I have never kept it as a secret that I have a favorite musical work, which is the Six Brandenburg Concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach, and especially the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto, which was instrumental (pun intended) in my decision to become a professional musician exactly twenty years ago. Listening to my (then) newly acquired recording by Nicolaus Harnoncourt and Concentus Musicus Wien I had the closest I have come to a religious experience in my life (extra points for anyone who can guess the movement and the exact place in the score it happened) and decided that this is for me the only way to go. I must dedicate my life to something as great as the music I was listening to.
Now, twenty years later, I have the fortune to rehearse the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto with my orchestra St. Michel Strings and two brilliant Finnish musicians, harpsichordist Matias Häkkinen and flautist Sami Junnonen, and today I was happy to notice that being immersed in this masterpiece still raises all my hairs up. After the rehearsal I paused for a moment to think "why" I am a professional musician, and what is the quality (if there is such) that gives me the right to stand in front of my colleagues and demand them to play in a certain way. Personally, I think every conductor should have a reason why they have this right.
Every conductor - every musician in fact - has of course their own set of preferences, and after thinking hard about what is my strongest point I had to conclude that it is phrasing. Even though I am many times obsessed by form and rhythmic precision while rehearsing, I think phrasing is the thing which comes to me most naturally, and no wonder - going back twenty years in time I suddenly remembered that my favorite reading back then was Harnoncourt's book "Musik als Klangrede". I cannot say I understood his points fully then, but they no doubt have been brewing in my mind all this time and finally come to fruition as I found my musical home in conducting.
Music is a form of communication, and we, as instrumentalists, have to take care how we deliver the message of the composer. First we need to understand it, and then choose the proper manner to bring it out with our instruments, in such a way that, to quote Mozart, "music, even in situations of the greatest horror, should never be painful to the ear but should flatter and charm it, and thereby always remain music." Isn't that brilliantly put, by the way? Good old Mozart!
As a conductor I need to make sure that even in a densely woven texture all the important voices are clearly articulated. The phrases should breathe and sing, and carry on the conversation. And who knows, maybe another reason why this aspect of music is close to my heart is the fact that my son has a speech defect and articulating the message so that the receiver understands it fully often requires extra effort from us? Just a thought that crossed my mind now... Anyway, thinking about all of this and realizing how everything started with the same music and the same challenges so many years ago made me feel that I have come full circle. And still I feel that I am in the right place, doing what I do.
After sharing this mini-revelation with my readers, I am also happy to invite you to check out my concert later this week at www.e-concerthouse.com. It will be webcast live on Thursday, November 20 at 19:00 Finnish time. The program will be Holmqvist Petite suite baroque, Kokkonen Durch einen Spiegel and J.S. Bach Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor and the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto.