Music Academy of the West, Academy Festival Orchestra, Matthias Pintscher conducting
When: Academy Festival Orchestra, Saturday,
Cost: from $10
Where: Granada Theatre, 1214 State Street, and Hahn Hall, Miraflores Campus,
Information: 969-8787, www.musicacademy.org
German-born and NYC-based conductor composer Matthias Pintscher, an ascending figure in the classical music world over the past several years, made a memorable impression with his local debut appearance as conductor-mentor at the Music Academy of the West in 2013. He coaxed a powerful and precise sound from the orchestra, taking on Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella” and Ravel, but also the bracing challenge (to listeners and musicians) of the composer’s own “bereshit,” in its West Coast premiere.
Suddenly, this summer, we find Mr. Pintscher in an unusually high-profile situation, regarding the intersection of the greater classical musical world and the 805. That meeting begins this week, as he prepares for and rehearses up his engagement with the Music Academy, conducting the “Viennese Connections” concert at the Granada Theatre on Saturday (including his own music).
On top of this Santa Barbaran return, he has been announced as the music director of the critically-acclaimed and internationally Ojai Music Festival for next June’s event, which from early reports seems to be a return to the Ojai agenda before recently-departed artistic Tom Morris tended to resort to more crowd-pleasing and questionable audience-building tactics.
On Mr. Pintscher’s Ojai menu, so far, are works by four-time Ojai-gracing hero, the late, great Pierre Boulez, Helmut Lachenmann, and Olga Nuewirth. The festival also includes Ojai debut TK of the Boulez-founded Ensemble Intercontemporain, the eminent contemporary music ensemble, founded by Boulez, and directed by Mr. Pintscher since 2012, just before his last Santa Barbara visit.
Apart from the intriguing orchestral option on Saturday, the main highlight of next week’s busy Music Academy schedule is a recital by famed mezzo-soprano—and Music Academy alum–Isabel Leonard, at Hahn Hall on Thursday. The event is the first in the ever-impressive annual Mosher Guest Recital series.
Last week, Mr. Pintscher took some time out from a rigidly self-enforced “down time” he reserved for composing to speak with the News-Press about his upcoming venture(s) into the 805. As he put it, Mr. Pintscher was in the midst of a “holy scared composing week and I’m trying to push everything away that I can.” He likened his current situation to that of Gustav Mahler, who was so busy as a conductor, he had to secure composing time, often in early summer.
News-Press: Have you just resigned yourself to this segmented schedule for your composing?
Matthias Pintscher: I guess it could be a lifelong challenge, to make those things happen. These are all things I wanted to put on my plate, so I’m absolutely not complaining. All these different disciplines are feeding into the same kind of desire to communicate as a musician, or maybe as a complete musician. There are not big differences between writing or conducting or teaching or putting programs together or running a festival or residencies.
In the end, it’s about sharing music and communicating to people. Conducting comes with heavy, heavy traveling. Writing is no doubt a challenge. I still produce, let’s say, one substantial piece per season, and I think that’s ok. I feel good about that. I need more time. But all those things don’t get easier. It gets harder and harder, the more you know and the more experience you have, the harder it becomes to take the next step and to walk.
It’s good. I love that there is more reflection and more meditation and hesitation on what does not need to be on the page—what I can actually leave out. That comes, I guess, with maturity.
NP: You made your debut at the Music Academy back in 2013. Do you have particular memories or reflections of your time at the Music Academy?
MP: I really cherished my stay in Santa Barbara, and I’m not mentioning the beautiful scenery and the location, but absolutely for the burning, committed young musicians. Clearly, the place enhances that feature, and the appreciation of being in a scenic beautiful place on this planet and really invested in the music, and making it fly.
There is the cliché that young musicians put so much passion into it. Look how excited they are. They really give you that fortissimo to you if you ask them for it, because they are so excited. Sure. But that’s not what it is. It’s the insides, where it’s particularly intuitive with the youngest generation of musicians. They can get to the point where you really harvest amazing results that are not only sounding good, but that have an inside.
Looking back on when I was their age, I wouldn’t even be able to follow the score of Berg’s Wozzek properly (laughs). Nowadays, with musicians having access to the media, the internet, it’s much easier to access those sources, the food and the daily nutrition a musician need, and 24/7. It definitely gauges how fast you can retrieve information, but also it sets the bar very high.
On the other hand, sometimes, I wish you could just throw all of that overboard and avoid all these tools that are so accessible and just really go back inside yourself and go to the core—about what music is and how sound is produced, without having someone online tutoring you. You should be exploring your instrument, exploring yourself, exploring what you think should come out of you, in whatever capacity, as a composer or interpreter.
