Matthias Pintscher makes debut with Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

The German Matthias Pintscher (Marl, 1971) makes his debut as a conducting composer with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. On Thursday 1 February he conducts the programme Japanese impressions, with works by Noriko Baba, Toru Takemitsu and Claude Debussy. The next evening Baba’s piece is replaced by Rudolf Escher’s Passacaglia. In both concerts Pintscher moreover presents the Dutch premiere of his violin concerto Mar’ eh. Soloist is the fearless American-Canadian Leila Josefowitz.

Pintscher studied composition with Manfred Trojahn and learned to conduct music at the International Eötvös Institute. From the outset he composed for symphony orchestra, not the most obvious thing to do for young composers at the time. The poetic eloquence of his music brought him many prizes and commissions.

He is honoured to work with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra: ‘The orchestra has its own signature, with strikingly lush strings. But the wind section is also special. Their brass has a warm, full tone, with soft attacks ­– even a fortissimo still has a rounded sound. This is unique in the world. To me the orchestra is the centre of European playing. It represents the Old Country.’

Since its foundation in 1888, the Concertgebouw Orchestra has worked with conducting composers, Pintscher stands in a long tradition. He himself is very impressed by Leonard Bernstein, whose hundredth birthday is celebrated this season. ‘But Mahler and others have also been a great inspiration to me. However, in this context, I’d rather speak of a complete musician. Because the alternation of composing and conducting gives you insight into both aspects of orchestral practice.’

Boulez taught me that it is not about us as conductor, but about the score. You must communicate the composer’s intentions to the audience, it’s irrelevant whether you want a sforzando to sound shorter or longer. It’s important to get that insight. Conversely, as a composer I have learned to graft my scores efficiently, because there is always too little rehearsal time. No matter how complex your piece, your notation must be clear and understandable. During the rehearsal we can then concentrate on form and content rather than on insignificant details.’

In Mar’eh, the solo violin weaves fine, glistening threads through delightful whisperings from the orchestra. The Hebrew word from the title has several meanings. Pintscher: ‘It means, among other things, “perspective”, “face”, “sign”, but also “aura”. Words can go in many directions, they are ambiguous. But I am a composer, not a writer, and have simply chosen mar’eh because it has strong connotations. It acts as a prism that is coloured by its context. The solo part is not virtuoso in the traditional sense, nor does the orchestra play an accompanying role. Both parts are completely equal.

The subtitle of the concert is a motto by Luigi Nono: presenze—memorie—colori—respiri. Pintscher explains: ‘This is a poetic description of what the core elements are music should convey. I have always immensely admired Nono’s music. We were to meet in Berlin in 1990, but he passed away three days before. We were born on the same day – and then we miss each other out with three days! This is my way to make a deep bow for him.’

On its website the Concertgebouw Orchestra labels Mar’eh ‘a search for purity in form and thought’. But don’t ask Pintscher about the deeper “meaning” of his concert. ‘It is nonsense to think that we can only understand a piece if the composer gives us a handle. When you go to a vernissage you do not ask the painter what the essence of his or her work is. My painter-friends always get away with it when they say nothing about their canvases.’

With a mischievous smile he concludes: ‘Composers are held hostage by that longing for an underlying message. But music speaks for itself. Every listener experiences music according to his or her own frame of reference. The opinion of a complete layman is just as valuable to me as that of a connoisseur.’

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