This charismatic Italian has become one of the most sought-after conductors for both orchestras and opera houses. John Banther and Gianandrea Noseda discuss early musical experiences, preparing familiar works, the importance of recordings, ways to relax, and much more!
Gianandrea Noseda conducting the National Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven and Mahler
Recordings Gianandrea Noseda has made with the National Symphony Orchestra since becoming Music Director
John Banther: I'm John Banther and this is Classical Breakdown. From WETA Classical in Washington, we are your guide to classical music. In this episode, I'm joined by Gianandrea Noseda, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra. He is one of today's most sought after conductors for some of the biggest orchestras and opera houses. We talk about his life in music, from his first conducting assignments to an upcoming festival with the NSO. He also answers some rapid fire questions and shares how he fosters creativity off the podium.
Welcome to the Classical Breakdown Podcast, Gianandrea Noseda. Thank you so much for taking some time to talk with me.
Gianandrea Noseda: It's a pleasure. Thank you to you.
John Banther: You've been music director of the National Symphony Orchestra since 2017. Six years later, does it feel like it's flown by so far?
Gianandrea Noseda: It's been a incredible journey, and we are continuing in this journey. I feel very privileged and very proud to be here because the orchestra is really playing well. Always has been a great orchestra, but there is an element of expectation that we could create together. And also the fact that most of the time we can create expanded chamber music on stage. It's symphonic, but everybody's paying attention and listening to each other. That has been probably one of the greatest result we got together, and we will continue in this direction.
John Banther: For you, you're spending more time here now in Washington at a time in one stretch. Has it started to feel like a second home for you when you land here?
Gianandrea Noseda: Definitely. First of all, I love the city. The structure, the architecture, and the fact that there is a lot of green, of course, the river and everything. But I feel very well so it's not explicable. You go in one place and you feel better than in another. Here is one of the places I feel very welcome and I feel very well.
John Banther: It was so nice to hear you. I think last time we spoke you had mentioned getting off a plane, getting into the car, and WETA Classical was on and it was your own recording.
Gianandrea Noseda: Oh yes. I could spot it immediately and the driver couldn't believe. I said, "Oh, that is me." "What do you mean that is me? You are here." "Yeah, no, the radio."
John Banther: Don't worry about it. Let's go back in time a little bit. Did you grow up in a musical family? What were your early musical experiences like?
Gianandrea Noseda: I grew up not in a professional musical family, because my father is an amateur choir conductor so I had a upright piano at home. My mom loves music. She's not a musician. My brother is not a musician, but has fantastic ear, fantastic sensibility for music. So I had a very nice environment to grow in.
John Banther: Piano, that was your first instrument?
Gianandrea Noseda: Yeah. I started even before I started to read the letters. When I was five, I could read in the treble key and the bass all the notes before I was able to read the words.
John Banther: Did there come a moment for you where you've experienced something musically growing up as you're learning piano that cemented it for you that this is what I have to do?
Gianandrea Noseda: I don't remember specific moments because it's difficult to say that has been the moment when I decided to become a musician. Music more and more has become part of my life. I didn't even realize it was taking such a big part of me. But of course, there are moments when I heard... I was still a student in Conservatorial, a recital played by Sviatoslav Richter with all the Chopin etudes and the Chopin ballads and that was revelatory, a changing life experience. I still remember concerts in Santa Cecilia in La Scala talking about my youth. I have very good memories in my country attending concerts. And also, I've been lucky enough that all my fellow, my friends, everybody of them or the major part of them, are making their living with music, through music in a very strong position.
One is concert maestro in Santa Cecilia. One is principal cello La Scala, one is principal flute La Scala. And we were all growing in the same conservatorial. We are friends, we were going out to play soccer. And to see that all that generation could really establish itself in the music and we fulfilled our dreams, our dreams became true.
John Banther: That's wonderful to hear. And it sounds like music started growing and growing and maybe you were already deeply in it before you quite realized?
Gianandrea Noseda: Yeah, and that is true. Before I realized I want to become a musician probably I found myself already in the music. Even without knowing if I would express myself better in piano, in composing, in musicology or in conducting because I wanted to explore everything. I still am very curious.
John Banther: You're curious, you like to explore. Was there anything else growing up besides music before you knew that that was what you were going to do, was there something else you wanted to do?
Gianandrea Noseda: No. I was a sport guy for a couple of years. I was thinking to... not to move in that direction but to take more seriously. But after that I decided that music was much more fulfilling and more satisfying for me. But I tried always to read books to... I'm always attracted by beauty in terms of art, what art can convey, whatever it means. Maybe it's not beauty, maybe it's a truth, maybe it's a drama, maybe it's tragic. You cannot call a tragedy beautiful, but all this to feed myself with this kind of artistic elements.
John Banther: And when did conducting start growing into that?
