A feeling of beautiful naturalness

By Annette Zerpner May 28, 2024


Joana Mallwitz und Sebastian Nordmann im Gespräch © Simon Pauly

Chief conductor Joana Mallwitz in an interview with general director Sebastian Nordmann

SN: You've been here for almost a whole season now - what have been particularly challenging, enjoyable or simply formative moments with the Konzerthausorchester during this time?

JM: Since our first day, there has been a feeling of beautiful naturalness while working together. Then there was the incredibly beautiful opening concert, which will remain in my heart forever. And as a kind of antithesis, our Weill recording days, which I think were just as intense and beautiful for everyone. It's a completely different way of working together than in a concert - seven hours a day with such precision and yet with great dedication at all times. Everyone excelled, it really brought us together.

SN: How did you experience your Berlin audience at the Konzerthaus?

JM: Fantastic. I received such a warm welcome from everyone - the house, the orchestra and the audience. I'm very lucky right now that I not only feel personally at home in Berlin, but also that I have a real artistic home. We are supported by an enormous curiosity in the audience. I already experience this in the introductions, when everyone really laughs and concentrates, and even more so in the concerts. It's an incredible feeling. I love this warm-hearted, enthusiastic Berlin audience!

We are supported by an enormous curiosity in the audience.

SN: Do you now have a favourite place in the Konzerthaus?

JM: On the podium in the Great Hall! But when I'm in Berlin and not conducting, I love sitting in my office almost every day. I study the scores in the place where I later conduct them and always have my finger on the pulse of the music: my office is only half a flight of stairs away from the stage. I get to hear what the orchestra is rehearsing, what the hall sounds like at the moment and I let the concert hall air inspire me.

Joana Mallwitz

SN: What political and cultural policy tasks do you see for yourself as the Konzerthaus chief conductor in this now politically turbulent Berlin?

JM: We can't pretend that we don't have a stage here. A stage is always political: what do you play or say on a stage, who do you allow to be on it? But there is a component to concerts that remains apolitical: People come together to listen. It is very important to me that the concert business ultimately has a unifying effect and strengthens the center of society. That doesn't mean that we are resting on our laurels. We want to create the opportunity for everyone to be a part of it at any time and invite everyone to join us.

It is very important to me that the concert business ultimately has a unifying effect and strengthens the center of society.

SN: Let's look ahead to the 2024/25 season: the versatile artist and composer Lera Auerbach will be one of our two artists in residence. You've already worked with her in Nuremberg. How did that work out?

JM: When I got to know her music, I was so enthusiastic that I simply had to listen to everything she wrote. I'm fascinated by the fact that she can write for large symphony orchestras and use the full potential of such a large apparatus with a new language. That is a talent all of its own. We also got to know each other personally in direct discussions about her scores. It was only then that I realized the many other aspects that she brings with her: She composes and makes music, writes, paints, creates sculptures and deals with a wide range of topics. Everything she deals with becomes art with Lera.

Sebastian Nordmann und Joana Mallwitz im Gespräch

SN: The program includes Lera Auerbach's sixth symphony "Yad Vashem", which evokes emotions through the title alone. How do you deal with this background? It's almost impossible to conduct "absolutely", isn't it?

JM: For me, music is never absolute. I always need an emotional anchor where a piece grabs me. And even in all my analysis processes, it has to form an emotional map for me in the end. I believe that the great composers can touch us emotionally through their musical language alone, regardless of what they may have wanted to describe with their music. We feel that what we are addressing has something to do with us.

SN: Our second artist in residence is the young British cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason. Have you already worked with him?

JM: Not yet, but I'm really looking forward to it.  When he plays, he has this immediacy, this unfiltered way that a person suddenly opens up on stage and draws everyone in. I really love this way of making music.

SN: Sheku Kanneh-Mason is playing the Dvořák concerto to open the season. How did you come to choose this piece?

JM: It adds a particularly festive element due to its familiarity and elegance. Apart from that, it goes very well with John Adams' "The Chairman Dances" and Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances: We have three composers from three eras who went to America and dealt with issues of exile, flight and home. While abroad, they incorporated musical elements from their homeland into their works. This results in a very dance-like programme, perfect for the opening.

Joana Mallwitz mit dem Konzerthausorchester

SN: What is your focus for 2024/25?

JM: There will definitely be a Haydn focus again on our way to the "Creation", Mozart, as well as French, Italian, Russian and major German repertoire - we have to constantly develop the core repertoire and I will also conduct very new works. I'm also very much looking forward to conducting Schubert's "Great" in C major in front of an audience rather than in front of cameras and an empty hall, as I did in 2020 when I made my debut with the Konzerthausorchester due to the coronavirus. I think it's one of the best pieces ever, and I've been asked several times when it's coming. And like every season, I do a Mahler symphony with the orchestra, which is part of my job as chief conductor.

I've never experimented as much as I have here.

SN: The premiere of your new format "Night Session" was very successful in 2023/24. Do you think Berlin audiences are particularly keen to experiment?

JM: That's not so easy to answer, because I've never experimented as much as I have here. After the first two "Night Sessions", I'm definitely super happy, because people have noticed that we can leave limits set by regular symphony concerts even further behind. We always start with a theme. In addition, we have a guest artist and we have room to play unusual, rarely performed and contemporary pieces.

SN: Who would you particularly like to have as a guest for one of the next episodes?

JM: I don't want to give too much away yet, but we're trying to include top athletes and film actors intothe the next episodes of the „Night Sessions“.


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