By Hiroko Ihara / Japan News Staff WriterGerman conductor Sebastian Weigle sees orchestras as a big family — his ideal is to work harmoniously with their members and trust each other.
Weigle, 57, will become the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra’s 10th principal conductor in April 2019.
“The YNSO has the great potential for better sounds. I want to bring out from the orchestra what is the most suited for each piece,” he said at a recent press conference.
Weigle currently serves as general music director of the Oper Frankfurt. He was a hornist before he started conducting under Daniel Barenboim. Weigle has conducted a number of productions at world-class opera houses, including the Deutsche Oper Berlin and the Metropolitan Opera. He has also appeared at the Bayreuth Festival.
When he was invited to be the YNSO’s principal conductor last autumn, Weigle felt the offer came at the right time because he wanted to conduct more orchestra pieces. The new post therefore means “more joy than work for me,” he said.
“Mr. Weigle is acclaimed for his interpretations of Wagner and Richard Strauss. His established musicality, and the fact that the mainstream conservative German and Austrian repertoire are his forte, bode well for our orchestra’s further progress and success,” a YNSO official said.
Weigle will succeed French conductor Sylvain Cambreling, whose talents have boosted the YNSO’s performance level, particularly in modern, contemporary and French music.
Weigle has come to Japan 21 times since the 1980s, including his latest visit. He performed with the YNSO in August 2016 and July 2017, and felt its members made great efforts to be their best both in rehearsals and performances. “They also absorbed what I conveyed to them like a sponge,” he said.
He is scheduled to lead the orchestra mainly in German and Austrian romantic repertoire for the first year of his three-year term.
His program includes Symphony No. 1 by Hans Rott, a talented Austrian composer who died young and whose music is little known today. “I have a sense of mission to have his music better known,” Weigle said.
In June 2019, he and the YNSO will work on a production of Richard Strauss’s “Salome” with the Tokyo Nikikai Opera Foundation. This project will follow their joint production of the composer’s “Der Rosenkavalier” in July 2017, which was a great success.
Negotiations regarding the selection of guest soloists are under way. “We’re going to invite big names, and also young, promising artists as well. I want to give them opportunities to perform,” Weigle said.
He also has various plans about the YNSO’s collaboration with the Oper Frankfurt: “It needs much money, time and preparation, but I want to push it forward,” he said.
Born in 1961 in Berlin, Weigle began his music career as a hornist. He was a principal hornist with the Staatskapelle Berlin, the resident orchestra of the Staatsoper Berlin, from 1982 to 1997.
During that time, he was picked as an assistant to Barenboim, who has been the general music director of the prestigious opera house since 1992. Barenboim needed a new assistant conductor and heard that Weigle had experience.
“I was tested in front of the orchestra. I felt terrified when conducting my colleagues,” a smiling Weigle said. He got the job, but Barenboim wanted him to continue playing horn with the orchestra and be his assistant simultaneously.
“I had almost no private life at that time. Every day, I worked for 10 hours or more as an assistant and hornist with the orchestra, and after going home, practiced horn for two or three hours,” he said.
In the late 1990s, Weigle started conducting in earnest with Barenboim’s support.
In 2003, he conducted the Oper Frankfurt in Richard Strauss’ “Die Frau ohne Schatten” and was named conductor of the year by Opernwelt magazine.
“Mr. Barenboim paved the way for me to become a conductor,” Weigle said. “He also spared much of his precious time and give me useful advice. I’m very grateful to him.”
Asked who first guided him to music, Weigle spoke about his own father, who started him on the piano when he was around 4 years old. After realizing his son was not suited for that instrument, Weigle’s father sent him to a music school near their home, which had openings for bassoon and horn students.