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This article by Elaine Strauss was prepared for the April 17, 2002
U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
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
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.
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
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
91 University Place, 609-258-2787. Featuring Hubert Soudant,
and guest soloist Valery Afanassiev on piano. $35 and $38.
April 17, 8 p.m.
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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