The dissolution of the temple...
Mr. Jurowski, what attracts you to being a General Music Director?
The quality of the house is pure excellence. It is not only one of the best opera theatres in the German-speaking world, it is also one of the best internationally. It's the perfect place for visions ...
What is your vision of working at the house?
There has to be more fire again. And it won't be enough just to fan the flames ourselves, there has to be new wood in the fireplace! And we can only do that together. It's teamwork. The trades of the opera house have to work together unconditionally. That may sound banal to outsiders, but it's often the case that everyone has their own separate area behind the scenes. Responsibilities are also important, but I will make every effort to be the point of contact for everyone and to work across the board ‒ with the choir, with soloists, with the directorial teams, dramaturges, and yes, also technicians and everything else that goes with it all.
So you're expanding your area of responsibility?
It has nothing to do with power. On the contrary, if I deal with the hurdles and questions of directing with my expertise, then that also means that the directing teams have to deal with my musical questions together with me. I will want to have very intense teamwork and everyone will be allowed to expand their skills. At the very end of our work, in what the audience experiences on stage, there should then no longer be any visible separation.
That sounds like the working principle of agile management – after all, that's how start-ups and new private-sector business areas want to function without hierarchies.
It sounds more like the founding father and long-time artistic director of the Komische Oper Berlin, Walter Felsenstein, and his understanding of musical theatre, i.e. a few years before the trendy concepts of the private sector.
Felsenstein wrestled with the concept of opera, and instead spoke very consciously of musical theatre – more equality between text and music, and more acting power on musical theatre stages. Is that also your credo?
Whoever speaks of Felsenstein's vision today usually speaks as if of a dogma that has been cemented in place. I, on the other hand, am fascinated by his ideas. He wanted to get close to a broad audience, relying on the power of the ensemble and the equality of the components of a performance. And my task is not simply to copy this as a principle, but to help shape the system of musical theatre through my work. To implement this tradition with the means of the twenty-first century, that’s what excites me so much.
In the artistic process of creation and in terms of methods, you want to establish new styles and new thinking. Does the meaning of art change?
No. The mission remains the same. The theatre exists to give people the opportunity to look at themselves in the mirror. In this way theatre mediates between people because it sensitizes them to the human condition. It is the place that tells people about other people.
What is your understanding of the human being?
That's a bit too general for me...
You answer the question about the meaning of art as a plea for a space of protection and experience for the human being ...
The human being is incredibly complex. This complexity is of course a gift, but it also entails dangers, because people can always be everything. We all carry within us the best sides, the best abilities to shape human coexistence as positively as possible. As Friedrich Schiller said, people are good – I would say that half is missing. Of course, people have the potential for peace within themselves. But we also carry the absolute opposite within us. Both are permanently there.
And people decide freely about these sides?
People always have the choice. We have it every day and every day we are pressed by our complex humanity to make decisions. And to be able to do that, we need support. And that's where theatre can be a very serviceable place. For me, theatre is people-centred service.
Large cultural institutions are not infrequently accused of only wanting to be there for a small sector of people. Are we close enough to the people?
No. We need to get closer, and we also need to get to the people more. I will not only be fine-tuning quality in-house, as I said, in the team ‒ I also want us to go outside. In doing so we must also deliver the highest quality. It's not about populism, but we must venture out of the ivory tower and also do popular theatre.
That's how you open up the flanks. Aren’t you afraid that in the end people will say: “That’s not for me. I didn't order that.”
This risk is part of it. You also have to dare to answer, and perhaps they won't come back. If they don't like it, everyone is free to decide against the place. But I am very confident. People are complex, and as I said, musical theatre offers support.
So out of the temple, instead of inviting people into the temple?
Perhaps the end of the third act of Richard Wagner's stage festival Parsifal will help. At the end, when Parsifal sends the guardian of the Grail, Amfortas, into early retirement, so to speak, that is always a very exciting moment for the director. There are several possible interpretations of what happens afterwards. Will Parsifal become the next guardian of the Grail or will he dissolve the temple?
You advocate dissolving the temple?
Yes. I have done a little research into Eastern esotericism. These schools were, until the second half of the twentieth century, very well-guarded circles with many hidden and protected rites. Their masters then decided to turn to the outside with an ulterior motive ‒ we must open up. Those who need it will be able to use it well. For whom there is no need, it will not interest. And look, Shaolin monk Shi Heng Yi, whom I admire very much, now teaches martial arts in free seminars ‒ in Bielefeld, that is, without having to travel to Tibet. This is a very good example of opening and closeness. During the socially stressful lockdowns by Corona, it was even possible to take these courses online.
Also a very people-oriented service?
Yes, we can learn a lot from that. How can we enable more people to participate? We have to serve the works, of course, and we do that by opening them up. We can become even more flexible here in the future.
If we play a work by George Frideric Handel and the next day an opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and then Giuseppe Verdi and Dmitri D. Shostakovich the day after that, then it is our duty to make these evenings sound different.
So a sound for the composer, not the cultivation of the composer's own sound?
I have a completely different approach to the question of sound tradition than my earlier and older colleagues. I even think it makes no sense to cultivate one's own orchestral sound, which is then supposed to fit all styles, all epochs, all composers. Here, together with the orchestra and the artists, I would like to create contemporary interpretations of works from the past.
In other words, away from the great Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss sound tradition?
That should definitely be preserved. But the sound should also become more flexible at the same time. My ideal is certainty in different areas, also in mixed forms. For example, all the baroque Handel performances during the time of artistic director Peter Jonas were exemplary at the time.
Exemplary in the sense of correct?
That's impossible, because music doesn't sound in a vacuum. I am concerned with an idiomatic realization. I am concerned with an absolute understanding of the material. We have to sound in such a way that there is no need for interpreting skills. The musical script must be read originally with today's means, with the understanding of the present time. Then it will be understood.
Sound that is not self-referential, but has an effect?
Musical theatre that works. Musical theatre that helps, that gives us the opportunity to escape from everyday life, so that we can then change in such a way that many things become better. That's why I want constant contact with the audience.
Biographie Vladimir Jurowski