Now in his fourth season, our principal conductor Gijs Leenaars still has his hands full: he conducts the choir for both a cappella and symphonic choral concerts, in dramatic productions and on tour. In addition, he will be directing the choir’s studio CD recordings in 2018/19 and continues to plan the musical program for the three lounges in silent green Kulturquartier. In this interview he talks about his personal highlights in the 2018/19 season.
The 2018/19 season will be your fourth as principal conductor of the Rundfunkchor Berlin. What would you say after your experience to date: Was it a good idea to come to Berlin?
Yes! I still think it’s marvellous working with the choir. There is surely no other choir that does so many different things so well, being able to engage with such a wide repertoire and such different formats. One of the reasons why this works so well is that Berlin is such a fantastic cultural city.
The season begins with our International Masterclass for Choral Conducting. Is this project a prime concern of yours?
Absolutely – although it is certainly hard work. The days are long, and you have to observe not only the candidates but also the choir with immense concentration. And I need to watch myself as well, so that I understand what I tend to do in specific situations, and how. But that is the special aspect, too. I learnt a lot during the last masterclass – simply because you see things from a different perspective and think very hard, in a new way, about conducting and making music. I am really looking forward to the masterclass!
In October that is followed by another major project with Beethoven’s »Missa solemnis« in collaboration with the Kammerakademie Potsdam, which you will be conducting yourself.
It is a very difficult piece, but I believe all Beethoven’s later works are very intriguing – although there are sometimes three or four minutes when you might find things tricky. (He laughs.) I will try to approach the work from my background as a choral conductor. The choir sings the »Missa« regularly with some very good conductors, but they come from different worlds and have a different perspective to mine. The work is almost impossible to sing, and I believe that it may help in some places to approach it from the standpoint of a choral director.
Do you see yourself as a choral conductor or as a conductor who mainly conducts choirs?
The latter. I have always been very interested in voices, and I believe that’s where my strength lies. But I do have experience with orchestras, otherwise I wouldn’t be brave enough to tackle the »Missa solemnis«.
At the Christmas concert you are presenting a number of a cappella works again.
We will be singing Martinů, Janáček and other Slav composers that I really like. I think it’s wonderful to be able to assemble the program myself. And as principal conductor I can work very intensely with the choir. This is a different kind of work to choral symphonic pieces because the singing is different. Such projects are quite essential to choral work. And for our audience, the Christmas concert will include many enjoyable discoveries from the a capella repertoire.