Q. Does this happen often, that individual orchestra members will write to a conductor?
A. No, no, this is very rare. It was really an expression of love.
Unfortunately, not long after, at a certain point in the first season I had a problem with arrhythmia of my heart. I fell at the podium, and I had to miss a few weeks. But I’m well now; this was an arrhythmia problem — not a problem of musical rhythm!
Q. From the reports I’ve seen, you’re now feeling strong.
A. Yes, absolutely.
Q. What in your opinion makes the Chicago Symphony so unique?
A. I think the orchestra is altogether one of the most beautiful in the world.
One time when I was in Europe, I heard people talk about the famous brass of the Chicago symphony. But now I can hear that all the sections are equally wonderful — fantastic beautiful strings and beautiful woodwinds and beautiful percussion. So the orchestra has the possibility to play all kinds of repertoire, from the baroque music and intimate Schubert to the very powerful music. It’s not an orchestra that has a tendency to play one thing well and one thing not. Thanks to the musicians and the previous music directors, the orchestra has become a very flexible instrument.
Q. Your upcoming concerts in San Francisco include two new works by young composers, who are in residence with your orchestra in Chicago: Mason Bates and Anna Clyne. Some people might not recognize that you are such an advocate for contemporary music.
A. The people who don’t recognize it are people who are not informed. Because when I was in La Scala and Philadelphia I performed so much contemporary music, and I commissioned so much contemporary music. So I don’t understand this response. If you look at the programs from Philadelphia and La Scala — many, many works of contemporary composers.
But my job is not only to promote the contemporary music, but also to work in the repertoire. With every orchestra, you have to do Bruckner, Schubert, Mahler; the big repertory remains for the conductor and for the public.
And then there are the conductors that are considered specialists in contemporary music. But I can assure you that, if you can conduct Mozart, you can conduct contemporary music — but not necessarily that, if you can conduct contemporary music, you can conduct Mozart. I can assure you that.