primephonic's Rachel Deloughry sat down for a conversation with Finnish conductor Hannu Lintu about the importance of having fellow-conductors as friends, the need for a unique sound and recording an impressively extensive discography. Hannu Lintu has been Chief Conductor of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra since August 2013. Previous seasons have seen him conducting a compete cycle of the Sibelius symphonies as well as conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic.
What were the highlights of your most recent pursuits?
The 2015-16 season was a Sibelius highlight! It was full of Sibelius! We went on tour to Japan and had important performances in Vienna and Salzburg and we finished with a series of TV programmes about Sibelius. I would say that my last 2 years have been one big Sibelius highlight and to be honest I’m happy it’s over!
I started two and a half years ago with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, so this is my 3rd season. I know the orchestra well and I have been conducting them for years. Since I started, I realised that if I want to find a deeper relationship with an orchestra, that process will undoubtedly come from Sibelius. The orchestra is very experienced in Sibelius – they recorded Sibelius twice with Jukka-Pekka Saraste. I can now safely say that I know them well and our relationship has been developing well through this Sibelius process. The relationship between chief conductor and orchestra develops through core pieces, such as through Beethoven, Haydn, Brahms. In the case of a Finnish orchestra it would be Sibelius.
Before the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, I was chief conductor of Tampere Philharmonic. The record label Ondine has a very long relationship with Tampere and they have done several projects there. I spoke with Reijo Kiilunen, the label's founder, and we had an idea that we should create a project and make several recordings around one composer or theme. The original idea was to record complete Enescu, to divide it between myself and Sakari Oramo who was chief conductor of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra at the time, which would have been 6 albums if you include all Enescu's symphonies as well as rhapsodies. But then he left Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and 6 albums of Enescu would have taken up too much time, so we decided to do a smaller project of the same composer. I think it was very interesting because I knew some of Enescu but then when I began to carefully examine the scores, I was fascinated by it! I found that it would suit the Tampere orchestra and it turned out to be a very important project for the orchestra. The orchestra developed a lot, and developed an entirely new sound. Enescu's music is romantic but Mediterranean at the same time. It’s eastern European and French at the same time. So it’s really something that you have to develop certain approach and sound for. Also the texture: there are so many layers. We enjoyed it a lot and the orchestra developed so much. They managed to find a new sound. I am now really happy that I did it. It’s a pity that I haven’t had a chance to conduct the repertoire again. After recording these, I have not conducted a single Enescu symphony.
What are your thoughts on how an orchestra should sound?
I think if I compare recordings made now and 10 years ago, I would say that back then, there was a tendency to make all the orchestras sound somewhat the same. There were producers and engineers who were doing a fantastic job but what they actually did was that they equalised the sound, so it didn’t matter if the orchestra was American or Scandinavian, but they all sounded more or less the same. But nowadays we are going in a new direction in which it matters more how orchestras sound individually. Here in Helsinki we have a fantastic new hall which opened 5 years ago and it’s an ideal place for recordings and when we were trying to become accustomed to the new hall, we had to build a new sound. Part of that process was also to learn how to make recordings in that hall. We are now recording about 3 albums per year and each one is proving to be better and better as we develop our sound. I think recordings should sound exactly as the orchestra usually sounds, otherwise it doesn’t make any sense. Each performance is a reproduction of a score, therefore variation is essential. It is important that when you buy a recording, you should take into account how a composer intended it to sound. But also the reason why this or that music was recorded. That reason comes through in the sound. So that was a very good question.
Yes, this individual trademark sound of each orchestra is becoming more and more pronounced, what with the rise of independent labels and orchestra’s own in-house labels, right?
Yes. LPO, for instance, has its own label and sounds very much like LPO should sound. This way, people have more reason to buy recordings than they did 10 years ago. Now it makes more sense to go back and record the core repertoire again and again. Think about the recent boom of newly-released Beethoven complete symphony recordings. If somebody even suggested recording a new Beethoven cycle 10 years ago it would seem ridiculous, but now after the great recordings of Bernstein and the Minnesota Orchestra etc, it all makes sense! All these orchestras really sound different. What advice would you give to young aspiring conductors?
I have some pupils at the Sibelius Academy where I am guest conducting professor. There is not one single piece of advice I can give them because people are so different, but one of the main things I can say comes from when I was a young conductor and still studying: conductors need other conductors around. We really need to have conductor friends, because this is a very complex profession. There are so many strange problems in this field and nobody else can understand these problems except another conductor. You can only discuss these things with somebody who faces the same challenges as you. So what I would say is, keep a conductor in the vicinity and that way you can speak about your thoughts and problems more easily.
I have wonderful instrumentalist and singer friends and I would be telling them about something that happened in a rehearsal or about a problem I have with a certain piece or something like that, and they just don’t understand what I’m talking about. So conductors are very easily left alone with their problems and sometimes you just want to reflect on them with someone.
There is little doubt that Currentzis has strived to make Mozart’s ‘Da Ponte’ operas sound as fresh as possible. The conductor’s faith in Mozart’s music and its relevance, after all, is evident: ‘Mozart is always contemporary, always modern’.