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Volume 11 Issue 6 - March 2006

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COVER STORY Conductor

COVER STORY Conductor /violinist KEVIN MALLON "Letting the music flow through me" Interviewed by Allan Pulker Irish-born violinist and conductor, Kevin Mallon, is best known in Canada as a baroque violinist and the founder of the Aradia Ensemble period orchestra, which in addition to performing in Toronto has toured extensively and over the past ten years has recorded thirty CDs on the Naxos label. Aradia recently came into the international limelight with the nomination of two CDs for the prestigious Gramophone Magazine Editor 's Choice awards (August 2005 for Boyce symphonies, and the recent release of Handel's Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks, nominated for March 2006). Mallon came to Toronto in 1993 to play in Tafelmusik and to teach at U of T., both positions which he has since left in order to pursue his own conducting career. He saw the move to Canada as "a unique chance to be in an exotic country full of the promises of the new world!" In 2006, some 13 years later, he tells me "! still love it!" However, his work as a conductor takes him all over the world, and at the time of this interview he was in Ireland. AP: 1Wzat has brought you to Ireland at this time? KM: 2005 was an important year in Cork Ireland, as the city was designated European Capital of Culture. For this year a new opera company was formed (Opera 2005) and I was appointed artistic director. We did many events last year, including two main stage opera productions - Mozart's Figaro and Bizet's Carmen. This young company has had very particular success, with the Figaro productions gaining two nominations for best opera in the Irish Times Theatre awards. I am in Ireland this time to run a 3-day master class for the young singers in our Young Artists program. AP: You started as a violinist. 1Wzy did you add conducting to your professional activities? KM: I have always been a conductor - well , from age 16. At that age, I was in a music school in England, and was concert master of the school's symphony orchestra for a guest conductor, John Eliot Gardiner. It was from him that I got started in baroque music and had my first experiences conducting. Before I came to Canada I was active as a violinist and conductor - it is really only in the last few years that the conducting has gained prominence in my life in Canada and in Europe. AP: I see the conductor's role as being to bring out the best in the ensemble he is conducting, to make them play better than they would without him. How do you do that? KM: In my many years as a professional 14 late January 2006: in rehearsal for Opera in Concert/Aradia production of Vivaldi s la Griselda. Also pictured, baritone Sean Watson (upcoming: Toronto Phi/harmonia s annual Opera Gala, March 30 and Amadeus Choirs Messiah, April I) and violinists Julia Wedman and Aisslinn Nosky (upcoming: I Furiosi, March 31) violinist I observed that the conductors I liked best and who got the best results were the ones who didn't alienate the musicians. I try to make my enterprises ones where we all work as a team. (The by-product of that is that I can be friends with the musicians, which means that as a guest conductor with a new orchestra, I am not left out in the cold socially - with many days in the hotel on my own!) Musically, I try to let the music flow through me, leaving myself out of it - and to bring together everyone's talent into the one sound. AP: You have primarily (I think!) been involved in baroque music, but in December & January you conducted Toronto Operetta Theatre's production of Johann Strauss 's Wiener Blut. How did that come about? W'hat were some of the similarities and differences between baroque music and 19th century operetta ? Would you do it again? KM: Over the years I have conducted Offenbach operas, Stravinsky's Rake's Progress, w Boheme etc. It is true that I have been doing predominantly baroque music - but I never meant to leave other things behind. Conducting Wiener Blut in Toronto came about because of the faith put in me by Bill Silva, the director of both Opera in Concert and the Toronto Operetta Theatre. We have done four projects together with Opera in Concert (Handel's Semele, Rameau's Castor and Pollux, Handel's Rinaldo and more recently Vivaldi's Griselda). I am grateful to Bill for these opportunities. Now that I am back conducting other repertoire I realize that the training in baroque music can be brought to bear on all styles. For example with the Wiener Blut - I approached it to really think what the style of the time was, focusing particularly on the fact that the Viennese waltz has a lift and often an accent on the 2nd beat - sometimes making the 3rd beat late - almost a syncopation. In the approach to the singing - as with the baroque, I put the emphasis on the words first, WWW, TH EWHOLENOTE.COM making sure that there are no vocal extravagances (too much vibrato etc) that get in the way. So too with the instrumentalists I prefer a clean, leaner sound - Johann Strauss' s orchestra would have been playing on gut strings after all! I am getting ready to conduct Die Fledermaus in Ireland in 2007. AP: You have lived and worked in Dublin, Paris and Toronto. ls there anything that makes each of these cities unique musically? 1Wzat do you like best/least about each ? 1Wzat could we do better in Toronto than we do now? KM: The main difference in musical activities is really to do with the degree of heritage. Paris has always been a musical capital. Dublin was a major musical city since the 18th century - when Handel went there and premiered the Messiah, he was going to a major European city. Clearly to a greater or lesser degree, the arts have had a longer heritage over many centuries than Toronto . Paris for example still basks in the glory of Versailles - and attendance at an arts event is taken as a matter of course. In Toronto the music making is fresh and vital , but the arts still have to compete with hockey or baseball! AP: 1Wzat could Toronto do better? KM: My observations of music in Canada include something that may not be popular to hear: along with trying to keep French culture alive, Quebec, I think, has managed to give greater emphasis to the arts than English Canada. This intrigues me because I think that the standard of music making is extraordinarily high in Toronto. We (and I include myself here as a Torontonian) seem to have trouble in having a truly international belief in our activities. It is maybe a small country trait, for I have seen the same in Ireland. AP: You have produced 30 CDs in the last ten years. W'hy so many? How do you maintain your high performance standard consistently when you do so many? Do you plan to keep up this pace of recording? KM: Aradia made the first CD in 1996, but it is really since 1999 that we have worked so hard. At this stage we are recording about 5-6 CDs a year. I feel very lucky to have such a contract with the international label Naxos. I have taken this work very seriously and have devoted huge amounts of my time to organizing the work - hiring the musicians, organizing the music etc. For many years the recordings have been the major part of my work - now I have conducting opportunities particularly in Europe and I can devote less time to recording (albeit M ARCH 1 - A PRIL 7 2006

