“It came as a complete surprise,” laughs Jonathan Nott, as he contemplates the fact that he will soon conduct his five-hundredth concert with the Bamberg Symphony. “I wasn’t counting. But it certainly shows how intense the relationship has been: five hundred performances means we’ve spent a lot of time together. And it’s just a remarkable feeling for me, that I have been able to work so closely with these fantastic musicians over the past eleven years. They’ve become an irrevocable part of me and I feel incredibly lucky.”
The relationship between the English-born Nott and the ambassadorial German orchestra that was originally conceived as an ensemble of Czech refugees after the Second World War is remarkably harmonious and productive. This looks set to continue: not only are they celebrating 500 performances together as well as the continuing release, on Tudor, of the Mahler symphony cycle, which has been garnering rave reviews; but Nott has just extended his contract until 2016, with plans to conduct, among many other programmes both symphonic and operatic, a complete Ring cycle in 2013.
“This is a journey,” Nott explains. “And I think we have an intensely symbiotic relationship, the orchestra and me. It’s not just about what I bring to them as conductor, because what really is a conductor? You’re giving form to something that others create. My own emotional response to music-making has been something they have allowed me to develop as a musician, which goes hand-in-hand with my development as a human being. And as long as the relationship keeps growing, as long as we all keep exhibiting the desire and the willingness to experiment, not to get complacent, I don’t think the relationship will become stale.”
Central to the way Nott approaches his music-making with Bamberg is a spirit of openness and humility that encourages each and every musician to “really listen to each other; to allow the individual voice to influence the collective. With this comes an extraordinary flexibility: we are somehow able to turn corners faster without losing the sonority.” This musical pliability must be particularly helpful given that Bamberg, as Nott points out, is a “real performing orchestra: we don’t sit on our laurels. We don’t have that snobbish element that somehow requires our audiences to come to us; we go out seeking audiences and we love it.”
All orchestras enjoy performing, one hopes, but with Bamberg, as Nott enthuses, “you really feel that excitement of wanting to play, that need, that desire to communicate. The performing animal of the orchestra is very strong and alive and it really screams off the stage in the way they make music. I think that’s very special.”
Although the orchestra under Nott has tackled a wide range of repertoire – “from Bach to Boulez, it’s really quite staggering” – there is one composer with whom they have become increasingly associated. “Mahler has been very important to us,” Nott admits. “Our relationship to his music has changed me enormously, changed my life. His is the type of music that fits into a non-intellectual but highly complex approach, and the emotional spectrum his music requires from everyone works well with the Bamberg sound, which is very reflective, internal and dark; not at all flashy.”
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra