Classical Crisis

Bach to the Future

Concentrating, not letting disturbances in – one of the Kent Nagano's mantras.

Handelsblatt: Mr. Nagano, you have just come from a rehearsal of Beethoven’s “Missa solemnis.” Do you think there will be a few young people at the concert?

Mr. Nagano: The audience is getting older at least in Europe and North America. This is causing me a lot of worry. Classical music is no longer part of everyday reality for young people. But in China that is different, or in Russia. In these countries the concert halls are full of young people.

Why is classical music in danger of being something only for the elite?

It’s not the music’s fault, it is all about how we present it. The great masterpieces are timeless. It is my challange to open this door to everybody.

One reason is surely austerity measures when it comes to culture…

Naturally, an event such as the financial and government debt crisis had a direct effect on our budgets. Yes, our world is threatening the arts. Serious art always costs something, and will never sell as well as mere entertainment, even though nobody disputes that it brings added value to a society. The problem is, we can never put an exact number on its value. That’s why artists have it so hard in a world dominated by economic interests.

How do you see your role as conductor?

When one leads an institution, it is tempting to do it the way it has always been done. We artists must always endeavor to break out of our routine. Music is called the international language and when one shares musical experiences, the differences between nationalities, ethnic background and social class disappear. We all live in very difficult and turbulent times. If the world were to lose music as a form of communication, then it would lose public spirit, wit and creativity. Music is more than the moment of the performance. But I will not compromise classical music for the sake of popularity – a compromise diminishes everything, and one loses his integrity.

You performed music from Frank Zappa. How does that fit?

His music was banned in my house, I only had contact with him much later. I was very curious, and wrote to Zappa’s management and said I would like to see some of his scores. He invited me to one of his concerts and I met him backstage. I found some of his compositions fascinating. We recorded them in London and were in close contact until his death.

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