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This article by Elaine Strauss was prepared for the April 17, 2002

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Music from Mozart’s Birthplace

It is 10 p.m. and Hubert Soudant, chief conductor of

the Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg (MOS), is neither conducting a

concert, out on the town, nor partying. During the day he led two

rehearsals of Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony. The previous evening he


a concert. "I’m very busy," he says in a telephone interview

from Salzburg, Austria. "But at home in the evening I can relax,

study, and listen to music. When I don’t need to go away, I prefer

to be at home."

Soudant and the MOS musicians, with guest solo pianist Valery


take part in forthcoming concerts in Princeton and New Brunswick.

The orchestra, which traces its roots to 1841, was founded by the

citizens of Salzburg, together with Mozart’s widow Constance. Its

modern history begins in 1920 when it participated in the inaugural

Salzburg Festival

Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg appears at McCarter Theater Wednesday,

April 17, in a program that features Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27

in B-Flat, K. 595, with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4. The orchestra

performs at the State Theater, New Brunswick, Sunday, April 21, with

an all-Mozart program of his Symphonies No. 38, "The Prague,"

and No. 41, "The Jupiter," as well as the piano concerto K.


The repertoire of the orchestra is immense. In a recent 10-year


it recorded more than 25 albums. The pool of instrumental works for

the American tour consists of two piano concertos, K. 595 and K. 271,

and four orchestral works, all of which will be performed in the U.S.

1 area.

The full MOS orchestra consists of 91 full-time members; the Princeton

and New Brunswick concerts call for 41 instrumentalists. Conductor

Soudant considers the opportunity to mix and match pieces during the

tour a means of relaxation for the members. "It takes more


to play the same program night after night," he says.

Soudant, 56, was born in Maastricht, the medieval Dutch city in which

the European Union was designed. Like many in Maastricht, his name

is French. His father, who worked for the Dutch railway, was a very

good amateur trumpeter, and trumpet was Soudant’s first instrument.

Both father and son Soudant were steeped in the marching band


of their region. "There’s fantastic band music in the south of

Holland," Soudant says.

He studied trumpet with his father, who was a difficult teacher.


mother loved music and she still does," says Soudant. "When

my father was too severe, she helped me overcome his criticism."

Soudant has two younger sisters, neither of whom studied music. "I

think they were afraid to get lessons from my father," he says.

He entered the Conservatory in Maastricht at age 16, and switched

instruments. His father pointed out to him that he couldn’t manage

high notes on the trumpet very well, and told him he would do better

with horn. "It had to do with the structure of my mouth, with

my embouchure," Soudant says.

By chance rather than design Soudant began his conducting studies

in 1967 while he was at the Maastricht Conservatory. "One day

during my studies the director came by and said, `I’ve heard that

there is a conductor’s course in Hilversum and that you have talent

and could do it.’" Soudant took the course, which was taught by

Jean Fournet. "Students had less control over their lives then

than now," he notes.

Fournet encouraged Soudant to continue studying with him. After a

second round, he urged Soudant to compete in the International Young

Conductors Competition in Besancon, France, whose winners include

the Boston Symphony’s Seiji Ozawa, and the New Jersey Symphony


Zdenek Macal. Soudant won.

It was not until 1985, when he was almost 40, that Soudant made his

debut as an opera conductor. "I was late with classical


he says. "Earlier, it was band music. I had to study very hard

to close the gap. I needed a lot of time to catch up. I had to learn

a lot of normal scores." He marvels at the difference between

his own history and that of his two children, now in their late 20s.

"I had my first exposure to classical music when I was 16. My

children at age two heard Mozart and Haydn."

Today Soudant is an opera enthusiast. "It’s the highest degree

of music because the different arts come together," he says.

How does being a horn player affect Soudant’s view of

the orchestra? "You get very gentle with musicians," he says,

"because you know how sensitive an instrument the horn is. You

breathe with the orchestra. As a horn player your breathing system

has to be very good. You can’t play a passage on the horn without

first hearing it in your ear. It’s the same when you conduct. You

should hear everything before you conduct the first bar, before the

orchestra makes the first sound."

Soudant came to the Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg in 1995. During

the preceding 15 years he held conducting posts in Paris, Utrecht,

and Parma, in Europe, and in Melbourne, Australia. At present, in

addition to his position with MOS he is music director of the


National de Pays de Loire in Nantes, France; and principal guest


of the Tokyo Symphony.

