Conductor, TV Presenter, writer…: Exclusive Interview with Matthieu Mantanus

Mantanus3

INTERVIEW BY SALVATORE MARGARONE (as translated by Tiziano Thomas Dossena)

Tell us a little about yourself. When did your passion for music born?
My passion for music was born when I was a little kid: I was fascinated by the sound of the organ, but I was only five years old and my mother explained to me that I was not tall enough to reach the pedals! So, I started with the piano, and later on I also studied the cello with it for over ten years. And maybe it’s this instrument, instead, which opened up for me the door to the orchestra.

Which one was the turning point of your career?
My pivotal points were the meetings with various important maestros. First it was with Aprea, then with Sinopoli, Gelmetti, Panula and last with Maazel: important milestones in an artistic growth that, however, never ends. Life for me it’s like a hike in the mountains. While you walk you don’t realize how much you are climbing; it’s only when you stop to rest and you look down that you realize of the long path you walked. And anyhow, when you look upward, the peak never looks any closer.MM_portrait-480x320

copertina_libroMMAs a young conductor, tell us what you feel when you direct and when you meet new talents.
To conduct an orchestra can be at times the most fulfilling experience ever lived, and at times the most frustrating, since it is now based more upon human relations than the technical and musical preparation. The conductor, and it’s something that I tried to explain in my book “Beethoven e la ragazza coi capelli blu” (Beethoven and the girl with the blue hair), does not have any divine power, but has foremost to create the conditions for the musicians who play with him to perform at their best. From that point on, if there is trust, he can give suggestions with his gestures. If there is no trust, the conductor is the most useless person in the orchestra.
Talents, instead, I meet plenty, and usually I am tempted to share with them special music moments, one way or the other, because musicality, the real one, unites; and as I see it, humanity in a musician matters a lot.

unagiornataHow are your relations with young musicians?
I think that in the next few years I will dedicate myself more to “young people”, also considering the fact that I am also getting older…. I believe it’s important to make them reflect upon their role in today’s society: what is the point to study music in 2016? What sense does music have in our society? They are questions that until ten years ago one could avoid easily asking oneself since the method was exact, the professional structure proven. Today, the patterns are evolving because society itself is evolving. It’s fundamental then, to get back to our roots and give ourselves some answers to make sense of the most beautiful profession in the world. Also for the reason that if in the course of our training we tend, correctly, to act according to whoever is teaching us first and whoever judges us second, when we start the profession we have to turn around and look at the audience in the eyes and remember that it is for them that we perform, and it’s thanks to them that we are allowed to operate in this field.

Do you believe that in Italy, today, there is space for young people? Under what conditions?
Little; very little. From one standing point it’s normal, since in Italy, as in other countries, the “market” is shrinking visibly. It’s logical that being there fewer opportunities, young people are not capable to enter in a system that is not really working any more, but in my opinion this reaction is extremely dangerous because in a society evolving this rapidly, in which, being 38 I have a hard time understanding an 18 years old, what I would call the “generational contamination;” a correct amount of openness among generations would be useful to the evolution of musical offering…

What is your advice to young musicians?
First of all to study, study, and study again, because a real musician has to strive for perfection, then to play always with others, because music is sharing, and finally to travel around the world: courses, masterclasses, competitions, youth orchestras… to compare ourselves with others, since to find a job they will need to enlarge their horizons a lot and not expect to find it at home….

Let’s talk about your collaboration with channel Rai5. How do you stand in the shoes of a TV presenter? Do you like it? Do you believe it fits you?
I enjoyed myself a lot, since TV is a particular medium that I am discovering in the last few years, first with the program Che Tempo Fa, then with the live programs of Rai5… We really have to reflect on new ways of transmitting music to society: the TV is an important tool to which the music world compares with difficulty. I am working on so many ideas!Mantanus1

Among your projects we find “Jeans Music”. Could you explain how it was born and what it is about?
My “Jeans Music Lab” is a type of lab in which I experiment new formats to introduce the classic repertoire in live version. I believe the concert, in its current form, is functional for the public that follows it, but it does not have the capacity to attract new audiences. The first step, for me, is to call into question the formalism which reigns in the concert halls. The last project, for example, “Intimacy,” experiments the relationship with the video format: how to use the most recent art to which society is more sensitive, to transmit music.

Milano, Matthieu Mantanus © Cristian Castelnuovo

Milano, Matthieu Mantanus © Cristian Castelnuovo

Are there any limits, in your opinion, to the music world? As of today, should we dare more in our musical proposals? Or maybe we should stay within the limits, if any?
Limits in Art should not exist because the relationship between the artist and society is one of action-reaction. The artist has to be free to express himself and propose his thoughts, his sensibility. The only rule, which we often forget, is that the public has also to be free not to appreciate it and express that feeling. It’s this dialectic that allows art to assume all its importance in society.

What work did you want to do when you were a kid?
I used to tell my mom in the morning that I wanted to be a pilot and then at night to be a musician. I was always versatile; besides music, I loved physics, economics, diplomacy… Nevertheless, at the moment I had to really choose I asked myself whether I could live far from music, and since the answer was no, I chose this profession.

The strangest thing about you?
Paradoxically, maybe just my normality…

Are there any other projects at which you are working?
I am investing a lot in my lab Jeans Music and we have a lot of projects within it to be developed, all projects that aim to find broadcast techniques for the classic repertoire. Often, I hear cultural leaders who complain that to the activity of “approach to new audiences” is not followed by a growth in subscriptions, but it is very normal! If you change the format—let’s call it like that—and you can attract new audience, but you should not think that the same audience would love the preceding format: that usually means that it was that format they did not like! We have to look for different ways, sustainable through time, to do our cultural work; and upon that, my attention for the future concentrates.

The most embarrassing situation in which you found yourself?
Ahem, there are so many…. Usually given to the fact that I am not good at remembering faces, and there are so many instances in which I have long conversations with people I absolutely can’t remember, and then I discover that I met them quite a few times, and also with pleasure! I am a disaster!Mantanus2

Is there something that you want to say to our readers?
Yes. I hear too much, in my world, that society “does not understand music anymore,” that “it’s not like in the old times”, that “the government should…” or that “politics…”
I think, instead, that the time has come for us to realize that our society, paradoxically, is the one that has the most access to culture and knowledge that man could ever imagine in the past 10000 years, that our society is different from the one of our parents, and the one of our children is even more different from ours, but that different does not mean worse, and to complete our mission we have to have the courage to immerse ourselves in society, understand it, and place ourselves in a contemporary mode and without any prejudice. After all, society has a great need for music and especially of good music, and we can be the ones to bring it to it; wherever it is and with whatever means we can use, as long as we respect its substance.

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