Gianandrea Noseda: Pretty late. I was 27 when I started to take lessons because at the time I was still studying composing. And of course at that time I was already a pianist because I got the degree much before. I was playing a lot of chamber music, also some concerts. But basically I also started to make (foreign language) , a concert with singers and that helped a lot in my knowledge about singing, a technique of singing it. But I didn't do on purpose I just enjoyed. When I played chamber music a quarter to trios with strings, with the winds, I always was curious just to find out, asking my friends, " How you do this sound, the flatter zone?" Even before knowing I would become a conductor five or six years later, I was always, " Oh, let me listen this sound on the string. Oh this is (foreign language) , wow." And the difference of (foreign language) . Actually, I was playing quartet with piano, quintet with piano, but always asking. That allowed me to put a lot of information that I keep in my pocket and when is needed I can take out from it. But everything came pretty naturally. Was intense but not incredibly difficult. I found also natural as a journey into the music.
John Banther: So many musicians, myself included, can tell you... for instance, the first piece that I played with an orchestra, it was such a massive experience conducting. Do you remember the first piece that you conducted? Maybe not the first time with your friends conducting, but the first time in front of an orchestra on stage with an audience?
Gianandrea Noseda: Oh, I remember what I played, of course. It was a strange program. Incredibly difficult. Sometimes if I think I think how adventurous and stupid I was to accept that program. I remember perfectly the program. It was toccata for piano and orchestra by Respighi, not an easy piece, beautiful. And the second piece was Birds by Respighi, not easy. And the second half was a small opera by (foreign language) . I accepted, it was good. That was my first concert with an audience. But before that, with the same orchestra, six months more or less roughly before I was sent from my Italian teacher, Donato Renzetti, to go to this orchestra to make a rehearsal for him because it was a Sunday rehearsal. After that, the concert was Friday. So we had to go for a established conductor on Sunday to have three days off after. So he said, "Gianandrea, do you mind to go there to you make the first reading of Scottish Symphony by Mendelssohn?"
That was the moment where I stood in front of a professional orchestra. It was a rehearsal, was not audience. I had the responsibility to make a good job for my teacher, for Master Renzetti. And that was inspiring because I could see that things were working. You do something, you have a result, a response. I didn't have any experience, of course, but that was the moment where I said to myself, maybe this is my way. But was not the definitive step because at that time I was still playing the piano, making concerts, still studying composition in the Conservatorium. But a few months later... that happened September, 1993. But in 94 in March, in August, I won two conducting competition. Not even after the first winning I thought I... no, I had to wait the second one. After the second I said, look, Gianandrea, life is telling you, you should do this. And that I made the decision. I tried for a while to keep playing and conducting, but I had to quit playing. I still play but for my personal enjoyment.
John Banther: But how fortuitous, your first concert in front of an orchestra in your late twenties, you're playing Respighi and you're playing orchestral music and you're playing opera. And now today you are conducting big orchestras and big opera houses. Which is not something a lot of conductors really get to do in their career. And maybe you've been doing it since the first concert.
Gianandrea Noseda: Yeah, I have to say I'm more symphonic repertoire oriented simply because I've always listened to symphonic music more than opera. My first really big and count meeting, where I sensed the importance of opera was when I heard Otello in the opening of La Scala with Carlos Kleiber, was in the late seventies. And still the ride, television in Italy was really televised, the broadcasting and televised live was incredible. And that Otello, I started to think, wow, this is a great art form. Before I says, okay, I know it, I like, but that with Mirella Freni, Placido Domingo, Pierro Cappuccilli, Kleiber conducting, La Scala in television. I was really blown away. And in the next year was with La Boheme, same opening. Was Pavarotti, Freni, Ghiaurov that kind of cast. And when I arrived the last (foreign language) . I thought, oh, this is unbelievable. This is one of the greatest moment. And so in those two years I stopped. And after that I started to buy a recording of Don Giovanni, Le Nozze di Figaro, Cosi Fan Tutte and poco poco, little by little I went. But now I cannot really make a decision if I like more one of the other, I think I love both.
John Banther: Too curious about what else is out there?
Gianandrea Noseda: Yeah. Also because when I do a lot of opera, because it happens now being a music director in the opera house in Zurich, in the theater there, and sometimes I do two months only opera. I miss the symphony, the symphonic repertoire. I will do this time three months of symphonic repertoire. I started to miss opera. I started to miss the vocal element. But this keeps my curiosity very alive. I always want to go to the other part and try to bring energy, take energy from those different fields.
John Banther: Coming back to more present day. I'm wondering about how you prepare some materials? Say there's a concert next month or two months or whatever and it's Beethoven Symphony number five. Okay, we know we've heard this a million times, we've played it a million times, we've recorded it. How is your preparation for that? Is that any different than a newer piece, maybe something you haven't played? Are you going back to the score or is it more maybe sitting and really thinking about certain interpretations or ideas?
Gianandrea Noseda: Both. I think if the pace is familiar, you already conduct it several times, of course you start to think about the pace even without the score in front of you. But the score is always revelatory because especially in the great pieces, you always find something that didn't catch your attention before. At certain point you see that element and it changes partially your vision of that moment that sometimes you can expand in a movement or in the symphony. And it's always nice to go back to the score because it's like a Bible, it's like a holy scripture. You have always to refer to that more than your imagination.
