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American conductor Marin Alsop talks to Classic FM about the joys and challenges of recording Brahms.
Classic FM: You have a very good relationship with British orchestras...
Marin Alsop: Yes, lucky for me! I’ve been chief conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony for five years now and I worked with the London Philharmonic for the first time around 10 years ago, conducting Brahms’s First Symphony. We struck up an amazing chemistry right away and since then the relationship has kept growing. So when I was speaking to my record label, Naxos, about doing a Brahms cycle I immediately thought of the LPO.
CFM: What makes the LPO such a special orchestra?
MA: It’s very versatile and flexible; the players really understand when I talk to them about the subtleties of colour and gradation that Brahms’s music requires – they really get it. Also they can adapt so quickly to all sorts of repertoire. They have a great Brahms sound but they can also turn around and play contemporary music.
CFM: Is it quite daunting to record a Brahms cycle, considering so many great versions already exist?
MA: One can’t think too much about that or you become paralysed with the weight of what’s gone before, like Brahms did himself when he came to write his first symphony. I’m probably not even aware of how deeply I’ve been influenced by some of the great maestros’ interpretations, because I’ve listened to them since I was a child. My teacher Leonard Bernstein, of course, influenced me deeply, but I haven’t literally taken concepts from anyone else. I hope that my Brahms cycle is complete unto itself and not derivative or imitative because I’ve spent a lot of time getting to know his music from the inside out.
CFM: How do you make such a well-known symphony sound fresh?
MA: My approach when working on a piece like this is to imagine myself back in time to the moment when it was first heard. I then try to capture the sense of innovation, creativity and the avant-garde spirit that people must have experienced at that moment. If you can tap into that excitement and sense of history then you’re in really good shape!