The NHK Sym­phony Orches­tra has a long Strauss tra­di­tion, the Es­to­nian con­duc­tor tells

Why did you choose Strauss for your first record­ing with the NHK Sym­phony Orches­tra?

The real rea­son was the tra­di­tion of the orches­tra. No one talks about Ja­pan’s Strauss tra­di­tion but if you start look­ing closely at who has con­ducted the NHK Sym­phony Orches­tra, then it’s pretty ob­vi­ous they have spent a lot of time with great con­duc­tors. Her­bert von Kara­jan is a good ex­am­ple, and of course he was one of the great­est ex­perts on Strauss. There’s this love for Strauss’s mu­sic which I im­me­di­ately felt when I con­ducted the orches­tra. His or­ches­tral writ­ing is dense and com­pli­cated but on top of that it re­quires fa­mil­iar­ity with his id­iom, which the orches­tra re­ally has. I chose to pair Don Juan and Ein Helden­leben as the sto­ries are both about in­di­vid­u­als – I found the con­nec­tion charm­ing.

How would you de­scribe the NHK Sym­phony Orches­tra’s sound?

It has a kind of so­lid­ity and the tech­ni­cal ca­pac­ity of a big Amer­i­can orches­tra – its strong ma­chin­ery re­minds me of the Chicago Sym­phony Orches­tra in a way – but the sound and soul of a Ger­man orches­tra. In Ja­pan there is an enor­mous re­spect, mu­si­cally speak­ing, for ev­ery­thing Ger­man and from the Ger­man-speak­ing world. Strauss, Brahms, Mahler and Schu­mann are all very pop­u­lar in Ja­pan and played of­ten.

What plans do you have for your work with this orches­tra?

When it comes to the larger pic­ture, I hope that we gain some vis­i­bil­ity and stand­ing in Europe. It’s not so of­ten that Ja­panese or­ches­tras visit Europe. But this one is a strong con­tender for a very top pro­fes­sional orches­tra. Mu­si­cally, it’s like any orches­tra: there’s a never-end­ing quest to be bet­ter. That’s what makes this pro­fes­sion so in­ter­est­ing. At the mo­ment we’re in the mid­dle of record­ing Takemitsu, which is an ex­cit­ing project. And I’m com­mit­ted to in­tro­duc­ing Es­to­nian mu­sic here too.

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