No guest conductor with the Boston Symphony Orchestra this year has made a stronger impression than Vladimir Jurowski. In October, the 40-year-old Russian led a performance of Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony that was precise in detail and overwhelming in sweep. That a score of such density could be prepared so skillfully in short order drew attention. Suddenly there were whispers that Jurowski might be under consideration as the BSO’s next music director.
Not that he doesn’t have plenty on his plate right now — especially in London, where he is music director of both the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Glyndebourne Opera. (He is also artistic director of the State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia.) The LPO is having an especially interesting season: As part of The Rest Is Noise, a festival based on music critic Alex Ross’s book of the same name, the orchestra is playing nothing but 20th-century music at its principal venue, the Southbank Centre in London.
The LPO comes to Symphony Hall on Friday, courtesy of the Celebrity Series of Boston, with a program of Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The Globe spoke to Jurowski by phone, as he traveled by train from Lyon, France, to Geneva.
LONDON PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA
Q. Your performance of the Shostakovich Fourth was quite an achievement. Why did you choose such a vast and complex piece for your debut here?
A. Because I love this symphony very much, and because I think it deserves to be played more often than it usually does. We had several pieces we had discussed, but this one seemed to appeal to the orchestra the most. Because it’s not only vast and complex but it’s also a fantastic playground — or, maybe better said, a battleground — of orchestral forces. It’s a very good opportunity for an orchestra to show its real capacity, and also for the conductor, because the piece is highly complex, in structure but also in detail. I’ve always thought this was among the best, if not the best, symphonies Shostakovich ever wrote. He certainly thought so himself.
‘You don’t need to be looking for the answers somewhere outside the score. It’s all in the score.’
Q. How difficult was it to prepare in the time you had? Did you feel as though you established a good rapport with the orchestra?
A. I think that because the rapport worked, the rest was a matter of technical preparation. The musicians were very focused and very willing to walk along this path of discovery. Because they knew the symphony but not really well. They allowed me to do all the necessary preparation work, which sometimes runs to a great amount of detail. You know, as a guest conductor, on your first date with an orchestra, you probably wouldn’t dare to go that deeply into the details. But it was necessary, and the musicians were very resolved and calm — that helped me a lot. . . . In Boston, like other American cities, you’ve got the luxury of repeating it, and with every repeat the program gets more and more secure. So the last performance of the symphony, on the third day, was very memorable to me.
Q. There are rumors that you are a candidate to succeed James Levine as the BSO’s next music director. Any comment?
A. Well, I haven’t heard those rumors myself [laughter], so I cannot comment upon this. And also, at the moment, it’s too early to speak about such huge steps forward in a relationship which has just started. I’d like to get to know the orchestra better and to perform with them more often on a regular basis, potentially. But I’m certainly not prepared to comment upon such a suggestion — it’s far too early.
Q. What’s it like for the LPO to play only music of the last 100 years or so at its home base?
A. It’s thrilling, it’s exciting, it’s challenging, in all possible ways. But I think it’s also very gratifying, because you learn so much as you go along. You learn by comparing, you learn by putting the pieces in context and performing them next to pieces of the composer’s contemporaries. And you just gradually change your view of the music that people often refer to as “modern.” I think this music is already a firm part of our cultural history, and I think it should be approached as such. Even music written after the Second World War, composers like Stockhausen, Nono, Feldman, Cage — it’s already history. Not that it’s dated. But I don’t think we should approach them any differently than we approach Wagner, or Brahms, or Shostakovich. . . . I’m greatly looking forward to continuing this series, and maybe, one day, introducing something like this series elsewhere, not only in London.
Q. How hard is it to bring Beethoven 5 on tour and show something new in it?
A. If you’re resolved to play this music, you’ve already answered a lot of the questions yourself. Because it does require a certain amount of courage from the orchestra and from the conductor to present themselves with this symphony, wherever you play it. But if you’ve got something special to say about this music, it’s extremely gratifying, because I think all the answers lie in the music itself. You don’t need to be looking for the answers somewhere outside the score. It’s all in the score.
Q. I think what you’re saying is that you don’t have to consciously make the piece novel. You just have to embrace it.
A. Like any great piece, you’ve got to get to the essence of it, and once you do, you’ve got to stop approaching it as an icon. It’s not an icon; it’s a living piece of art. And it does require a performer to be brought to life, like any piece, no matter how famous it is and how many performances it has had before. And there are things to be discovered. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. But for yourself, that particular night you perform it, it’s got to be fresh and organic, and it’s got to come from the heart.
Q. In addition to your work with the LPO, Glyndebourne, and in Russia, you’re also a regular guest conductor with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. How does your involvement with early music affect your work with modern orchestras?
A. It’s a very fruitful symbiosis. You’ll hear it at the moment we start playing the Beethoven symphony. Not only do we use period timpani and trumpets and flutes, but also a very spare use of vibrato. I’m not against vibrato. I think it’s an important color in the orchestral palette. But it should be used consciously and responsibly.
For me, it’s but a part of my musical setup. I regard it as important for my musical development as my innate connection with the Russian or Romantic German tradition. I think we represent conglomerates of traditions which we have come in touch with in the course of our lives. It’s not what you represent; it’s what you make of it that’s so important.