2016/17 is an exciting season for Alain Altinoglu – a year that marks his first season as Principal Conductor of the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels and debuts around the world, including with the LSO on 23 March. In anticipation of his first performance with the Orchestra, we learn more about the conductor, from his early days as a conductor to his love of chess.
He became a conductor almost by chance
A pianist by training, Altinoglu has always been fascinated by orchestral music. ‘When I was younger, I used to love listening to orchestras and reading scores … I used to transcribe orchestral scores for the piano to play them as duets with my sister,’ he explains in an interview with Forum Opera.
It was when he was an assistant at the Paris Opera, that the idea of becoming a conductor first took hold. Talking to Classique mais pas has been, he explained how he was the assistant for a conductor who had to leave because his wife had gone into labour. ‘I found myself in front of the Opera’s orchestra without ever having taken a conducting class. The first minute was stressful, but the musicians played along … Without that, no doubt I’d have remained a pianist.’
He’s a champion of French music abroad
Altinoglu is a French conductor of Armenian descent, and sees himself as an ambassador for music from his home country – something he will be bringing to his performance with the LSO on 23 March, when he conducts Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloé (see below for a video of Altinoglu conducting the piece with the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse). ‘It is true that I see it as something of a pedagogical mission to work on the French repertoire with non-French speaking ensembles and singers,’ he told The Opera Platform. ‘I think it is important to pass on the tradition of the French repertoire, particularly that of the 19th century.’
He likens conducting an orchestra to playing chess
Also a talented mathematician, Altinoglu enjoys playing chess. ‘It is totally like conducting,’ he told wrti.org. ‘When you give an upbeat to the orchestra, the orchestra has to understand before playing what to play. The conducting is a job of anticipation. In your head you have to know what you want to hear. What the aim is, what is the sound, the colour, the tempo are ... and then you have to adapt your gesture to the orchestra to obtain this. Each orchestra is going to react differently.’
His love affair with the voice goes back a long way …
'The voice moves me. Every timbre is so different. That diversity of nature is incredible … I get so much enjoyment from working with singers, from supporting them, helping them, so that they can bring out the best of themselves,’ he says (source: Forum Opera). Altinoglu’s understanding of the voice is in demand around the world, working with New York’s Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Opera House, and opera houses in Vienna, Paris, Berlin, Zurich and Buenos Aires.
... and was inspired by his wife!
Altinoglu remembers how his wife, mezzo-soprano Nora Gubisch, first opened his eyes to the beauty of the voice. ‘I was very young, around 12 years old. One day, she told me that she sang, which I didn’t know. I accompanied her on the piano, and that’s really how I discovered the voice.’
Alain Altinoglu makes his debut with the London Symphony Orchestra on Thursday 23 March, performing Prokofiev's Overture on Hebrew Themes, Ravel's Daphnis and Chloé, and Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No 1 with Gautier Capuçon.