Of course, if I am on the plane, I don't have the score, I know that I have to conduct Beethoven Five in one month's time, of course I think about. I think about relation of tempo, the kind of sound I wish I would like to achieve, what kind of relationships of tempo, how the second movement should follow the first. Also, because studying with Myung- Whun Chung has been one of my teachers in masterclass in Sienna, Academy Chigiana. He was really obsessed where to found the climaxes. Where is the climax in the first movement? Where is the climax in the second, the third, the fourth? After that, among this four climaxes, which is the most important? And that focus your energy, how to shape everything. But sometimes the climaxes changed when you re- approach the score because you find something different, because you are different because we are never the same.
John Banther: It almost sounds like a great book or a movie, but you're on both sides of it. You read it again, you watch it again, always discovering something new. That's great for yourself, but then you have to turn around and give this interpretation and bring everyone together with that unified vision.
Gianandrea Noseda: Yeah, you made a perfect example. It's the same, when you reread a book, maybe you read a book when you were 20 and now you read a book, I'm 58. Of course you recognize, you remember the story, but your attention goes to different elements, different details. And that gives you a different... and if you have to make a speech about the same novel, you will speak differently. And how to convey getting back to music, how to convey not a new idea because it's not a new idea, but new sensibility about a piece and to have everybody on board. That is the other part of the conducting activity.
John Banther: A lot of our Classical Breakdown listeners, they love the music, they listen to the radio, they listen to recordings, and they like to go to concerts, but they're still... a lot of them consider themselves new. They're learning, maybe likely they're also curious. This is a new field for them. I think for a lot of people, if you ask the average person on the street, " What is a conductor of an orchestra?" They say, " Oh yeah, that's the person, they stand in front of the orchestra at a concert. They wave their arms around. They keep the beat for the orchestra." When in reality we know it's much different. For you or maybe your experience or opinion, what is maybe one of the most important aspects of being a conductor?
Gianandrea Noseda: To be able to relate with people. That is incredible, how to communicate. Because you can get anything if you ask in the right way. And not the power, but the respect you get from the orchestra is because they realize you spend time with the score, that is clear. If you bring something, not necessarily new, but that shows that you spent time and you know the material you are going to conduct and you ask in the right way, you have your imagination of sound. Everything starts from the sound that the score inspires to you in your inner here.
When I look at score, I already imagine the sound. I mean imagine, the scores is telling me because you know from composition, the structure, the phrasing, the form. But also imagination of tempo, the combination of different instruments. How not only to balance them but how to... it's like to put fantastic ingredients in a certain way to create a recipe. You have a fantastic pepper, you have a fantastic whatever, you have a vegetable, how to put together to create something tasteful. That is what motivate people. Take them on board with you. Not because I have the best possible idea about that piece, but is an option because I spend time with the score so I can say something. I think that is the preparation to be a musician first and second, how you can find the way to get everybody on board in the same journey.
John Banther: It doesn't matter how great your interpretation of something is, if you can't communicate that or get people to work together-
Gianandrea Noseda: To embrace that. Because you have always to consider that you have in front many people and each of them individually, they can have their own idea about the piece. And maybe some of the ideas are better than mine, but we have to really to put our talent, our individual talent, to a service of the other's talent all together to serve the music.
John Banther: And a lot of this communication, it's verbal in a sense that you're in rehearsal, you stop, okay, this section, we need a little bit more here, more here, or something like that. But a lot of it is also non- verbal. How you are expressing, even with just the eyebrows, the eyes, the mouth, the face, whatever.
Gianandrea Noseda: Body language is important.
John Banther: Body language.
Gianandrea Noseda: Body language is important. How you look, how you inspire, how you... yeah. But in a way, being Italian made my life easier because we talk with hands so yes.
John Banther: That's a good asset.
Gianandrea Noseda: Sometimes when some journalists ask me, "But what is the Italian school of conducting?" I say, " The street." Because you go there, you can make potentially in Napoli, but can be mostly in the south of Italy, in Naples they don't know, but potentially everybody of them can be a Oscar winner prize because they act, they communicate, they can sing. It's incredible how they can be expressive, expressive their thoughts through gestures. And we have that. Sometimes we are even exaggerating in that.
John Banther: A little too much.
Gianandrea Noseda: A little bit too much. But if you can control, if you can just discipline that, is a fantastic tool to become a conductor that has to convey ideas through gestures, basically.
John Banther: Something you said a moment ago I think may surprise some people when it comes to, well, how complex conducting really is. And we can only really talk about some surface level stuff. But when you said, when you're looking at maybe a symphony, what's a climax here? What's in this movement? Or maybe over here, we're talking about a time span that may be up to an hour. There may be thousands of notes between each of these points. But it's also like being a director in a movie, you have to manage the pace, the timing and all of this so it fits together because it's also not just about volume. If you put all of the notes in a computer with the right volume on each note, even doing crescendos, that's not going to sound natural or anything like the real thing.
Gianandrea Noseda: It is true. It has to be natural, has to be organic. And for instance, we have so many indication like forte piano, but what forte means? How is the intensity of the frequencies or just the loudness of forte? Forte is less loud than fortissimo. Okay, but how much?
