Weigle on ‘vorspiel’ mission

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Sebastian Weigle, principal conductor of the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra

This is the fourth spring for Sebastian Weigle to serve as principal conductor of the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra. The German maestro made three visits to Japan in 2020 and 2021, when people visiting from overseas had to quarantine for 14 days due to the pandemic, deepening his rapport with YNSO members.

Weigle sat down with The Yomiuri Shimbun to share his thoughts on where he is planning to guide the orchestra.

■ Rare gem by Schnyder

The Yomiuri Shimbun: What kind of response have you received from the orchestra since you became principal conductor in April 2019?

Weigle: Although the pandemic hit the tail end of my first season with the YNSO, I stayed in Japan for nearly three months from December 2020 and had opportunities to conduct [Beethoven’s] Ninth Symphony and Wagner’s “Tannhauser” [sung by the Tokyo Nikikai Opera]. Opera houses and concert halls were closed in Germany at the time, so those were big presents for me.

I had to find my way with the orchestra initially. But when I clearly express to the members the image I have regarding music, they respond quickly. They’re very friendly and always smiling even during rehearsals, which makes me happy. It’s like all of us are supporting each other toward a single goal. I think we’re doing a great job.

Q: What is your view on the programs for the new season?

Weigle: Personally, I’m excited that we’ll take on “The Revelation of St. John” by Daniel Schnyder, a friend of mine for the past 20 years, along with Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem in September as part of the Subscription Concerts series.

(“The Revelation of St. John”) is a religious work with a choir, but there are many elements worth listening to, such as the contemporary musical language vocalization and dramatic expressions of emotion, which makes it enjoyable for everyone. The instrumentation is the same as Ein Deutsches Requiem, but it’s interesting that these two works contrast with each other in many ways.

At the Subscription Concerts series performance in June, we’ll play Rudi Stephan’s rarely performed Music for Orchestra. Stephan’s music embodies German Romanticism following the style of Bruckner. Before I became a conductor, I played horn at the Berlin State Opera. I got to know this work at that time and was immensely moved. This is a great piece.

Q: You’ll also take on many works by Russian composers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky and Taneyev.

Weigle: I started my career as a musician in theaters, so I became familiar with Russian music through operas and ballet. Taneyev’s Symphony No. 4, which I will conduct at the December concert of the Subscription Concerts series, has many things in common with Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2, which will also be played at the concert (with Kyohei Sorita as soloist). I think they make an ideal combination.

■ Performing in front of people

Q: The novel coronavirus pandemic is not over yet, and the situation continues to be precarious for musicians all over the world.

Weigle: I can say with absolute certainty that music and the arts are essential to our society. In short, we musicians are essential workers. Despite that, concerts and operas are regarded as nonessential. I feel helpless even though I’m the general music director of the Frankfurt Opera.

That said, there are things I can do. Livestreaming concerts is one answer, but I’d like to create opportunities and find places for people to enjoy live music as much as possible.

The German word “vorspiel” means “performing in front of people.” I think that’s the most important mission for musicians. Currently, theaters and concert halls across the globe are desperately thinking about how to continue it. New ideas are born at a time of crisis, so I’m not so pessimistic.

■ The process of making music

Q: What are your expectations for the YNSO from now on?

Weigle: As I’ve said before, our communications are becoming faster and faster in whatever we do. Sometimes we don’t even need words, and can communicate with each other through eye contact or the tilt of a hand. We’ve come this far and can do many things together. But we shouldn’t just efficiently pursue a good result. We should enjoy rehearsals more — the process of making music.

Be it Bruckner or Dvorak, the essence of music is not about the sounds produced in rehearsals and concerts. Rather, it lies in the process of making sounds, and music is all about taking delight in that process.