Philippe Jordan Talks About Conducting Wagner

Written By The Wagnerian on Tuesday, 7 May 2019 | 6:12:00 pm

Swiss conductor Philippe Jordan, music director of the Paris Opera and music director designate of the Vienna State Opera, is one of the world’s hottest Wagner talents, winning widespread acclaim for his performances of the composer’s music in Paris and at the Bayreuth Festival. Now, he returns to the Met for the first time since 2007 to lead this season’s three complete Ring cycles. In advance of the premiere of Das Rheingold, he sat down with the Met’s Mary Jo Heath to discuss opera’s grandest and most grueling epic.

"With Tristan und Isolde or the Ring cycle, there are moments where suddenly something happens in the music, and the emotion just comes out of you and you don’t know how to deal with it".

You’ve conducted quite a lot of Wagner. What is it that makes his music particularly rewarding for you?
No other composer makes me so emotional while conducting. At the end of La Bohème, if I’m sitting in the audience, I cry. But when I conduct La Bohème, this doesn’t happen. I’m still moved, but I’m very concentrated. With Tristan und Isolde or the Ring cycle, there are moments where suddenly something happens in the music, and the emotion just comes out of you and you don’t know how to deal with it. Sometimes you have to consciously decide to push the emotion down because, otherwise, how will you last another hour of music?

What about the technical aspect of his music? Does it pose particular challenges because of its monumental scale?
Wagner brought me to another level of conducting, more than any other composer. In Wagner, shaping the music over long distances, with a far bigger orchestra than with Mozart or Verdi, requires a special way of conducting, a special way of shaping tempi. For example, you start to think in bigger units instead of smaller details, and you start to trust the orchestra more and let things flow. Also, younger conductors tend to do slow tempi really slowly and fast tempi really fast to make a contrast and a big effect— something I used to do as well. In Wagner, you learn to do the opposite. You learn not to take slower sections too slowly so that the music doesn’t start schlepping and the energy doesn’t fall apart.