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.