GLB: What goes through your mind as you rehearse and conduct Bruckner's symphonies?
JLC: Well, Bruckner is really architectural, so it's a question of balance, and also concentration of course. The most difficult thing is to concentrate, to really establish the form and the architecture of the work, and that is always the most difficult thing because the proportions, the movements, are so big and long that it sometimes it is very difficult to keep the tension and to keep also the flow of the music.
GLB: The performances I heard in Europe were spectacular, and I found myself wishing that a recording could have been made after the tour.
JLC: It was the first Bruckner we did together, and of course on tour everyone does their best. We were playing in many different beautiful halls, which makes also a difference. As I say, it was the first Bruckner we did and we really didn't have the time to "grow up" with the music when we did our first recording, but nevertheless I felt that from the beginning it was easy with this orchestra to play Bruckner.
GLB: Do you think it's important to keep in mind while listening to his music that Bruckner was an accomplished organist from the earliest days of his career? He seems to "play" the orchestra.
JLC: Of course the chords are very much like the organ "sound," and he made these different colors very clear also with the colors of the orchestra; and of course, for him it was very difficult for sure to forget the sound of the organ, the instrument he played all his life, when he orchestrated.
GLB: Do you think his time has come yet, is it just now that we are able to fully appreciate his very original music, or has commercial television made it difficult for audiences to listen to works of grand proportions?
JLC: Yes, and I think even radio stations do not play long symphonies, or they play sometimes one movement only, and this is really terrible because we are losing the capability of young people and children to have the attention span of more than 15 minutes without interruption, and this is important with the music we play…you know, Mahler…you need to be calm and patient to listen to a symphony that lasts 80 minutes sometimes.
GLB: Have you heard the new recording of the Bruckner Symphony No. 9 ("Unfinished") with the documentation of the Finale fragment by Nicholas Harnoncourt conducting the Vienna Philharmonic? And if so, what do you think of his composite of the fourth movement, based on what Bruckner had sketched, fully scored, and so on? (RCA 54332)
JLC: Yes I have heard it and I think it's very interesting, why not? Of course nobody knows what he really intended, like the Mahler tenth symphony. So why not have a little fantasy to think what Bruckner might have done?
GLB: Do you think performing his Te Deum after the three existing complete movements is a good idea, as some have suggested, or is it best to leave it as it is?
JLC: No, I think it's better to leave it without. I think what he wrote is so unbelievably beautiful that it does not need something more.
GLB: When you think of Bruckner as a person, as a human being, what kind of a man do you think he must have been to write what he wrote?
JLC: He was a very spiritual man, that's for sure…it comes out in his music very clearly. He is like those people in the 15th century, the 16th century, building those cathedrals to God, and that's what he did with his music all his life. He wrote very little music outside these nine "cathedrals."
GLB: Do you think they are individual cathedrals, or do you think they collectively make one grand cathedral, like Antonio Gaudi's Cathedral of the Holy Family (Sagrada Familia) in Barcelona?
JLC: Oh yes, it's like one big one.
GLB: We've spoken of Bruckner's religiousness. How would you compare it to Mahler's world view?
JLC: Well it was completely different, that's all. Mahler was very busy with himself. He put his soul into the center of his life with all his problems, his relationship with nature, in some way a kind of religion too. But with Bruckner it was a completely different world.
GLB: He was a believer, Mahler was a seeker -- he was looking for answers.
JLC: I find always the same reaction. Mahler, everyone wants to hear and play, but not Bruckner. Always with him there are many people who are a little resistant, also in orchestras. I think with Bruckner you love it or you hate it, you know? That's true.
GLB: Tell me about your first time conducting a Bruckner symphony.
JLC: I was very young and it was in Spain. I was always interested in his music and so when I came to Vienna to study, which was the place to listen to Bruckner in the sixties. I went to every performance of a Bruckner symphony and I was so very impressed that I was eager to conduct them myself. So of course my first possibility to do this came when I returned to Spain, because outside of Spain at the beginning of my career it was difficult to convince people that a young Spanish conductor wanted to do Bruckner. But in Spain it was easier for me, returning from studying in Vienna. As a student of Hans Swarowsky who taught Bruckner from the standpoint of the Vienna classics, for me it became a mission to take his music to Spain.
N.B. As a conductor in Hamburg, Berlin, Zurich, Krakow, Graz and Glasgow Swarowsky gave prominent places to the works of the "Vienna School" in his concerts. Among his other students were Claudio Abbado and Zubin Mehta. He was known as an excellent instructor in conducting.
In Spain there had been no performances at all, he was almost completely unknown there until the sixties. The only thing that had been performed was the Symphony No. 4 ("Romantic"). So I was very happy to introduce Bruckner to Spain. For example we did the Symphony No. 8, Symphony No. 9, the Mass in f minor, Symphony No. 7, Symphony No.5... they were all performed there for the first time when I conducted them. I remember my first one was the fourth, and for me it was an amazing experience, because also people were telling me 'maybe in Spain it's not the time,' but for the people, they were very happy to have a chance to experience his music, and I found so many people thanking me, that I was not only happy for myself but for this music. I think the title given the fourth, "Romantic," was what first attracted Spanish audiences.
GLB: So many cuts, "corrections" and tinkering come with Bruckner's symphonies, which editions do you prefer to use?
JLC: I think always when a composer first wrote a piece; this is the most natural. We know he wanted his music to be performed, he was very modest and he knew that his music was not easy, so we don't know if it was necessarily his inner inclination to do the changes and cuts suggested by others. It is a difficult matter always, and that's why I'm always interested in the first edition, in the original. We have four and eight. I think the original is always the most interesting.
GLB: I've heard some musicians express the opinion that Bruckner is boring to play. That they play the same figures over and over again and count measures and count more measures.
JLC: As I said, you either love it or hate it. It can be very tiring to play because you really need a lot of stamina to play this music. But if you really love this music it is an unbelievable experience.