Christian Arming
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Forward Thinking

Austrian conductor Christian Arming on this weekend's concerts with the Fort Worth Symphony, and a possible glimpse at the future.

published Friday, November 22, 2019

Photo: Shumpei Ohsugi
Christian Arming

Fort Worth — Austrian superstar conductor, Christian Arming, who recently left his position as Music Director of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in Liege, Belgium, arrives in North Texas for concerts this weekend at Bass Performance Hall with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. When discussing the upcoming performances, Arming admitted that this appearance may be considered in essence an audition for a more permanent role with the orchestra, although he could not give more details on the nature of the position or timing. “[The FWSO] is an excellent group,” he said. “I would be very excited and very honored to have a more regular role with them.”

If this concert is in fact a tryout — and we can assume that most guest conductors this season are “auditioning” to replace outgoing music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya — he has picked an excellent program to show off his skills. The combination of Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80; Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7, Op. 70; and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20, K. 466, featuring Lise de la Salle, provides not only familiar pieces but also those that will demonstrate a wide range of styles and emotion. As Arming explains, “The Brahms Overture itself has so many different styles, from the humoristic drinking songs and flowing folk dances. Dvořák’s Symphony is influenced by his politic desire to see an independent Czech Republic and its opening is highly patriotic, but then you can hear the close influence of his dear friend Brahms in the color of the slower second movement you can hear. And the Mozart concerto ranges from the nervous and misterioso first movement to the almost aggressive finale.”

He goes on to show his mastery of finding connections in the programmed pieces by explaining how all of the works not only center on Vienna but also on Brahms, since not only does the symphony have the influence of the great German composer, but the Mozart Concerto is known to have been one of Brahms’ favorites, and we have cadenzas that Brahms wrote for its performance

This is Arming’s second performance with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, having conducted them last in 2001, although he is a regular contributor at the Round Top Music Festival near Houston. “I know Texas audiences quite well. They have a real eagerness to learn and show so much enthusiasm and appreciation. In Texas, and America all over, the devotion to an orchestra is almost like a family thing. Audiences know all the members of the orchestra and so much about the organizations. And they are incredibly open about the music that they hear.”

When talking about the FSWO, he comments again on the openness of the musicians to all types of styles, from late Renaissance to Contemporary. “They as a group are very eager to rehearse. If I need to take ten minutes on a single page of music, they don’t give up or get frustrated. The orchestra is a very nice atmosphere where you can feel how hard the musicians are willing to work to achieve something special.”

As an accomplished and well-traveled performer, Arming has had stints with major orchestras all over Europe, North America and Asia. He says that, despite the global nature of music, there are still very pronounced differences between ensembles in different regions of the world. “In the south of Europe, such as Southern Italy or France, the musicians come into rehearsal less prepared. The first part of rehearsal is to teach the notes and then we can go on and shape the music. It is not a problem, just something that I need to be prepared for. In Northern Europe and America, the musicians know the works perfectly so that we can start working on the musical aspects right away. In Asia, particularly Japan, is very much like that too, only more so. Asian artists have a tradition of working very hard.”

The traditions are often the hardest part of coming in as a new conductor. “When you conduct at a place like Leipzig or Berlin or Vienna, the orchestra has a style of doing things that has been in place for many centuries. It is the ‘face’ of the orchestra. It is very difficult to come in for one or two concerts and a few rehearsals and be able to change anything about that face.”

“In the United States,” he continues, “the traditions of the orchestra may have been there for a hundred years or so, and although the face is still very strongly established, there is more ability to make changes. It feels a bit more like an empty canvas to work with.”

He has already had his first rehearsal with the FWSO for the upcoming concerts, so he has had a chance to get to know what their sound and face is like. “In turn,” he says, “the first rehearsal is a chance for the orchestra to see what my strengths and weaknesses are. I start to try to change the style to fit my vision of the music, for example by changing the bowing of the strings. Just that simple thing gives a different sound and therefore a change of style. But I know that I might change the sound, but in a short time I will not change the face. That takes many years, maybe two years of consistently working to make even small changes. It may be a generation before a real change can take place. But you don’t want to change the face too much, because it is what makes each orchestra special.”

It remains to be seen if Arming will get more of an opportunity to influence the FWSO’s face in times to come. Thanks For Reading

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Forward Thinking
Austrian conductor Christian Arming on this weekend's concerts with the Fort Worth Symphony, and a possible glimpse at the future.
by Keith Mankin

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