You’ve recently conducted the 100th opera of your career. How does that feel?
I often think that my job is the best in the world. What it nicer than being able to offer people the genius that humanity has created? I feel privileged and honoured that I can go around the world and present these masterpieces.
How did you grow to love classical music?
I studied music growing up in Milan, at the Conservatory. Those times — the 70s — were incredible for the growth of music. I used to go out three or four times a week to concerts and operas, and learned from great performances and conductors. Though I started out as a pianist, I was not that interested in it — piano, as an instrument, can feel very self-sufficient sometimes, as it uses a range of chords and sounds that allow it to be a stand-alone instrument in a concert. I grew more interested in chamber music, and later, conducting.
Does classical music have a place in the world today, dominated as it is by the latest hits?
To me, music is defined as classical music. I know that position is not necessarily right. I am, of course, coming from the point of view of someone who has studied music, and gets his pleasure from the its complexities. Today, with pop music, things are much simpler. The top songs seem to go on and on using just two harmonic chords. It’s very boring.
Why do you think music has evolved to become like this?
It’s because classical music is very intense. When you listen to a pop song, you can relax. The information is fed to you. But with classical music, you really need to listen. These days, everything moves so quickly and is geared towards instant gratification, and that’s why the younger generation finds it difficult to listen to classical music. In modern music there isn’t a song that lasts more than five minutes. On the other hand, the last movement of Mahler’s 6th symphony, which I will be conducting next week, is thirty minutes long. Classical music requires a certain attention span and commitment, and, to be honest, not everybody can do it.
What has been your experience with Indian classical music?
Very limited. I hope my stay in Mumbai will change that. I once saw a sitar concert by Ravi Shankar. I had a very positive first impression, even though it was completely different from the classical music that I’m used to. I felt that there was something truly inspiring about the concert. After all, it’s not as if the “truth” lies only with Western classical music.
What is your perception of the Symphony Orchestra of India?
I have seen SOI on YouTube, and watched a CD that they put together a couple of years ago. I’m looking forward to working with them, because from what I’ve seen and heard, they are a very good orchestra. And thank god for this, because a lot of what we’re working on is quite complicated. As a conductor, it’s very interesting to explore different things with an ensemble that you meet for the first time.
Which performance are you looking forward to the most?
The first concert is a symphonic classical concert, where I will be conducting what I call the cathedral of classical music — Beethoven’s Fifth, and works by Wagner and Strauss. The second is a gala, and then the third one, which I proposed and am most excited about, is the opera La Boheme. It’s something everyone should experience at least once in their life because, in my opinion, it is the perfect opera.
What makes La Boheme so special?
It is a story that touches upon everything that everyone experiences in life — youth, love, dreams, setbacks, death. And it has the added bonus of the incredible music Giacomo Puccini created, so detailed, soft, powerful, and well-written. I can conduct the score from memory because I’ve studied it so much. But every time I conduct it, there’s always a small new sparkle — some point that I go ‘Aha!’. I may have noticed that particular moment before, but going over it again makes me realise how well it fits into the bigger picture.
Carlos Rizzi conducted a performance on February 2, and will conduct another on February 8, at the NCPA, Nariman Point.