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As mentioned, I sat down and chatted with Yves Abel. We let ourselves roam around a number of subjects. We talked about more than music but there was almost always a musical connection to be made.

Throughout our talk, Yves Abel was animated and excited. His enthusiasm was genuine and honest. It was an honor to discuss Hesse and Mozart, Brahms and Wagner, Donizetti, Verdi, and Puccini, singers and conductors, European cities and American cities, sports and parenting, and much more with a personality and an intellect that is as contemplative and engaging as Yves Abel.

San Diego Reader: What’s the difference between working with San Diego Opera and, say, Covent Garden or La Scala?

Yves Abel: Absolutely nothing, to be perfectly frank, in the sense that you are given a cast, you are given a chorus, and you’re given an orchestra.

You hope that in these different places the chemistry is going to be right between you and the cast and that your ideas are going to be similar--in terms of how you’re shaping the piece, how you’re envisioning the piece--with what the singers come up with. In a piece like this [Daughter of the Regiment] you’ve got to be malleable. There are different voices, different styles..

SDR: ...different senses of humor.

YA: Exactly--timing--everything’s different. You hope as a conductor that you’re going to connect with the chorus and with the orchestra. A conductor can succeed in one place and then bomb in another place on the very same piece.

It depends on so many factors, such as the tradition of the orchestra--if they’re used to playing in a certain style they might be looking at the conductor as if he’s from planet Zepton. Another factor is how the orchestra is feeling. For instance, they may be going through contract negotiations.

That’s happened to me once or twice. I’ve had to conduct rehearsals while the orchestra was in the midst of horrible managerial problems. It’s very difficult to do a comic opera with lots of energy when that’s the case.

SDR: Are you familiar with Steppenwolf?

YA: Ya.

SDR: There’s an idea in there and also in The Glass Bead Game by the same author...

YA: ...and Damien and Siddhartha, Klingsor’s Last Summer.

SDR: The idea is that of servant-hood and that Brahms and Wagner were the same type of composer because their music was self serving. This is an idea that has helped me while listening to music at concerts.

There have been instances where the performer was performing the music so selflessly that there was--nothing you can actually quantify--except to say that there was something true occurring. That is somewhere we all want to be.

How does a conductor get there musically?

YA: I have to say that it totally depends on the conductor’s personality. For example, we all heard incredibly riveting productions from tyrants like von Karajan or Toscanini.

We’ve also heard incredibly moving productions from Giulini, and Carlos Kleiber, and from James Levine who are the complete opposite of those dictator-type conductors. These conductors are interested in drawing the music out of people in a way in which we share community.

However, that doesn’t mean that one way is better than the other. What is important to everybody is getting the results.

How you get to the results is more pleasant if you take the second approach but you can get the same results when people respect or even fear a conductor. Although fear, in the end, shouldn’t enter the balance because that’s a negative aspect you don’t ever want to have in a performance.

It’s a tricky thing. What is great creation? What is a great creator? Is it a more communal creation or is it the Ayn Randian egotist--the person who has a vision and sticks to that vision with their fingers clenched?**

I think the world is big enough for both views. The world has certainly been witness to huge egos creating unbelievable works of art as in the case of Brahms and Wagner. Then you get others who are more about opening their hearts to people and that’s their reason for making music.

SDR: I’m guessing you’re not on the autocratic side.

YA: Uh, no.

Continued: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...

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