03 September, 2009

Artist Interview - Philippe Herreweghe, conductor for 'Elias'

Image: Philippe Herreweghe. Photo: Michel Garnier

Philippe Herreweghe was the conductor for Elias which was performed on 18 August at the Usher Hall as part of Festival 09.

Can you tell us a little about your background and some of your first performances?
I was born in Ghent, and combined university studies in medicine and psychiatry with a musical training at the conservatory, where I studied piano with Marcel Gazelle. In the same period I also started conducting and in 1970 I founded the ensemble Collegium Vocale Ghent. Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Gustav Leonhardt invited me to work on their project recording the complete Bach cantatas. At that time, I decided to devote myself to music. Since then I have founded other ensembles, among them the Orchestre des Champs Elysées, founded in 1991 with the aim of re-creating the brilliance of the Romantic and pre-Romantic repertoire on original instruments.

Do you find that there are many differences between audiences in different parts of the world, if so, what are they?
For musicians, it is a huge satisfaction to play before a well-prepared audience. For instance it is very thrilling to play Schumann in Leipzig, where the audience has a very high musical culture and where Schumann played himself. However, we played a few months ago in Sao Paulo before students who had no contact with this kind of music, so-called serious music. And it was very inspiring!

Is there a piece of music that you most enjoy performing in Elias?
As far as I am concerned, the whole work is of the highest quality, one can hear the grandeur of Mendelssohn’s inspiration and the excellence of his writing. His ingenuousness in writing culminates in the interventions of the child, der Knabe, and that may be my favorite sequences.

What do you see as the main differences between performing in a festival and performances in other seasons?
The audience gets into music during almost a month and is therefore much more receptive.
On the other hand, the whole city takes part to the festival, there is a kind of exaltation, a wonderful effervescence, which we can feel from the stage.

Have you attended the Edinburgh International Festival before, if so what are your observations of the Festival?
Yes, I did. The current Director is a friend of mine, whose imagination serves a fascinating programming. And I have never been disappointed by the lively atmosphere ans audience’s enthusiasm.

Why do you think people most enjot about Elias?
Elias is Mendelssohn’s masterpiece, brilliantly written, it aims at everybody, which is the sign of an outstanding achievement.

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