John Banther: How loud is fortissimo?
Gianandrea Noseda: Oh, how loud fortissimo? Fortissimo in the trombone is the same fortissimo you can get in the clarinet, no. A professional orchestra, great orchestra, they already know how to adjust. But it's incredible how is still a human act to perform, is something connected with humanity, is connected with the way of phrasing, is connected to the way you bring things together. And everybody in certain moment you have the feeling that everybody has the heartbeat in the same moment. It's like boom. It can happen one. Maybe it's not true, but you feel that everybody's there living that moment like a dual, just boom. And you want to keep that moment. The biggest frustration of a conductor is when you reach a certain moment of ecstatic beauty and you don't want even to move because you are afraid to spoil it, to ruin it but you have to go on. And the risk is that you have to continue, to be consistent with the beauty and it's not easy.
John Banther: This is all intense. It's a lot of work, it's a lot of preparation. You're not even taking a break flying sometimes, you're thinking about these next programs. What do you do to unwind? You can't keep this all inside all the time, you have to do something to relax, to let this pressure go.
Gianandrea Noseda: But I don't want even to give the impression that I'm always... most of the time I'm connected with scores, music, learning, listening. And honestly what is happening that music is always in your head. But that doesn't avoid me to go to have a walk, to read a book, to experience good food, good wine. But not only... for instance, I'm passionate about wine. Also, the way the wine is done, the way some grapes works better if you do a blend within other grapes. Where for instance a certain grape in a different soil or in a different environment can create different kind of wine because there is more acidity or more... and after that, the technique to get wine. It's fantastic, is a world. It is a world that is not just, I like to drink wine. I like to experience the process to get to that point that at the end is so satisfying or less satisfying. I love sports. Now, unfortunately I do less, but I walk a lot. That is my way to keep as much as I can fit. I watch very carefully what I eat because it's important. We are most of the time... when I say we, Lucia, my wife and myself on the road, on the plane so you have also to be very disciplined. And saying that by an Italian is a big goal but I learned how to get disciplined.
John Banther: It's very easy to eat bad on the road.
Gianandrea Noseda: Yeah. For instance, when we started, when I started, you want to try this, you want to try that blah blah, stomach ache. And after that you have to stop. No, you have to watch after yourself. But I have moments of relaxation and some movie. I read. I have also curiosity. For instance, now I just finished two books by John Steinberg because I think I want to learn also from the big artist of the past, what makes a country. Or if I do Russian music, I want to read... I already read the (foreign language) . Now I want to read Master and Margarita, the Bulgakov. And Dr Zhivago, the Pasternak so it's my next two books. Or something Italian because I like to be inspired. You have to feed your soul, your spirit, otherwise you become dry. You give, you give, you give. You give a certain point you don't have anything to give anymore. What is the interest for an orchestra just to have someone empty in front.
John Banther: What has been a really special or maybe sentimental performance for you? Maybe not the biggest thing, but something that meant a lot to you that maybe others might not not know?
Gianandrea Noseda: Oh, there have been some performances. Basically what I call changing life experience. I got with attending a concert more than conducting a concert. With great colleagues, with great players, as always the singers. But if I have to name a few of, I still remember incredible William Tell with the Teatro Regio, the opera house where I served as music director for 11 years until 2018. And we played, we were touring in America four dates. We played a concert version, a concert performance of William Tell at Carnegie Hall in December, 2014. At the end of that concert I thought, oh, we did something good.
John Banther: Things came together.
Gianandrea Noseda: We did something valuable, meaningful, for everybody, not only for me. Not for my ego or for the... no it was all together, singers, orchestra, chorus, myself, audience. We were really on the same frequencies. It was incredible. At the end I felt, wow, that has been good. And talking about symphonic repertoire, yes, I have a memory connected to here because I conducted several times, (foreign language) . But I think the account we gave here a season ago, a season with (foreign language) was particularly moving and satisfying. The orchestra played, they played like angels, I mean really as professionals. And the soprano was stupendous. And I could find a good pace, not too fast. When you conduct a concert, you say, wow, it was not difficult to pace the piece. Everything seems natural, coming one thing after the other, very organic. At the end you say, oh, but it's not difficult to conduct, actually it is, but it comes naturally. That was one of those performances.
John Banther: And I think those are experiences we don't take for granted because anytime you go on a stage, your aim is to have a wonderful impactful concert. But sometimes... and it happens maybe in a way where like you said, with music, you were already in it before you realized, with these special moments, they come and they're gone before you even know it. They happen it's almost uncontrollable sometimes, this natural organic flow that just happens when for whatever reason that night things clicked in a very special way.
