wrote.

It’s not simple for a conductor, or any musician who has the duty of interpreting this music, to get onto Beethoven’s wavelength, because you have so many memories, so many thoughts about the music from what you have heard. You have to liberate yourself of that if you are looking forward. It necessitates that you change your mind, but I think that is what we must do. Once you are accustomed to that, you discover new expressions in the music that perhaps were not so visible a hundred years before.

What about the fermata over the last of the four notes in the motif?

From a musicological standpoint, the fermata reveals that the pace does not exist anymore. What truly says how long a fermata is, in this example, is how long the bow is. When the bow is at the finish, you have to stop, unless you wish to do two bows, which some people do. I think it misses the point, because to hold the fermata with a single down bow demands significant control of muscles. If you do two, you don’t have to have that tension in your arm; it’s too easy.

Why do you believe Beethoven remains such an interest for so many of us?

One might write an entire book about that, but one thing to me is characteristic. We know that Beethoven was a sufferer, yet he never communicates his anguish in his music, like Mahler does. You can hear that in every bar of Mahler – I’m suffering, I’m suffering, I’m suffering — and it’s magnificent, the way he does it.

Beethoven was another type of person. He doesn’t put his emotions on display, and that makes it more objective. It can reflect the agony of everyone, not only his, but mine, the suffering of the whole society. The agony of today, in Ukraine for instance. It might symbolize anything. That helps it to survive the personal situation of the composer, or the personal situation of the interpreter. It’s something that we go through, as humans.