Andrew Anderson meets Dresdener Philharmonie’s impressive principal conductor Michael Sanderling, as the orchestra completes its UK tour
I meet Sanderling backstage at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall on a mild October evening, just two hours before he and his orchestra are due to take to the stage. His presence offstage is similar to that on it – calm but focussed. Given that the orchestra has now been on tour for 10 days taking in London, Edinburgh, Cambridge, Cardiff and everywhere in between, his bright manner is all the more admirable.
First I ask him about the challenges of a countrywide tour like this: ‘The main thing is keeping everyone going,’ he says, as he leans back in his chair. ‘We have to refresh everything everyday. Keeping a whole orchestra in a good mood is not always easy.’
Even when touring a small nation like the UK, the orchestra operates on a tight turnaround, rising early each morning to travel to the next venue (this morning they drove from Middlesbrough, a three-hour trip). After a short lunch break there is a quick soundcheck, followed by a practice session with the soloists – including artists like Tim Hugh, Andrei Korobeinikov and Thomas Carroll. Cellist Sol Gabetta, Dresden’s artist in residence for 2015-16, also features prominently in the programme and will perform with them in Manchester.
But, continues Sanderling, while the tour provides challenges it also creates rewards. ‘To play the pieces over and over is sometimes a routine but it also gives you the chance to dig deeper and develop them even further. In the normal concerts, at home in Dresden, we don’t have the chance to go into each piece in great depth – there is not time. But on tour with the same musicians you can achieve a deeper understanding of the music together. That is very rewarding, and is one of the main reasons why we tour.’
Working closely with musicians is key for Sanderling who, with his cellist background, can empathise with his players. ‘I spent 18 years sitting actively in an orchestra,’ he explains. ‘It is a tremendous plus because I am able to understand the complex psychological elements going on in an orchestra and identify the things going on between musicians and the conductor. All my work as a cellist benefits me as a conductor.’
‘Our sound is warm, dark and rich, an example of the tradition of the German orchestras and its musical heritage like Brahms.’
But, adds the conductor, as well as the historical legacy, a contemporary feel abounds: ‘We counterpoint our history with modern playing techniques, which you can hear in our rendition of Beethoven’s Symphony no 3. We are trying to create a special transparency. That is the power of this orchestra: it can go from the lighter, transparent sounds to the darker, richer sounds. Variety and flexibility – these are our strengths.’
This is an extract from an article in Vol. 11 Issue 17. To read the full feature subscribe to IAM here.