Gianandrea Noseda: But that what happens is a miracle, I have to say, is becoming out of the blue. Of course, you need preparation. You need a serious rehearsal. You need to make everything, all the means just to allow something magic to happen in the performance. But in a moment, in a particular performance that happens, it happens one of these moments. And you have to repeat the concert the day after, and you try to get that moment again, it's not there. Maybe it comes in a different or maybe it doesn't come. But this gives me a conviction, that is not perfection what I aim to achieve. Perfection is not what is the last goal. The last goal is to have a better knowledge of what you are doing. If you have a better knowledge and you put all the effort, maybe you get to perfection, maybe. Because otherwise you live your life always frustrated because you cannot be perfect. But this aim to have more knowledge, more preparation, to dig more inside in the music, to get a better relation with your artist in the orchestra, that creates, put together all the elements to maybe create something special in some moments, completely unexpected. But when you get those moments, everybody realizes that that moment arrives.
John Banther: And that's the importance, that's the impact of live music. That's why hundreds of years later, we're still playing live on stages because these moments they can happen.
Gianandrea Noseda: But that's why I always think from the audience point of view, when I am audience, I go to attend a concert. Because I go to attend concert of my colleagues. I'm not that one that I do my job after that I... it's too much, it's enough. No, no, I go, I like music. I'm mad about that, obsessed. I love it. And you always go to a concert and you expect something special and maybe it's a fantastic concert, but that moment didn't come so that's why I go again because I want to find out. That encouraged me to go as much as I can because it's not guaranteed that you get the magic moment. But if you don't get it, it doesn't mean that a performance is not worth it, has been worth it. But I still wanted to have that... how you call? The shivers on your neck. Oof.
John Banther: Like goosebumps.
Gianandrea Noseda: Goosebumps, yes. Pelle d'oca we say in Italian, goosebumps.
John Banther: And that's great advice. I think I remember when I was in school it was just, go to every concert. In music school, there's concerts every single day in all these halls and just go to every single one because you don't know what you may witness. You don't know what you might learn in even just a few moments of music.
Gianandrea Noseda: Absolutely. But also gives as a performer a big responsibility because sometimes when you conduct around a hundred performances a year, sometimes you try to make difference. Oh, that is an important concert because it's in this place. Oh, that I can take a little bit easier. No, give always everything. Because even in that place, it could be a kid or a teenager that will be the David Oistrakh or Yefim Bronfman or Stravinsky or Copland or Giuseppe Verdi of the future. You never know so you have to give the maximum because you have always to respect that maybe in that moment there will be one much bigger than you, that will make the history of the music. It was attending that concert that you should not discourage him or her to continue so you have always to give the maximum. There is no first league, second league concert hall or first league, second league audience. Everybody of this audience deserve the maximum of our respect.
John Banther: And those moments that we love, that's organic and everything clicks, it doesn't have to be in a big hall. It can be with three people in a living room. It may be on the street these moments.
Gianandrea Noseda: Absolutely.
John Banther: Would you like to do some rapid fire questions? You can answer in one word, two words, however you like.
Gianandrea Noseda: I like to say yes, no.
John Banther: It's more than yes, no. And some of these-
Gianandrea Noseda: Of course, I am joking.
John Banther: These start off musically, but we don't end there. What's your favorite key?
Gianandrea Noseda: I like B minor. I like D flat major, which is a C sharp major, but in flat is better.
John Banther: If you could only conduct one more symphony, which one would it be?
Gianandrea Noseda: Only one?
John Banther: Only one, that's it.
Gianandrea Noseda: (foreign language) after that?
John Banther: Yeah, that's right.
Gianandrea Noseda: (foreign language) , okay. Probably I would like to conduct again (inaudible) .
John Banther: And if you had just one more opera to conduct?
Gianandrea Noseda: Don Carlos, Four Acts, the Italian version.
John Banther: Which season of the year do you prefer?
Gianandrea Noseda: Autumn.
John Banther: Who would you rather be stuck in an elevator with Mozart or Beethoven?
Gianandrea Noseda: Both.
John Banther: Both? Okay.
Gianandrea Noseda: In the same elevator, because I would like them to fight and I just to be a spectator.
John Banther: But you're still going to be in this box.
Gianandrea Noseda: Of course it's the same, just the listening without interfering in the conversation.
John Banther: Oh, I thought you meant physically like boxing.
Gianandrea Noseda: No. Boxing, no, I don't think they will. But you have to put two different composers, with them I will stay in the same elevator with both.
John Banther: Your favorite sport?
Gianandrea Noseda: Soccer.
John Banther: What was your first job?
Gianandrea Noseda: Selling books.
John Banther: Selling books.
Gianandrea Noseda: In bicycle. Traveling in bicycle.
John Banther: Traveling bicycle book salesman?
Gianandrea Noseda: Yeah.
John Banther: I like that.
Gianandrea Noseda: Because I had a small percentage of the books and that allowed me to go on vacation.
John Banther: Your favorite food?
Gianandrea Noseda: Pasta, pizza. I'm very Italian. Risotto, maybe in front... risotto, risotto, risotto.
John Banther: What non- classical music do you like to listen to?
Gianandrea Noseda: I was a fan of the soft rock in the late seventies and eighties. But there are some pop singers that are particularly good and some good authors, composers for... also in Italy.
John Banther: Cats or dogs?
Gianandrea Noseda: Both. I had a cat. I have never had a dog, but I love dogs. I love animals. I think they are living, they need all our respect.
