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MN: What kinds of music do you conduct?

KM: I do everything! I don't think I'll go much earlier than Handel any more, although I have done Monteverdi and Cavalli. I've also been the conductor of one of the radio orchestras here in Holland. With that group I've done a great many premières of new Dutch pieces, including great big things for chorus and orchestra. I just find it all fascinating.

MN: Do you have different ways of approaching the various types of music and do the players ever use period instruments?

KM: I would use different instruments for Handel if I could, but with most orchestras it isn't possible. Actually, I find it very fascinating to try to create something approximating what the composer would have had in his ears with modern instruments. I ask my orchestra to try to imagine themselves as early eighteenth century players using instruments that had different strings and different bows, or to imagine themselves playing lighter wind instruments, etc. That is very much a passion of mine.

I also do something similar with nineteenth century music. I've just been doing a Tchaikovsky symphony in Belfast and I'm getting the orchestra to play with much less vibrato than usual and with lots of slides or portamenti, instead. I'm very careful about the phrasing and I try to have the players make the sounds that I think the composer would have had in his head. It is not what we generally get from symphony orchestras nowadays.

Kenneth Montgomery. Photo © M L Hart
Kenneth Montgomery. Photo © M L Hart

MN: What will you do to get the appropriate Handel sounds from the San Diego Opera Orchestra for Julius Caesar in Egypt in April?

KM: We will use a harpsichord, which I might play myself, and we will have a large lute called a theorbo. You absolutely have to have them for Handel. Julius Caesar is a wonderfully strong drama. Handel is amazing in the variety of music that he writes and just how he is able to give the listener insight into the character on stage by a slight change in the melodic line or in the harmony. He fascinates me and I think he is a truly great composer. I'm just about to do his oratorio, Athalia, in Scotland [see the footnote at the end of this article]. It's not well known but it's a magnificent, moving piece full of color and theater and drama. It's got everything you could want in it, as does Julius Caesar. The cast in San Diego is wonderful: Ewa Podles, Lisa Saffer, Vivica Genaux and Brian Asawa. I did it with Podles in Toronto a year or so ago and she was really tremendous. We are great friends. The stage director will be John Copley with whom I did Ariodante there. He is renowned for his stylish productions and I think his work will be a hit with the San Diego audience.

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Copyright © 22 January 2006 Maria Nockin, Arizona USA


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