Maestro Umberto Clerici on making symphony orchestras socially relevant
Hello to you all, my wonderful supportive Wandering Journo Tribe!
It’s not often you talk to someone whose love for what they do is so infectious that it draws you into their world and makes you want to be part of it.
That was how I felt after speaking with Maestro Umberto Clerici—the world renowned cellist with a vision to take the music of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra to the world stage.
As he tells us on this episode of my Streets of Your Town podcast (press play above or find it on your podcast provider), he defied the traditional route of how to become a conductor by being appointed the QSO’s Chief conductor designate, starting his three-year term in January 2023.
He will give a glimpse of his style this weekend when he conducts the QSO in Fantasy and Folklore.
Maestro Clerici’s approach as conductor is unique, not only rising from the orchestra to conductor in a highly unusual progression, but also as he describes, taking on his conductor role like an architect—giving the vision, but making the orchestra more independent.
He will take the baton from Johannes Fritzsch, one of Australia’s top international conductors who is credited with building QSO into a world-class orchestra.
Maestro Clerici tells us how excited he is to take on this coveted role at such a pivotal time in Brisbane’s development as an international city.
“It’s a city that wants to be more relevant, to be more international and to grow,” Clerici says.
“Other cities are established and they have their own attitude which is already basically formed, while I have the impression that Brisbane is really like a young person with enthusiasm that wants to get to a different level of relevance.”
After more than 20 years as a gifted cello soloist, chamber and orchestral musician, Clerici decided he needed new challenges and moved on from his role as Principal Cello of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in 2021 to focus on his rapidly acclaimed conducting career.
His vision for the QSO draws strongly from his European roots.
“So, this is my main philosophical vision for QSO, because in Europe, where this music comes from so it’s more obvious, it’s more integrated into the fabric of the society,” he said.
“I think here, there is space to make it even more connected and to broaden the audience and to have different levels of communication with the audience—from playing of course, to talk to them, to involve them, to have chamber music in different parts of the city.
“And so this is basically what I think we will expand in the next years our social relevance.”
Clerici says he is enjoying rising to the challenge of transferring his vision for the company into the programming.
“So my vision is half programmatic, which means which kind of music we should explore; and half philosophical, which kind of message and what are we for the society?” he says on Streets of Your Town podcast.
“I’m European. I think that music, classical music, any kind of music that has values behind the note, is something that half educates a society, and half makes the society think.
“For example, if you program Beethoven 9, it’s a very famous piece, everybody knows it, but also, it’s a message of brotherhood, where all humans are equal, not in front of God, but among themselves. It doesn’t matter, men and women, rich or poor, old and young, white and black.
“So, how can we make us more relevant in the society and not just play very well or make the shows interesting to listen to. How can we make society communicate to us and vice versa?”
Maestro Clerici sees conducting as another expression of the culmination of decades spent perfecting his art.
“I played in an orchestra for 20 years. I always wanted to play with my colleagues and the conductor is there to facilitate or to give a vision or to connect or to decide what is the main voice in that specific moment but still the orchestra musicians need to be independent and willing to play with the others,” he said.
“So, that’s my goal with QSO, to make them more paradoxically independent.
“A conductor shouldn’t say that, because a conductor should say, ‘Oh no, they have to depend on me.’ It’s the opposite. If you are an architect, you give the vision, the pace, the meaning of that piece, but in the end, it’s the musicians that produce the sounds.”
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Talk soon my Wandering Journo tribe!