John Banther: I agree. And we'll get into the Beethoven and American Masters Festival series right after this.
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Let's talk about the Beethoven and American Masters festival that you're doing with the National Symphony Orchestra this month. What can you tell us about it?
Gianandrea Noseda: I love the idea to put something very well known like a Beethoven's Cycle, which is probably the iconic, the symphonic cycle, the nine symphonies. Along with less familiar repertoire. And being in America and being in Washington, I like the idea to explore the music by George Walker who composed Five Sinfonias. And it's incredible because when you put together Beethoven Symphony One, Walker Sinfonia, it's incredible how one can take advantage of the presence of the other. To listen to Beethoven after George Walker gives you a different perspective how to listen to Beethoven, you take less for granted. And Walker acquires a sort of (foreign language) because he is performed with Beethoven, a sort of importance, it's incredible. One serves the other. One enlighten the other.
John Banther: What is that different perspective or maybe new way of listening to Beethoven and Walker juxtaposed like this? Because a lot of these concerts, for instance, one with George Walker starts with the Beethoven Symphony, then it's George Walker Sinfonia, then at the end another Beethoven Symphony.
Gianandrea Noseda: I think a performance, to be a narration, you have to narrate a story. You can narrate a story within one piece or within the concert using all the pieces as pieces, chapters of the story. It's incredible how the symphonic world that starts before Beethoven with (inaudible) Mozart, that makes this kind of celebration, monumental achievement with Beethoven, had a different way to develop if you consider Schubert, Schumann, Brahms. And after that, going to (inaudible) Bruckner, (inaudible) . And what else? After that you have Copland, you have Stravinsky composing Symphony in Three Movements, symphony in C, and after that George Walker.
So the world is the same, but he's just explored from the different angles. So what means symphonic? Means just the relationship between instrument and the use you make with them. Besides the structure, the craftmanship of the architecture of the music that changes from composer to composer. What I find interesting in Walker is that the symphonic skill of composing, how to use the orchestra is incredibly inspired with these big tensions that sometimes they go down to some, not calmness, but some moment of lyricism. I find there is a need of singing even in George Walker, most of the time denied because you are not able to sing in a certain period because otherwise you are taken for a retro or a retrospective. But there is a need of singing. I like that. And what I like in Beethoven is the propulsive engine that there is in this music. This kind of inevitable way of, to find the pace, to find this kind of immeasurable way of performing it.
John Banther: What are some similarities in how you hear these two composers?
Gianandrea Noseda: The obsession they both have for the structure, for the precision. There is music that allows you to be less precise. Just between brackets, you have always to be precise but allows you to go more with waves, waves of sound. Wagner for instance, just to give an example. But there is music from several composers that they don't allow. This music doesn't allow you to, you have to stay in the architecture, in the building, in something that has to find its value by the fact that the structure is solid, is there.
John Banther: And we're not even talking about structure musically, like a sonata form just as a structured piece?
Gianandrea Noseda: No, as structured as a building because there is no sonata form in Wagner. There is no. In Beethoven, yes, very strongly in Beethoven. He was a genius to put together even in the same movement, sonata form, variations and fugue, the finale of (foreign language) , is arundo with variations with fugues altogether in a structure sonata form with a big coda. That is insane, it just craziness. But the control they both have of the musical material in terms of making, if you just get the precision, you have 80% of the work done. The rest 20% is just talent and miracle and gift. To get a good performance, 90% quality, most of the people can get there. To get to the 95%, it costs a lot, 98% it costs wet, to get to the 10% it costs blood. You have to be able to give that blood sometimes. And sometimes you don't even get to that point. And those composers Beethoven and Walker gives me the impression that they really wanted to get there and they deserve all our energy to try to keep up with them knowing that I will never get to that high. I try all the time. Better knowledge, not perfection, but better knowledge, more profound.
John Banther: And you're recording not just all of the Beethoven symphonies, but all the George Walker sinfonias as well. Have you learned maybe new perspectives on Beethoven or the other or maybe something, a new realization or something in music by doing these two projects?
Gianandrea Noseda: I think it's from the point of view of the live performance is more valuable because you can see the music one close to the other. When you get to the recording you have Beethoven recording and Walker recording. But of course from my perspective, naturally in itself you change your approach to Beethoven. Simply because when I did the last cycle was 2011, and now I'm doing is 2023 so I'm 12 years older. 12 years of, I lived several experience. I'm a different person. I cannot say better or worse, I just older, different. When you approach even something that you learned before, you did, always you find a different way to approach because the music speaks differently, not because the music is different, but because you are different. Can you imagine the music, how fragile it could be in allowing itself to generously give all day. It has you to be managed, to be discovered. It's so fragile. It's there, it's in a paper. You have to take care, to love it. And the element of love makes you to discover always different things. And that's probably changes the perspective because, as I said, you are a different person.
John Banther: And there's also other composers on this series like I believe William Grant Still?
