All about the music

Keep politics out of music, says conductor of Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam

Chief conductor Daniele Gatti (above) is taking the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam on a 21/2 season goodwill tour of the European Union.
Chief conductor Daniele Gatti (above) is taking the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam on a 21/2 season goodwill tour of the European Union.PHOTO: ESPLANADE

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam is in the middle of a 21/2 season goodwill tour of the European Union (EU), meant to celebrate the music which unites the 28 member states.

Has Brexit affected its mission? Ahead of the orchestra's first performance in Singapore, chief conductor Daniele Gatti says: "Let's just focus on the music. I don't want to see any political message in music. For me, the importance of the tour is that young musicians all around Europe are able to play with us."

In each EU country, the orchestra performs at least one work together with a local youth orchestra.

Developing classical music and its musicians is part of the mission of this symphony orchestra, hailed by influential music magazine Gramophone as "the world's No. 1 orchestra".

Its debut in Singapore next Monday at the Esplanade Concert Hall is an event akin to the first visit of the Berlin Philharmonic here in 2010.


  • WHERE: Esplanade Concert Hall, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Monday , 7.30pm

    ADMISSION: $80 to $420 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to or the Esplanade Box Office (

The evening's programme includes Debussy's Prelude To The Afternoon Of A Faun, La Mer (The Sea) and Bruckner's Symphony No. 4. This is part of the repertoire the orchestra is also taking to Beijing and Shanghai.

"It's also a nice concert for the audience to listen to in the first half, have a break and have a completely different second half," Gatti says in an e-mail interview.

Tickets to Monday's concert top off at $420, rather than the $680 the Berlin Philharmonic commanded. This is considered a bargain price for a symphony orchestra that has influenced and developed classical repertoire since it was formed in 1888.

Dutch conductor Willem Mengelberg, who led the orchestra from 1895 to 1945, championed composers such as Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler. Both composers had also conducted the orchestra.

Under Latvian musician Mariss Jansons, who was chief conductor till 2015, the orchestra has premiered works from eminent contemporary composers such as Chinese artist Tan Dun (Contrabass Concerto: Wolf Totem, 2015) and American musician John Adams (Scheherazade.2, 2015).

Italian conductor Gatti, 56, who took over last September, is only the seventh conductor the orchestra has had since it was formed.

He says he is honoured and happy to be with an orchestra of such historical significance.

He is cutting down on other engagements to focus on the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, as well as the Orchestra Filarmonica della Scala and Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome.

In Amsterdam, he will conduct annual masterclasses for young conductors, continuing the orchestra's two-pronged mission of "tradition and renewal" of the classical music genre.

This is why the most important part of its tour of the EU is the Side By Side programme, where a youth orchestra gets to play the first part of the concert with the professionals.

"Young musicians of 17 or 18 years old, they may not be interested in the political climate or politics. They have a dream, they learn to play an instrument." Gatti says. "We do not always play in a big city like London, Paris and Berlin. We visit small cities as well. People can join us and share experiences."

He adds: "Music is made for the audience and can be enjoyed freely."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 21, 2017, with the headline 'All about the music'. Subscribe