He has expanded the repertoire of the MOS to include an increasing

number of works by Bruckner and by French composers. "Bruckner

is my passion," he says "I first heard Bruckner when I was

16, and I loved it. Bruckner uses a lot of brass and in such a


way. Also, Bruckner was a very believing person, and I am, too. We’re

both Roman Catholic. All this together drew me to him."

As for wanting to increase the amount of French music in the


Soudant attributes this to his Dutch background. "In Holland


much French music," he says "and I had French teachers at

the Conservatoire."

New music is another area that interests Soudant. "Contemporary

music has a very important place in my world," he says. "When

you’re the music director of any orchestra you are obliged to help

the composers who live in that place to be performed and


He stresses the re-performance. "It’s very nice to play piece

once. But it’s the re-performance that’s really important. As music

director you have the power to perform new works."

He cites himself as a good example "At my French orchestra we

have four composers in residence. Last week we premiered a wonderful

piece by Jean-Louis Florenz, `Les Enfants des Iles.’ It had to do

with Madagascar. It was 33 minutes long and got a wonderful reception.

I was very honored. The piece was dedicated to me. There was a big

article in `Le Monde.’"

Soudant is critical about contemporary music. "I like modern


he says, "but it’s important that the composition be well done.

It’s important that there is some benefit for the musicians in the

end. Contemporary music opens new horizons and gives new impulses

to music. It’s important to make music, not just with your heart,

but with your brain. Leonard Bernstein is a model. How many


he has given life to."

Soudant has been praised for improving the quality of the MOS.


I came to the orchestra," he says, "it was not at the level

it’s at today. That’s true of all orchestras around the world. I heard

the New York Philharmonic not too long ago. When you compare that

with its sound 50 years ago, it’s unbelievably different. The


of musicians today is closer to perfection than it was 50 years ago.

Imagine the young player who comes to an orchestra today. That new

player has better training, and has experienced more competition in

school than musicians of the past. In former times there were, maybe,

10 candidates for a violin position in an orchestra. Today there are


Technological advances play a part in the quality of today’s


Soudant believes. "Formerly there were no recordings and no


The system of recording now has achieved its highest perfection."

The ordinary jet plane makes it possible for Soudant to lead


in Austria, France, and Japan, with international tours in between.

"When Toscanini came to perform in America he spent a few weeks

on the boat. Now the Concorde gets me there in three hours."

Soudant’s experience with orchestras in Austria, France, Italy, the

Netherlands, and Japan has groomed him to generalize readily.

"An Austrian or German orchestra plays intensely because they

believe that playing in an orchestra is a beautiful thing. The French

and Italians are more individual; when they like you they really play

for you; it’s very much sentimental. The Germans, English, and Dutch

play for their orchestra, not for their conductor; they’re proud of

their orchestra. The Australians are like the English. The Japanese

are disciplined and eager to do the best they can."

Soudant strikes out on his own about a matter of his own choosing.

"It will be beautiful to be in America again," he volunteers.

"I suffered a lot of pain in my heart about September 11th. It

was the time of the 30th anniversary of my orchestra in France. We

felt very together with your country. I announced that we wouldn’t

start with the `Symphonie Fantastique.’ Instead, we played the


of Samuel Barber. We were shocked. How can one human being do this

to another one? You can’t threaten the terrorists because they’re

not normal people."

In America, Soudant’s 12-city tour takes the orchestra to both coasts

in 16 days. Between the Princeton concert and the performance in New

Brunswick Soudant will have no time to put his feet up. For in that

four-day interval there are performances in Charleston, South Carolina

and Athens, Georgia. The group returns to Salzburg the day after the

New Brunswick concert. Only then will Soudant be free to enjoy another

quiet evening at home.

— Elaine Strauss

Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg, McCarter Theater,

91 University Place, 609-258-2787. Featuring Hubert Soudant,


and guest soloist Valery Afanassiev on piano. $35 and $38.


April 17, 8 p.m.

Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg, State Theater,

15 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, 877-782-8311. Mozart’s most


symphonies, "Prague" and "Jupiter." Guest soloist

Valery Afanassiev, piano. $20 to $40. Sunday, April 21, 7 p.m.

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