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BILL NEWMAN in conversation with Petr Altrichter


A powerfully built man, slightly hunched round shoulder level, he strides purposely onto the rostrum. Turning to the orchestra, the audience is aware of considerable strength within his arm muscles that flex their electrical impulse through to the tips of the fingers. They await the precise downward stroke of the baton to begin. The buildup to the first climax uncoils a sudden release of tension whereby the upper part of the body suggests some giant at play, alternately grasping and plucking the onsurge of music high above as it erupts throughout the hall.

If you have been watching polar bears breaking the ice to entrap their prey in David Attenborough's Wildlife Special, you can compare the challenge of concentration and the determination to succeed.

I first heard Altrichter in the flesh when he conducted Mahler 5 at Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool.

It was in a period when I was doubting whether any performance, live or on record, would correspond with my appreciation of the composer's score indications or the spiritual intentions and dramatic changes that lie behind the printed notes and vast phrase structures. Walter, Barbirolli, Horenstein -- on one occasion Bernstein at the Proms -- each caught the intensity of its message. With Czech maestros Ancerl and Neumann also in mind, how would Altrichter fare? It was overwhelming.

Surprisingly he didn't remember conducting it! Moving on to what I had watched him rehearse for that evening's programme -- Wagner, Brahms, Rimsky-Korsakov -- I vouched that a conductor's job is not just beating time, but a question of style, pulse, feeling, the shaping of music. 'It is an interesting point; everything must be heard together'. Like the third movement of Scheherazade, where he told the orchestra to play as if it were one continuous phrase. 'When rehearsing there is so little time, so I have to make some suggestions. I had one rehearsal for the Rimsky (no mention of Wagner's Mastersingers Overture), another for Brahms Piano Concerto 1 -- Alessio Bax, Leeds Festival Winner -- and then the final dress rehearsal for everything.'

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Copyright © 28 June 2001 Bill Newman, Edgware, UK




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