The Naxos Interview: Darrell Ang talks with Laurence Vittes
March 13, 2017
Naxos’ new recording of three major orchestral works by Henri Dutilleux teams the Orchestre National de Lille and conductor Darrell Ang in the composer’s response to Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night, called Timbres, espaces, mouvement, his Symphony No. 2 and Mystère de l’instant.
After Darrell Ang took the Grand Prix, plus the Audience and Orchestra Prizes at the 50th Besançon International Competition for Young Conductors, he became music director of the Orchestre Symphonique de Bretagne in Rennes; subsequent postings included the Singapore Symphony Orchestra where he served as its youngest ever Associate Conductor, Yale where he studied, and St. Petersburg where he worked closely with Valery Gergiev. Last fall Ang was named music director of the Sichuan Symphony Orchestra in Chengdu.
I spoke to Ang in Costa Mesa where he was preparing for three concerts with the Pacific Symphony: Huang Ro’s Folk Songs for Orchestra, Elgar’s Enigma Variations, and Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto with Zhang Zuo.
LV: How did you wind up making recordings for Naxos?
Darrell Ang: I was approached by a friend of mine, the Brazilian pianist Cristina Ortiz, who was discussing concerto projects for Naxos with label chief Klaus Heymann; he was looking for an orchestra, I was working with the Orchestre Symphonique de Bretagne, and Cristina thought something might work out. However, in France at the time, there were complicated laws that required lots of paperwork and the project never materialized. But then Klaus called me to replace another conductor with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.
LV: And the rest is history. How good is the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra?
Darrell Ang: It is an amazing orchestra, made up mostly of musicians from the three top London orchestras–the London Symphony, the London Philharmonic and the London Philharmonia–who were relocating to Australia and New Zealand in search of a better life.
LV: Is it a big lifestyle change?
Darrell Ang: It is a huge lifestyle change. Working for those three London orchestras could drive you insane. They are per service orchestras working around the clock; the musicians need to be able to come in, sit down, sight read without missing a note, know every musical style and-bam!-deliver. The advantage for us at our recording sessions for Naxos was that these same topflight musicians finished very quickly, and the product was first class.
LV: How different they must be from the orchestra in Lille.
Darrell Ang: Yes. Lille is a very old school French orchestra with a typical French sound: elegant, light and beautiful. They may play French music like no other French orchestra. As young French orchestral musicians have been going abroad and bringing back with them different playing styles and tastes, many orchestras no longer play in the same tradition, nor am I saying they should. But Lille does, and that is what you hear on the new recording
LV: What’s the Auditorium du Nouveau Siècle like where you played the concerts and made the recordings?
Darrell Ang: From outside the hall it looks a like an apartment block. Inside it’s a new universe, a good and resonant hall with wood throughout. It was refurbished seven or eight years ago, and the seating reduced from 2,000 to 1,750, which helped with the sound. Now it benefits every orchestra that plays there.
LV: Phil Rowlands is listed as Producer, Engineer and Editor. What in sum do these functions add up to?
Darrell Ang: These functions are critical to the success of every disc. Whether they’re handled by one person or several, they are your second pair of ears. I’m glad that Klaus Heymann is so selective with his producers. Andrew Walton, for example, and Phil Rowlands who did the Dutilleux. Phil has ears of gold.
LV: What does it mean to have ears of gold?
Darrell Ang: It means that every time will be quality time. You need to be a musician, trained and educated to know what the score actually requires, and what it takes to make the finished product. What we did in the Dutilleux, which is very hard music both to play and record, took someone with the refined ears and good taste to say to us, “This take is better because of the sheen on the strings, and that one is better because of the intonation.”
LV: What can you tell us about Huang Ro, whom you’ve programed for the Pacific Symphony?
Darrell Ang: Huang Ro is a good friend of mine, a very successful young Chinese composer. He’s been living here for more than 20 years; he studied at Juilliard and Oberlin. He’s also one of the hottest Chinese composers on the planet; he’s on every menu, on everybody’s list.
LV: What does it mean that orchestras like the Pacific Symphony are reaching beyond the mainstream?
Darrell Ang: Orchestras like the Pacific Symphony have long realized that they had to communicate more, and connect more with the community. They are now realizing that making those connections has to be more than a manner of speech, it’s about how they relate. They are also realizing that there’s a whole community of different composers from different races who speak different languages and were trained in different schools to write in different styles. This new 21st century variety is a good thing. The Pacific Symphony is one of these orchestras that is leading the change.
LV: What does your appointment in Chengdu mean?
Darrell Ang: The Sichuan Symphony Orchestra has been an interesting, enjoyable experience. Chinese orchestras are in their infancy, aside from those in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. This one in Chengdu is still a baby.
LV: Why is China making the investment?
Darrell Ang: Developing the arts and culture, and especially classical music, is very important to the Chinese leaders. They want their orchestras to rise to the top in the next 10 years, and Chengdu, as the capital of Sichuan province, is a very important city to them. Sichuan province is the western gateway to the world China is reaching out to: Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam to the south; India and Pakistan over the Tibetan plateau, Russia to the north. All of which makes the Orchestra central to the government’s plans for the city and the province–without culture they believe they cannot be on the same level as their western counterparts.
Darrell Ang Background & Discography