The acceleration of all these “tools” are also representing some sort of… danger is too harsh a term. The worldwide acceleration of everything, basically, is crazy. Sometimes, things need time to mature, to rest, to ferment, until they’re ready to be released and to enter your awareness and consciousness.
Santa Barbara is a beautiful place and it is so well run, which I always talk about everywhere I go in this world, when I’m talking about the Music Academy. Scott (Reed, Music Academy head) and his team are so committed. He is living his life for this vision, which is very atypical in the United States, where there is a lot of job-hopping and moving on, looking left and right, with people thinking “how can I enhance my potential?”
He is there. Everyone feels that: the donors, the public, the musicians, the guest artists that are coming. It’s very powerful.
I remember that people set the bar very high. It’s not just people coming to have a good time in a beautiful setting, in beautiful California on the coast. That’s not what it is. That’s a thrown-in bonus, but that’s not what people come to Santa Barbara for.
NP: The Music Academy is also a blessing and thrill for music lovers in Santa Barbara.
I remember that in my concert (in 2013), we played Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella” and a very challenging, complex piece—“bereshit”–by myself, a long piece, 30 minutes. And the public went nuts over it. This is probably something that must have felt like an asteroid landing on Santa Barbara, but people gave it all their listening capacity. It was actually a huge success. There is, let’s call it an aggressive open mindset in Santa Barbara.
MP: Obviously, that makes someone like me feel very welcome, and I’m really excited to go back.
NP: Your piece “towards Osiris” will have its West Coast premiere here. It’s an exciting and also intricately scored piece, but as you say, young musicians are probably better equipped to approach a complex score than earlier generations.
MP: I meet these young musicians all over the world, in similar situations. It happened last week in Paris, same sort of project. They are bringing so much to the table and they naturally have a commitment to exploring the Solo Suite and what they do with a piece by Ligeti or a brand new piece. This is the future and we’re in the middle of it. The younger generation brings a magic to the table that is a beautiful promise, to help keep us believing in what we do—which we need, desperately. It’s that “Avanti” spirit, of just going forward and seeing what happens, and then respond to it.
NP: The concert program itself in Santa Barbara—called “Vienna Connections”—looks fascinating, and free of warhorses. How does your piece relate to the theme, to the other items on the menu, the Zemlinsky and Brahms, orchestrated by Schoenberg?
MP: I think those major schools of the 20th century, such as the second Viennese school, have had a major influence. I cannot speak for everyone, but for many at least in my generation, clearly Schoenberg, Berg and Webern have at some point in our lives made a significant impact. Even if you bypass it or digest it and leave it alone, it’s there, as is the French music or Hungarian music of the same time.
Nowadays, I think my music refers to orchestrational novelties that have been introduced to the world in Vienna in the first 20 years of the 20th century. That is a link. I have definitely extended the techniques of how to treat an orchestra, but extended, let’s say, the inside perspective of how an orchestra can be used as an instrument that is equally capable to function as and have an identity as chamber music. Even if there are full forces, I have that desire to create perspective in sound.
The Brahms-Schoenberg G minor is a significant piece simply for the fact that the late Brahms is like early Schoenberg. If you look at the last Brahms’ works and the very early Schoenberg, there is a smooth link. (Similarly), the late, late Schubert is the earliest Bruckner.
I’m always fascinated by music history has these links in between compositional identities.
That’s why I also wanted to bring an early Zemlinsky piece to these musicians, because that’s probably not something they have tasted before. We didn’t have room for one of the big Zemlinsky pieces, like his symphonies. I thought “let’s try to work on style.” That’s what my role is in Santa Barbara, working with an orchestra that has all the abilities of operating like a professional orchestra, but they’re not yet professionals. They’re professional level, without having job assignments yet.
We can all play a Brahms Symphony, sure. Maybe, we can equally well play one of the major Schoenberg key works, but someone who is between all of that—between the Mahler and the Schubert, with a little French scent sprayed on it, that’s Zemlinsky.
NP: You were talking about being impacted by the Second Viennese School and filtering that through your own palette. I know that another major composer you have been linked to is Boulez, who you have been so connected to in many ways. That brings me to the Ojai Music Festival, for which you will be next year’s music director.
MP: Yep, and the program is really shaping up. I probably can’t tell you much about the content yet, but it’s going to be very exciting. It’s about the invisible bridge between the two continents, the old continent and the new world, and how they interact and question each other. Boulez was in Ojai many times (between 1967 and 2003).
And now the Ensemble is coming for the first time in their history and the festival’s history. It’s going to be a celebration and clearly also a celebration of Pierre’s spirit and what needed to be done to keep things moving. It doesn’t matter what direction it moves, but it needs to move (laughs).
This is clearly the spirit that Chad (Smith, the incoming artistic director) and me, and the musicians are coming from.