Rhythm of life: a talk with conductor Lorenzo Viotti

The musical maestro on the energising world of classical music, and keeping time as Bulgari’s new ambassador

One would be hard-pressed to find a more definitive model of the next generation of classical music talent than Lorenzo Viotti (right). With an impressive musical resume and handsome collection of prestigious awards, Lorenzo began his musical journey as a percussionist, exploring different genres and styles – even briefly playing in his sister’s metal band in order as a young man.

As a conductor, he went on win the Cadaqués Orchestra International Conducting Competition In 2012, at just 22 years of age, and has followed this success with prizes in the Nestlé and Salzburg Festival Young Conductors Awards (2015), the MDR Sinfonieorchester (2016) and was named Newcomer of the Year at the International Opera Award in 2017.

In the years since, the 32-year-old maestro has risen to the ranks of music director of the Gulbenkian Orchestra and chief conductor- designate of the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra, and Dutch National Opera.

Another string to his bow – and a testament to his global acclaim – has been a new role with the Bulgari family, as its new global watches ambassador.

Born in Lausanne, Switzerland, to a Franco- Italian family of musicians, Lorenzo is anything but your average conductor – and is just at home on a club dancefloor as he is in front of an orchestra.

“[Lorenzo] embodies the boldness of our identity so perfectly well,” says Bulgari Group CEO Jean-Christophe Babin. “Like our watchmaking craftsmanship, Lorenzo fuses an Italian soul with a Swiss rigor. Time is the rhythm of music, we are proud to mark his talent with our timepieces.”

Lorenzo, how do you mix tradition and innovation in your role as a conductor?

I do a very old job. I constantly repeat pieces of music that were composed 200 years ago and have been played 6,000 times. It’s like trying to reinvent pasta carbonara – the recipe has existed for many years, but there’s still a chef that tries to take the ingredients and give you a new twist. I do the same with sound.

Is it important to your work to have an understanding of different genres?

Of course, you can say classical music is a mix of all genres. You have rhythm, you have harmony and melody. Most importantly, we shouldn’t consider ourselves higher than any other genre – take rap as one example. To be a good rapper, you must have such good timing – it’s more than rhythm and tempo. It’s really the highest art in their field. In jazz, you must have improvisation.

I recently conducted the premiere of [Jules Massene’s opera] Thaïs at Teatro alla Scala in Milan. Three hours later, I was in a techno club [dancing] to a legendary DJ. As classical musicians, we should all be very open and try to learn from others.

What are some of the most exciting aspects of your work?

You never know what might happen. You can rehearse as best as you can… but it’s all in the moment. You can never actually relax, as a conductor; you need to give everything. There’s something new every day, because we deal with people. On Monday I might be in Austria, then the next week is Asia, then America, and those cultures and relationships to emotions – to love, death, sex, money – are all different, so you have to always adapt yourself [and your performances], to give everything to the public. It’s quite exciting as a job.

How important is the relationship between a conductor and the orchestra?

Very important – on stage, you cannot lie. If the audience senses there’s no connection between the orchestra and the conductor you probably will have a very boring concert. But I’ve heard people say they wanted to be in the orchestra because they saw how much fun we were having. It can be very playful. We are not an art to be recorded. Classical music is a moment in time.

Tell us about your new role as Bulgari’s global watches ambassador?

I’m very lucky to have been introduced to Bulgari. We share a lot of common ideas of excellence, and ways of rethinking what has been done already by mixing tradition and innovation. We meet on a lot of points in terms of respect for that tradition, as well as the vision of the future, elegance. We are just starting to develop something that will be a very exciting relationship.

How do you like to spend your downtime?

If I can escape cities and be in silence, surrounded by raw nature or under the water, this is where I feel happiest. In the middle of nature, this is where I can actually centre myself again, and relax my ears. You can’t really have that in the city, and it’s terrible for our frequencies. We’re not meant to listen to those noises – cars, honks, metal – and it’s not natural for the human ears.

What are you listening to right now?

I’m currently listening to Snoop Dogg’s new album BODR. It’s amazing – an album of 21 songs where he plays with old and new styles with West Coast and California deep hardcore beats.

Where are you happiest performing?

I have particular emotions toward some concert halls because of the memories they hold, or even just because the acoustics there were just out of this world. Wiener Musikverein in Vienna, the Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall, and Teattro alla Scala in Milan are just a few examples of special venues.


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