As he prepares to open the 2017/2018 season of Abu Dhabi Classics with the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, conductor James Gaffigan takes five minutes to talk to us about the relevance of classical music today and the role of an audience
For audience members who may not be familiar with classical performances, how significant is the conductor?
I think the easiest comparison is to compare a conductor to a coach of a football team. It’s very similar in that you get these people, they are individually talented in different ways and have different strengths and weaknesses, but it’s my job to bring them together and make them agree on one interpretation.
On opening night, you’ll be performing works from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4, which is over 200 years old. Why is it important that work like this is still being played today?
There are few composers that are as prolific as Beethoven. He was a revolutionary; he was brought up on the music of Bach and other composers and he struggled to make a new voice or new way of making music with the same orchestra and same instrument, so he was breaking a lot of moulds and boundaries.
In a way, some people think his music was the bridge to romanticism and that all these other romantic composers came after him, like Brahms and Wagner, to the music we know today, all the way to pop music and film music.
It’s very important to preserve the music of Beethoven as he wrote it because it’s the same reason why we go to a museum: we’re celebrating the past and how we got to the present time.
Beethoven is a household name, even for those who haven’t studied classical music. Are there any current composers who you think will have the same influence centuries later?
There are certain people who’ve had the same type of success – for example, some film composers like John Williams. Some pop stars have come close – like Michael Jackson – in becoming a household name and creating music that everyone loves. But I don’t think in my lifetime anyone will compare to someone like Beethoven or Mozart.
You’re opening the season of Abu Dhabi Classics so there’s going to be a great energy. Does this energy influence you or the orchestra?
I think the energy of the audience is so important. Overall, we’re very moved by the public and that’s the beauty of music: we want to share it with other people because we don’t do it for ourselves. We sense when the public is intrigued, enthralled or not interested. The public can make or break a concert.
The orchestra is playing what’s billed as one of Beethoven’s most romantic works. Do you think a venue like Al Jahili Fort will add to that romance?
Without a doubt. The acoustics are sometimes not ideal but it just adds to the romanticism of the piece and feeling of the overall concert, and inspires the musicians also to play in a more passionate way.
James Gaffigan and the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra play on 12th October at Al Jahili Fort, Al Ain and 13th October at Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi. From AED 100. 8pm.
Visit: ticketmaster.ae, abudhabimusic.ae
WORDS Rachael Perrett