Alexander Liebreich is not a typical German director. He prefers to define himself as Bavarian, referring to land where he was born 53 years ago (in the town of Regensburg). He also rejects the so-called “German sound” as a cliché associated with an Austrian conductor like Herbert von Karajan. He is critical of his country’s disinterest in tradition and has lived in Holland and Poland, countries that tend to view their German neighbors with historical suspicion. Of Jewish origin (his grandparents died in the Auschwitz concentration camp), with family ties in Bohemia, a graduate in Romance Philology and a disciple of the Italian Claudio Abbado, the new principal conductor of the Valencia Orchestra is a singular musician.
His cosmopolitan career led him in 2011 to be the first European to direct the Tongyeong International Music Festival (TIMF) in South Korea, one of the most important competitions in Asia. He participated for a decade in a program of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of his country against the background of the example of German unification that also allowed him to work in the hermetic North Korea and learn about his then important musical training, sometimes in the company of the former president of USA Jimmy Carter.
Principal conductor of the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra and guest in groups such as São Paulo, of which his vitality stands out, Liebreich recalls how his passage through the direction of the National Symphony Orchestra of Polish Radio has also marked him 2012 and 2019. “In Catholic Poland they have a type of spirituality that is also here in Spain. I think we should aspire to get a bit of spirituality, and not necessarily something religious. We miss him in music, but the times are not good either, “he explains in the rehearsal room at the Palau de la Música in Valencia.
“In Poland they want me even though I’m German,” he adds ironically about a country to which he feels closely linked. It is inevitable to ask about the political and cultural situation. “Many of my friends there are very afraid because they can no longer speak freely. But it is very easy to judge from our perspective. The Polish people have incredible intelligence, culture and tradition and are searching for their new identity. There are also many demonstrations for freedom of thought and many people who do not agree with the right-wing government, “he says.
A confessed admirer of composers such as Franz Schubert and Felix Mendelssohn, Liebreich proposes a reading of life and music that moves away from black and white. “I think that in Germany they are killing tradition. Germans hate Germans, but we have to know our culture to renew it, ”he says. He mentions examples such as a request in Munich to change the names of the streets dedicated to Wagner or Strauss because of their relationship with the Nazis or the use that the regime made of them; or an initiative to stop playing The magic Flute because there are political inaccuracies. And of course there are: Monostatos [personaje de la obra de Mozart]Sometimes his face is painted black, among other things. You cannot clean everything. That is what the fascists do. Things are not black and white and good composers have not always been good people. You have to know and reflect. But the problem is that people don’t want to reflect, they just want to see black or white ”, he argues.
Uncomfortable with the “German sound”
All the culture that goes with you awaits you here.
An apprentice at Austrian conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s Amsterdam Concertgebow, Liebreich is not comfortable with the German sound of classical music. “I think it was wrongly linked to a tradition perhaps with Karajan, who was Austrian. And also maybe with [Christian] Thielemann, who always talks about his German sound. Brahms, especially in his first symphony, makes reference to Beethoven, first, and the sound of nature, second … There is a wonderful humanistic tradition in Germany, in Bavaria, and in places where German is spoken. But when, like Karajan or Thielemann, they prefer a sound like that of the Berliner Philharmoniker, it is not my sound. Yes, it has tension, but it is not rich nor does it have a counterpoint ”. He prefers the sound of Claudio Abbado, “who took a step in the opposite direction to move away from the German sound, with his idea of making music to communicate.” He also shares the Milanese maestro’s idea of making “great chamber music”.
Liebreich intends to transmit all these ideas to the musicians of the municipal Orquesta de Valencia, created in 1943. It will not premiere until 2023 in the main hall of the municipal auditorium due to the fall of a part of the false ceiling that forced it to close in July 2019 More structural problems were detected and a reform project was drawn up with a budget of 12.6 million euros. In this way, the auditorium, with one of the best acoustics in Spain, will remain closed for a total of four years due to the works, which must begin in early 2022, and the slowness of the entire administrative process. The director regrets the problem, but tries to put a good face on the weather, focusing on the work of the musicians and their concerts at the neighboring Palau de les Arts and other venues.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.