Gianandrea Noseda: There is William Grant Still. And we did already one symphony in December... in January, 2022. And now we do the second symphony by William Still. And also it's completely different way of composing. You feel the America soil just nurturing the two composers, you feel that. But the way they go is different. And I like differences. I think the world is fantastic because there are many differences. I think that is a richness of the world. I'm not afraid about differences.
John Banther: And this festival, it started in part last year. And we have this year, is there going to be a further continuation of this with either different composers or something along the same lines?
Gianandrea Noseda: Why not? We can plan. I liked this idea. It was not mine. I wanted to do separately the things. I have to give credits to Nigel Boon just to put together. I thought it was a great idea. Also, because (inaudible) cycles have been done all over the world many times. And just to the fact that you add this element. Being in the capital of the United States in Washington with the National Symphony Orchestra to put together American composers and particularly one Washingtonian like George Walker made perfect sense. I didn't think about that before. And I think it adds this extra element of interest and curiosity.
John Banther: And it seems important that we record composers like George Walker and William Grant Still and Florence Price and others because you've mentioned before as recordings are our legacy that we leave behind. And it's also a marker of what's important to us in our day and time and what we thought was valuable enough to record for future generations. Because at some point in the future, who knows when, a symphony by Beethoven will be played for the last time.
Gianandrea Noseda: But sometimes I think the same, not about music, about people. Who will tell me that is the last time I will see that person. You never know.
John Banther: No.
Gianandrea Noseda: Or sometimes when I go in the subway in Milano, because I always go, I like a subway. You say underground, the subway, no?
John Banther: Subway, yes.
Gianandrea Noseda: Subway, yeah. And you see people that you know that will see this person just that moment. And it seems to me that our lives, which are like stripes in that moment, in those five minutes, they just touch. After that it's fantastic because you have the feeling, you are connected with people. You don't know who they are. But for a moment you are in the same place. You have the same travel from one station stop to the other. That sometimes I also expand to the music. Who will tell me that is the last time I conducted that symphony. Maybe Mahler Seven or Mahler Nine. Or (foreign language) . Maybe I conducted once, I will never conduct again. It's important to have some records on that because it is a legacy. It's a legacy but I always think a recording, like a photographs, a picture. It's just a frozen image of what we did that day, that moment. But it's important to have that photographs even to recognize that you got older, looking a picture of 20 years ago. And you say, oh, I had still hair.
John Banther: Hearing you talk about that even now makes me think that these are very important qualities to being a conductor. One, the curiosity but also the openness to the experiences. You see someone on the subway, those are 30 seconds and it's gone. And a lot of these moments that we've talked about, your last time you play something or whatever, again, these are moments that come and go before we know them, before we know what's happened the last time you play something. Having that curiosity, that welcoming of experiences of just in the moment is important because so many moments happen organically. Maybe unexpected in a performance where even if someone plays something almost actually wrong, but in a way that really sparks actually something else in the music or aligned in a slightly different way and you can take that and go with it. And it seems without that, without that flexibility or curiosity, you don't get that extra 5% that you were talking about.
Gianandrea Noseda: But that is precisely what is the live performance. In the rehearsal you don't have to finish the cooking of the dish. Sometimes the last touch or maybe a mistake, extra grain of pepper or black pepper. Oh, it changed your perception of the taste of the food. You put in the rehearsal, I try always to put the structure of the performance, not to give impression of the players that they don't know in which direction we go. But to go from Milan to Rome, you can do via Bologna or you can do via Genoa. The important thing is to get from Milano to Rome. The live performance takes you either there or there. At certain point you just go together in Florence and you continue to Rome. I think the starting point, the ending point, but in between you have to be able also to allow players when they have a solo, to have the imagination to do something. And you take that because maybe that idea is much better than mine. I will be a stupid performer not to take it. Starting from that moment to reshape slightly without losing the idea that I have to go from Milan to Rome because that is the direction we take. There is always an element of improvisation in the performance and you cannot rehearse that because otherwise we not be surprised or improvisation.
John Banther: Saving that little extra percent.
Gianandrea Noseda: Extra percent.
John Banther: In the Washington Post recently we saw an article about a foundation and that you've been instrumental in getting these instruments through the foundation and actually into the players, into the hands of musicians from the National Symphony Orchestra. I think now there's eight instruments, seven violins, one viola. Keeping it under wraps at first, understandably so. Now we do know. That seems like a sizable amount to me. Seven violins, one viola. I understand there's more coming. With these instruments were these things that you heard and liked along the way for the last decade? Or was it specifically, I like how these things I hear, I like this sound from this violin, this one, I love this, it will fit with this one actually. Was there a cohesive nature to it?
Gianandrea Noseda: This is an interest I cultivated for longer. As I told I like what is excellence coming from my country. Design, fashion, food, wine making. What better than violin making the luthier.
John Banther: Hey, Classical Breakdown listeners. I just wanted to jump in for a second and explain that last word luthier because it's probably new for most people. To put it simply, a luthier is a person who works on or builds wooden instruments with strings like we find in the orchestra. The violin, the viola, cello and bass. Italy, as he will explain, is pretty unmatched when it comes to this. Back to Noseda.
