TAKUO YUASA regularly performs throughout Europe and the Far East. He has held positions as Principal Conductor of the Gumma Symphony Orchestra in Japan, Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and his current position as Principal Guest Conductor of the Ulster Orchestra in Belfast has been extended until 2002. He has recorded many critically acclaimed discs of 20th Century repertoire for Naxos.
What was it that made you want to become a full time professional conductor, and what are the positives and negatives of a conductor's way of life?
I have played several instruments in my life since childhood. No single instrument gave me total satisfaction by itself. I would hear in my head all the sound that should come out when playing an instrument in ensembles, that I wanted to be involved with all of it. Therefore, natural thing for me to do was to conduct. I also enjoy physical involvement of conducting in music making, after long mental works of tackling the scores at the desk. It is naturally a great pleasure to be involved as a conductor with enormous symphonic repertoire, which is the richest form of music. But our total dependence on orchestral musicians to produce actual sound could be the only vulnerability.
Anton von Webern is one of the composers whose music isn't often recorded, do you think there is a reason for this?
I think primarily because Webern's music is perhaps the most challenging score to perform; and it takes a very capable ensemble, technically and musically. He wrote music with most extreme condensation, clarity and delicacy. Any ensemble performing Webern needs to play it with intimacy of chamber music and be able to listen to each other with great intensity. Especially in his later works, the melodic lines are fragmental, therefore, orchestra players have to play every note fully prepared to fit in within the right musical context. That is the most difficult aspect of performing Webern. Having said that, Webern was fully capable of writing beautifully romantic and long passages. If you listen to his early works such as Passacaglia, you will become aware that he was a very romantic composer of Wagnerian tradition.
There is also an argument that Webern's music is only listened to by connoisseurs. However, I believe that he will be heard more widely in the future as people get used to more atonal music. I personally find his music powerful and beautiful that creates a world of tremendous depth and amazing range of colors.
You have recorded primarily 20th century music for Naxos - what is it about this period of music that interests you as a conductor?
I am interested in music from all periods. As a student in Vienna I was trained mainly in the Austro-German tradition, i.e. lots of Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, Brahms and beyond. In concerts I conduct from a wide range of repertoire. But I feel it is our duty to promote music of our time and generation. It is still yet to be fully explored and we need to give the listener a chance to get to know these works.
In 20th century, when classical music found new directions towards abandoning tonality, conventional forms and other various traditions, things have opened up in a wide range of possibilities of expression. It is a very interesting time in music history, what with the diversities of styles being so varied. It is becoming more and more like composer's personal statements.
In your opinion, is there one 20th century composer that stands out from the rest in terms of musical originality?
For this question of originality, I could think of many. However, Schoenberg is the one who was catalyst in breaking from the past. His influence in changing the direction of post Romantic to Modern is undeniable, which has, in turn contributed in determining the course of 20-century music. Though in another sense, I would like to name Bartok, for having a distinctively original musical language of his own.
If you could choose to record one major work from any period of music (that you haven't already recorded), what would it be and why?
I love too many works to name one. Sorry!