The Seattle Symphony’s monumental Beethoven Cycle enters its second season tonight with an evening of Beethoven paired with music from two of the Prokofievs – Sergei and his grandson Gabriel Prokofiev. We spoke to the orchestra’s conductor, Ludovic Morlot.
Ludovic Morlot has recently released the complete symphonic masterworks of Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013) on the orchestra's own label Seattle Symphony Media. The Seattle Symphony’s five-year commitment to the symphonic repertoire of Dutilleux has made the Seattle Symphony stand out, bringing a well-deserved awareness and curiosity about one of the late 20th century’s leading symphonists. For Morlot, Dutilleux’s music is the true continuation of the French Symphonic tradition.
2016 has been an important year for celebrating the music of Henri Dutilleux, because of the centenary of his birth. Tell me a bit about what the Seattle Symphony has been doing to mark this significant year.
For me, every year is an important Dutilleux year! But the fact that this year Dutilleux would have turned 100 makes it a very special occasion. We wanted to release what we call the complete symphonic masterworks of Dutilleux.
We started the journey five years ago when I arrived in Seattle, planning a lot of Dutilleux recordings each year, with the goal of finally having them all released within five years. Only a month ago we managed to release the full 3-album set, which really came as a consecration of the work we have been doing.
We left out the two song cycles that he wrote towards the end of his life and some very early pieces such as a ballet that he wrote in the 50s just before the First Symphony. I’m sure we’ll be exploring those sometime in the future. But what you’ll find in the recordings we’ve made are the true masterworks of Dutilleux. You knew Henri Dutilleux personally. What was your experience of meeting him for the first time?
I first met Dutilleux in Boston. My first meeting with him was just after I became assistant to the Boston Symphony Orchestra. It was really thanks to Seiji Ozawa, whom I had been studying with in Tanglewood, the BSO’s summer residence, that this friendship began.
So I was invited to Boston by Seiji Ozawa to be an assistant at one of the weeks in the summer and they were doing a piece by Dutilleux called Shadows of Time. Dutilleux was there on that trip, to make a few revisions, so I was able to sit with him many times throughout the week, reading the score and we had the chance to go out for lunch and dinner and we built up a friendship. I would go and meet him every time I went to Paris. He was a very dear friend. Does it help that you are both French?
It is always a debatable one, but I think so, in the sense that music is linked to language. French music is not disconnected from the way we speak French. I don’t want to pretend I understand his musical language better than someone who is not French, but it is certainly something that perhaps made it easier to start the work and study of his music. You won a Grammy for the recording of Dutilleux’s Métaboles, L'arbre des songes & Symphony No. 2 "Le double" and this album was also nominated for a Gramophone award this year. How has that experience been?
It was a huge honour. It’s overwhelming when you work so hard on a project and the results are being recognised. It’s a real privilege. I hope it will invite a lot of people to want to discover this music. I think for me, Dutilleux is the great symphonic master of the late 20th century, along with Pierre Boulez, although with a very different aesthetic. For me, his music is very much a continuation of the French symphonic tradition.
So first of all, I hope those awards help trigger people’s curiosity about Dutilleux. Secondly, it’s a fantastic thing for the Seattle Symphony to be put in the spotlight because we have worked so hard at it. You seem extremely busy with projects, so I am very curious to hear what is coming up next for you.
We opened our new season last weekend with Joyce DiDonato as our guest. In terms of recording sessions, I am embarking on a Messiaen project. We are recording Poèmes pour Mi, a wonderful song cycle from the 1930s which I have been dying to record for some time.
Tonight we are opening our subscription concert series of the complete Beethoven cycle. It’s now beginning its second season. We have been doing all the Beethoven symphonies and concertos over two seasons.
So tonight we are opening with the 1st and 8th symphonies of Beethoven and parallel to this, we are playing the music of Prokofiev. Not only the music of Sergei Prokofiev but also a brand new commission by his grandson Gabriel Prokofiev. The work is called When the City Rules. He has worked with us in the past as an orchestrator, but finally we commissioned him to compose this new work, so I am really excited to premiere it.
We have a few more commissions but the big highlights for me this season are: continuing and concluding this Beethoven cycle and performing Ravel’s opera L’Enfant et les sortilèges in concert and we’ll close the season with Mahler’s 5th and Ligeti’s Requiem, which I look forward to tremendously.
Another highlight is that alongside the Beethoven 9, we have paired the symphony with Messiaen’s Trois petites liturgies which is part of my recording programme.
There is a wonderful panel of guests, both soloists and conductors and premieres so there is much to be looking forward to for sure. I wish you all the best for the coming season. Thank you for sharing your insights with us.
"Debussy's adaptation of gamelan was almost like a movie adaptation of a book. Every piece he composed after the exhibition was written through the prism of his own imagination, which was, needless to say, an imagination of a genius."