We had our first rehearsal last night of Mozart 40 with the SMP. Wow.
Is it his best symphony? His best piece? Is this the greatest symphony ever written? Is it the greatest piece of music ever written? Whatever it is, it makes you feel like it must be all those things the more time you spend with it.
I used to try to do as much new repertoire as possible- for years, I would try to program whole seasons with the OES or GRSO of music I had never conducted before. I thought it was important to learn as much music as possible.
Now, though, I’m struck by the awe inspiring fact that I learn a lot more from coming back to a piece like the Mozart for the 20th time than from learning a new piece for the first time. I just did this piece a few months ago, and spent many hours with the score marking parts even more recently, and yet I continue to find more things to marvel at each time I open the score than I did the time before.
Nothing against my successful young colleagues, but I really think that this is why Paavo Jarvi is right when he says there is no such thing as a “great” young conductor, no matter how talented they are. The learning curve with great music should be, can be and often is exponential. People sometimes look at older performers, be they Schnabel or Haitink and see that their repertoire gradually contracts. This is usually attributed to people focusing on what they love most, or are most comfortable with or with a reluctance to learn new things.
What I’m starting to understand now, just a bit, is that this process of pairing back and focusing on a select repertoire seems to come from a desire, a hunger to learn new things.