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An Interview with Matthew Halls

Matthew Halls (photo credit Eric Richmond)

Matthew Halls (photo credit Eric Richmond)

Part 1 of 3

This week Matthew Halls is in Nashville to conduct the Nashville Symphony in four performances of Johann Sebastian Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos, complete in one concert. The performances will be held October 22-25 and feature Mark Niehaus, trumpet, and Jun Iwasaki, violin. Tickets are available here.

British conductor Matthew Halls is one of the most versatile musicians in classical music today.  In the early years of his career he worked as a keyboard player and early music conductor but he is known today for his dynamic work in music of all periods. Matthew Halls is Artistic Director of the Oregon Bach Festival, and conducts symphony orchestras and opera all over the world.

I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to sit down with Matthew and talk about music and his career for an hour this week before rehearsals began – here follows a transcript from our conversation.


The Brandenburg Concertos

disputed portrait of our friend Sebastian by Johann Ernst Rentsch the Elder (d. 1723) painted c. 1715, which would make him 30 years old here. Sebastian wrote the Brandenburgs in his early to mid thirties and submitted them to the Margrave in 1721

disputed portrait of Sebastian by Johann Ernst Rentsch the Elder (d. 1723) painted c. 1715, which would make him 30 years old here. Sebastian wrote the Brandenburgs in his early- to mid-thirties and submitted them to the Margrave in 1721

Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos are in the front rank of the masterpieces of Western music, and are his most-performed and best-known works. Ironically, these remarkable pieces are not simply the best or most popular works from a large number of similar efforts, as for instance is the case of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons – they are unique in Sebastian’s oeuvre in almost every way.  The Brandenburgs are not representative of Sebastian’s output except in the masterful manner of their composition and in the virtuosic forces needed to perform them.


One on a Part

Or, Making Lemonade at the Symphony

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 10.43.59 AM
When the ice storm hit Nashville in February 2015, schools were closed for more than a week.  Two weeks later – at the beginning of March – schools were closed again for a snow storm.  As a result, the Nashville Symphony had to cancel three mornings of Young People’s Concerts at Schermerhorn and a run-out concert to a local high school: we missed 7 performances, which would have put the orchestra in front of around 10,000 students total.

When the weather had passed and all the staff were able to get back in the hall at the same time we held a meeting to comb the calendar for the possibility of making up these canceled events – our Young People’s Concerts (YPCs) are the symphony’s flagship education program, an important component in the execution of our education mission.  Usually these concerts are scheduled more than a year in advance, due to the difficulty in finding times when the availability of the orchestra, the conductor, scheduled guest artists, the MNPS school calendar, and the hall all line up and allow time not only for performances but rehearsals also.  Young People’s Concerts are written into the initial schedule for the orchestra each year for this reason – it’s nearly impossible to find adequate dates and times when all these elements align mid-season.

And so it proved.