Gianandrea Noseda: What better than violin making the luthier. It's universally recognized. Worldwide recognized that the Italian luthier, I can say just two names. Stradivari, (foreign language) . In the world of the music, everybody recognized that. Not only in the... if you say Stradivari, you say, oh, it's violin. But also having said that, I started to be curious about other luthier or what the Cremonese school was inspiring to the Mantuan school. Or why the Tirol Steiner was infecting and just inspiring the violin making in Venice. After that, how they found together, not a common way because still the instruments from Venice, from Cremona, sounds differently. And how Napoli or Naples or Rome, Florence or Genoa or Torino or Milano, how they developed that. And it's incredible because a violin is a violin, it's made with wood and strings and vibration. But it's incredible how can be inspiring for the sound making. And instruments like that can motivate an artist, a player, can cooperate in creating a world sound in an orchestra.
And that always fascinated me. Also, because I was shocked once when I conducted one of my concerts with the NHK Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo. Before I decided to start to collect instruments I saw at least... because I can recognize, I can discover the sound, at least 20, 25 Italian instruments, but of great quality, in NHK Symphony Orchestra. And I started to think there is no one orchestra in Italy with 25 instruments of that dose. What we can do? And I tried at the beginning to involve some entrepreneurs, some donors. But I was not successful also because it was a long time ago. Maybe now I have more credibility, I don't know. But I started, I started myself and I gave the instruments to the concert master of the opera house in Torino where I was music director at that moment.
And I discovered how was uplifting for him to have an instrument that allow him to express him better himself in the sound world. And I kept this idea and I thought in this journey together with the National Symphony Orchestra, how to make the orchestra to sound and even to develop our way of playing together, why I cannot help, why should not help giving instruments to very capable hands. Because I'm not a string player so if I just hold an instrument I say, oh, it's beautiful, yes, but it's a piece of wood. In capable hands it becomes a piece of art that helps you as a artist to express better yourself. I think that is the major idea.
John Banther: I think that last point is, as you said, it's so important, able to express themselves because these instruments, these are tools. Someone had to study and there's something science about it even. They created these instruments. But it goes beyond that in terms of... Stradivarius made a lot of instruments. Some of them became maybe like that organic flow from a live concert, just perfectly together. And for musicians, these become tools, but then an extension of your own body.
Gianandrea Noseda: Absolutely.
John Banther: And being able to have nothing in between you and then the sound coming out. It is just singing, I think music is singing and having the ability to just convey what you're wanting to play the same way as if you would read a book.
Gianandrea Noseda: But it's absolutely true. You become one thing with your instrument. But also there is another reason. I think music gave, still is giving me a lot of things, a lot of satisfaction, a lot of magic moments and also a good way of living. But there is a point where an artist, or at least talking about myself, I feel the need for the new generation of conductors to hand over what I learned. For the next generation of orchestra player to spend time with youth orchestra. (foreign language) Festival, the Pan Caucasian Youth Orchestra, the European Union Youth Orchestra, the Young Orchestra in Italy, Youth Orchestra of Italy, Youth Orchestra of Spain. I tried to save always one week in my every season just to spend time with them just to hand over. And also why not to pay back a little bit through violins what music gave me during all these years. It's important, there is a moment when you start to give, not only to take.
John Banther: What's next for you? What do you have coming up, what are you looking forward to?
Gianandrea Noseda: In life?
John Banther: In life or in music? Something next season, maybe something, maybe you're going somewhere nice this summer.
Gianandrea Noseda: Yeah, no, next season will be crucially important for the... any moment is important. I hate the idea of events. Everything should be an event. No, everything should be great, not an event. But next season is particularly important for (inaudible) because we embark in a tour, in a European tour, three countries, Spain, Germany, and Italy. And Italy will be at the Teatro La Scala, the Teatro of my home city. And of course we have another visit before the tour in Europe at Carnegie Hall. We established to have a opera in concert every season starting from the next one. Next one I will conduct Otello. And we established this tradition that one opera in concert every season with (inaudible) . And of course the release of the Beethoven and George Walker. George Walker Sinfonia, and Beethoven Symphony is the cycle. And I think we have many, many good goals in front of us to achieve and it's exciting. As a human being you always try to be a little bit better than yesterday and you try to be a little bit better tomorrow than today. It's always very difficult, there's a reason of frustration. But that is the better husband, better friend, better conductor, better brother, better son. It sounds a little bit philosophical, but it's not. It goes down to the root to be concrete to be a better person.
John Banther: Well, thank you so much, Gianandrea Noseda for sharing so much. I think we've said a lot here.
Gianandrea Noseda: Thank you so much to you. And thanks to the WTA, which is a fantastic radio station.
John Banther: Thanks for listening to Classical Breakdown, your guide to classical music. This episode was recorded at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts by WETA Classicals Charles Lawson. For more information on this episode, visit the shownotes page at classicalbreakdown. org. You can send me comments and episode ideas to classicalbreakdown@ weta. org. And if you enjoyed this episode, leave a review in your podcast app. I'm John Banther. Thanks for listening to Classical Breakdown from WETA Classical.