Interview with Robert Trevino

Torino, 23 marzo 2022

Renato Verga – Maestro Trevino, you were born thirty-eight years ago in Texas to a family of Mexican origin, the Treviño’s. Americans have been known for having allergies to accents and marks added to the letters of the alphabet, so Treviño became Trevino…
Robert Trevino – Yes. And I like it, because I always get tre-vino, three glasses of wine instead of one! (chuckles)

RV – As a youth you studied the bassoon but attended the University for orchestra conduction and made your professional debut in 2003, at the age of 19, in Wuppertal, Germany. What made you decide to become a conductor?
RT – When I was 9 years old I saw Seiji Ozawa in television and I thought «that’s for me». That’s how I wanted to become a conductor, but why I continued to be a conductor is different: I love my job, it’s my life, and what I like most is the fact that, as a conductor, you take all the many talents in the orchestra and you make one thing happen. So, I come to RAI and meet Matteo, Alessandro, Ula etc.: all have their different personality and I try to channel all their ideas towards a common goal.

RV – In 2010 you won the James Conlon Prize for Excellence in Conducting at the Aspen Music Festival and School. From 2009 to 2011 you were associate conductor for the New York City Opera before moving to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra until 2015. In 2013 you rose to international attention at the Bol’šoj Theatre in Moscow with Verdi’s Don Carlo for replacing the preplanned conductor. So, you practically became worldwide famous conducting an opera. Are you attracted to the genre?
RT – Yes, of course. I conducted Puccini’s Tosca, next there will be Turandot in Zurich and La rondine as well. I know Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Nozze, Così, Zauberflöte

RV – Since 2017 you have been music director of the Basque National Orchestra, a post extended until 2022. During this same period you were chief conductor and will be artistic advisor of the Malmö Symphony Orchestra, Sweden. Now you’re the principal guest conductor for three years of the RAI National Symphony Orchestra. With our orchestra you debuted in January 2019, it was to be followed by two more concerts in November 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic called it off. In November ’21, however, you managed to take the OSN RAI on tour to Germany. This season you are conducting no less than five concerts: four already performed on March 10/11 and March 17/18, the next is tomorrow for RAI Nuova Musica. In these concerts you have presented 19th century classics such as Schumann’s Concert in A minor, Tchaikovsky’s Manfred, Elgar’s First Symphony; 20th century works such as Webern’s Im Sommerwind, and contemporary works: Mugarri by Ramon Lazkano (a Basque composer), and tomorrow we will hear Fabio Nieder’s Danza lenta and Brett Dean’s Dramatis Personae. I’m utterly convinced that contemporary music should always be present in the billboards of symphonic seasons. In your choices of repertoire do you have the same yardstick?
RT – Today a journalist told me that people are scared of contemporary music. I don’t know why. Contemporary means now, it represents our experiences of today. Maybe people are intimidated, but I don’t think that to be the purpose of music: the point of music is to experience, to feel, to have emotions.

RV – Why did you choose Brett Dean for tomorrow’s concert? The Australian composer became famous a few years ago for his opera Hamlet. How would you introduce to us his Dramatis Personae, an Italian premiere?
RT – Brett Dean’s work is for trumpet and orchestra and here the trumpet player [Håkan Hardenberger] is fabulous, the work is an incredible piece of music. The characters, the dramatis personae, are a superhero (Superman/Batman), Hamlet and Charlie Chaplin. In the first movement the super hero tries to control the world using his super powers, but he fails. In the second movement Hamlet chooses a different approach, trying to influence people by manipulating them, but also Hamlet fails. In the finale – do you remember Modern Times when Charlie Chaplin waves the flag with the crowd behind him? – ­here the soloist becomes a sort of joker: the superhero failed despite his super powers, Hamlet did the same with his politics, than “let’s do it together with friend s, let’s make a team”. Four other trumpet players join him and they play a joyous quintet. The revolution is not forced, it comes from the inside. Quite relevant for the moment! I didn’t plan that…

RV – And what about Fabio Nieder’s Danza lenta di CS fra gli specchi? The piece, commissioned by the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, was performed by Antonio Pappano for the symphonic cycle dedicated in 2015 to Ludvig van Beethoven and had accompanied his First and Third Symphonies.
RT – When we talk of Beethoven, we don’t talk of melodies, we talk of rhythm, motives. Nieder’s piece is the same: there are motives repeated – mirrored – in different proportions.

RV – Your upcoming programs include Mahler: Symphony no. 2 (Resurrection) in Spain (a program full of meaning in these times) and Symphony no. 7 at La Fenice; Brahms, Symphony no. 2, in Japan. You recorded on disc Max Bruch’s Three Symphonies, Beethoven’s Nine Symphonies, Ravel’s orchestral music and contemporary American composers’ works. Beethoven, Brahms, Bruch, Mahler, Elgar… in short, the symphony is your soft spot. But, in Beethoven’s case, is there still something new to say about his symphonies?
RT – Okay, it’s a different point of the question. For me a composer is the closest we get to an immortal being. That’s imagine for one moment: Russia presses the button, USA presses the button, everything is gone. Music doesn’t “exist”, but it continues to live because we perfom the music. Every composer writes with the desire that someone will give life to his music, and that music becomes relevant, is always new for every generation. It’s an obligation to perform it. Beethoven’s music will always be different. It’s part of the life. Composers are like the old Greek Gods: Hercules or Zeus required an offering that allowed to continue to live. In a way, composers are quite the same. I go with my sweat and my energy for the composer to continue to live. And for what “interpretation” means, we speak of interpretation too easily : interpretation is natural because everybody sees things in different ways. I can’t interpret, I take my time with the score to see what the composer wrote and I try with my eyes, my mind, my heart, to understand. If you come to the rehearsals, you will hear me say «The score here says…», never – well, almost never – «Here I want…»

RV – Now you know OSN RAI very well, what’s so special about this orchestra?
RT – It has a beautiful sound, a warm sound. What I also like is its flexibility and quick response: if I ask for full power, they can easily do something enormous. I like this.

RV – Audiences are still leery of attending concert halls. In your opinion what should be done to encourage them? It is an issue with aging audiences mainly here in Italy. Don’t we need a new generation of listeners interested in classical music?
RT – I’m not worried about the age of the audience: the younger generation is coming to the concerts, as before Covid. When you are my age, you have your job, your family, you are raising kids, you have your house to pay for. You work all the time, you don’t have time to attend the concerts. Then the kids go away, the house is ok, you retire from your job: now you have more time for the concerts. It’s normal. It’s life.

(Intervista organizzata dagli Amici dell’Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale RAI di Torino alla Società Canottieri Esperia di Torino. Per l’OSN RAI erano presenti anche il sovrintendente Gianluca Picciotti e il direttore artistico Ernesto Schiavi)