that this year we will still produce 6 CDs - volume I of a complete Purcell Theatre Music cycle, 2 CDs of classical symphonies and a 3- CD set of Vivaldi's opera Griselda). One important reason for continuing the recordings is that I am lucky to get to record so much repertoire at a time that most other companies are hardly recording at all. But more importantly I have extraordinarily gifted players to work with. So, I will try to keep going for as long as I'm able! AP: What sustains you artistically? Do you have extra-musical activities/interests that give you a change of pace? KM: About four years ago I had a serious accident (laughable as it is - I fell off the Tafelmusik stage during a rehearsal of the St. Matthew Passion!). A number of things happened as a result of the accident. I met a therapist who helped me deal with the pain through meditation. This led me to start attending a Tibetan Buddhist Temple and to embrace that way of life. At the same time I started to do the Alexander Technique to help the healing of my shoulder. As a result I enrolled to become a teacher of the Alexander Technique. I also have a circle of wonderful and supportive friends that inspire me in life and in music. AP: Where are you going musically? What do you want to have done in five, ten, twenty years? KM: At the moment I have a number of jobs - I am director of the Aradia Ensemble in Toronto, I have just taken on the artistic director position of the Grand River Baroque Festival and I am artistic director of the opera company in Ireland. Over the next number of years I would like to see all three activities become better established (and, especially in the case of Aradia, gain a better infrastructure). At the moment I am stretched to fulfill these administrative " ... to bring together everyone's talent into the one sound ... " responsibilities, which makes accepting other guest engagements difficult. If! had fewer administrative responsibilities, I could accept more of such In twenty years I would hope that either I would still be involved with all the work I now do without the administration or that I would be involved with organizations that are more established. AP: The business/artistic relationship with Naxos appears to have been mutually good. Can you comment? KM: The recording contract with Naxos has given us a much higher profile, without which Aradia would still be just a small start-up enterprise. It is also because of Naxos that we have been able to gain international invitations - Aradia has traveled to New Zealand, Italy, USA and we are working on many more such tours. For Naxos too, it has been a good deal. As our status continues to grow, the label can boast a first rate ensemble on their books and they are guaranteed first-rate recordings. As the relationship grows there are advantages on both sides. AP: When will our readers in Southern Ontario next have the opportunity to hear you? KM: The big Aradia show is on Sunday April 30th at the Gladstone Hotel. This concert, which we're calling a "Theatrical Affair," will feature rare theatre music by Henry Purcell, and will launch a new recording series of all of Henry Purcell's theatre music. There will also be a baroque wind chamber concert on June 17 with Nadina Jackson's new group Musica Franca - the concert will feature music by Zelenka and Pasch played by 2 oboes and 2 bassoons. AP: What about your plans for Grand River? KM: I have only recently been appointed to the Grand River position as artistic director. The festival will be a slightly smaller format this year, as we regroup, but there will be a performance of Handel's Watennusic and Music for the Royal Fireworks. 60th Anniversary of Music Education Celebration Mar8 ·Apr8 Lccrun.: and workshops by Patricia Shehan Campbell; concert by the Dr. Sax Chamber Orchestra from "Ihailand and th

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Volume 24 Issue 8 - May 2019
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