“We are all friends,” German violinist Andreas Reiner says of the Munich-based KlangVerwaltung Orchestra, which makes its Symphony Hall debut on Oct. 26. “We call each other by our first names,” he adds by phone.
The ensemble’s moniker may translate to “Sound Administration,” but the words’ impression of rigidity belies the philosophy behind the group itself. Having played in both large ensembles and quartets, Reiner knew he wanted something in between: an orchestra that played like a chamber ensemble, without hierarchy, with a democratic process that valued every musician’s opinion.
Seeing what Reiner calls the “personal, human, and loving” approach Bavarian conductor Enoch zu Guttenberg brought to music, he and fellow violinist Josef Kröner invited him to lead this different kind of orchestra, which they founded together in 1997. “He’s not wanting to be in charge all the time because he’s the big boss. He’s very approachable,” says Reiner.
Speaking by phone recently through an interpreter, Guttenberg offered his thoughts on purist performance, religion, and how environmental activism fits into classical performance.
Q. How was it that you joined the ensemble?
A. I was a regular guest conductor for ensembles in Germany and abroad. But as a guest conductor, normally you only have one week for rehearsals, so you will get only about 70 percent of your intended interpretation. Reiner and Kröner had heard about me and the way I worked, and that corresponded to their way of thinking and philosophy. This is how the KlangVerwaltung Orchestra was founded. We have a democratic system with this ensemble: When we rehearse I first give my ideas on interpretation, but all the musicians have a say and can contribute their input. At the end of the day, everybody is 100 percent behind the interpretation, which is rare.
Q. In addition to orchestras, you’ve been conducting the Chorgemeinschaft Neubeuern for almost 50 years now. Do you bring any elements of choral conducting and directing to the instrumental music you perform with the orchestra?
A. I believe that it would be very good for all conductors to have experience with choral music and singing. I’m convinced that to conduct, you have to be able to breathe with your ensemble. When you understand how singing works, you will learn how to breathe. When you know about singing, you don’t have to think as much about how you want to phrase a melody, for instance. It’s great to have this experience, especially for big symphonic pieces like Mahler and Bruckner.
Q. You’ve said you perform this program with special attention to the context and surroundings that Bach and Mozart would have been composing in. How is that reflected in the music?
A. I think that it is never enough to just know the score. As a conductor, you must always be aware of the work’s philosophical, historical, and religious history. If I take the example of Bach’s “Magnificat,” Bach was a Protestant, and the subject of the “Magnificat” is a highly Catholic one. So I wanted to understand how Bach as a Protestant dealt with this very Catholic topic. In Bach’s time, Protestants were only Protestant inside the Catholic church. The liturgy in the Protestant church was still in Latin, just as in the Catholic church. So in my interpretation, I want to show that you really cannot feel a difference between the two churches at the time. I wanted to make it a Catholic interpretation.
In German Protestantism, there were a lot of puristic, strict attitudes. Many of my colleagues take this view and interpret the piece in that way. It’s like iconoclasm with music — they try and calm down the brilliance of the trumpets, and perform the “Magnificat” with very few musicians. They give it a strict character. I do appreciate that interpretation, don’t get me wrong. But my view is different. When I perform the “Magnificat,” I see a Bavarian Baroque church in front of my eyes, and I try to use all the know-how we have about historically informed performance and add to this a lot of emotion and Baroque Catholic attitude.
Q. You’ve also said in your biography that you look for answers to the world’s unsolved questions in music. What are these questions, and what answers does this music give you?
A. I will try and give you a personal answer. I come from a very religious family, who were all strong believers. During my life, with everything I’ve seen in our world, I became somehow closer to Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy than that of Pope Benedict XVI. I see our world quite far away from God, and I myself have become an agnostic or an atheist; I am not sure which one. But when I conduct Bach or Mozart, then all of a sudden these problems disappear. When I am conducting, I become a believer once again, and I believe in the good spirit that created all of us. After the performance, I all of a sudden feel like a traitor, and I become agnostic again.
Q. Can you tell me about your work with environmental activism?
‘When I am conducting, I become a believer once again, and I believe in the good spirit that created all of us.’
A. When I was a child, at least in rural areas in Germany, man and nature still lived in a kind of symbiosis. But nowadays, if you know Joseph Haydn’s works, especially “The Seasons,” you know that the text describes something that has been lost forever. I have four kids myself, I have friends with kids, and I know that my own generation and my parents’ generation have behaved in a very irresponsible way when it comes to managing our natural resources. We taken them away from our kids and from future generations. I am one of the cofounders of one of the most important environmental associations in Germany, and I actually forecasted climate change 40 years ago but was derided at the time. I used music, like Haydn’s “The Creation”: When I performed it I turned around before we started and said to the audience, “Please do not just lean back and relax, but try to understand this music describes something that we have already lost.”
For me, the most important aspect of environmentalism is climate change. If global warming continues the way it does at the moment, mankind will not survive. At the same time I know it is absurd if I then take a plane with all these musicians to fly across the Atlantic. I know that doesn’t always fit into the picture. But I’m trying to compensate for that on many levels.
KlangVerwaltung Orchestra and Chorgemeinschaft Neubeuern Chorus
At Symphony Hall, Oct. 26. 888-266-1200, www.bso.orgInterview has been condensed and edited. Zoë Madonna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.