Lawrence Foster: “Enescu is no longer an unknown or exotic name”.

“You are not going to empty the concert hall, should you schedule one of his works”

There are few great musicians of the world so fond of Romania, of Bucharest and of the ‘George Enescu’ International Festival. Not necessarily because his parents were Jews from Romania, because he was an artistic manager in 1998, because he knows all the greatest Romanian conductors, singers and instrumentalists or because he is married to a Romanian lady. Lawrence Foster’s love for us must be sought first of all in Enescu’s scores. And thanks to him, Romania’s fetish composer rejoices an international appreciation.


You are one of the pioneers of Enescu’s work all over the world, if not even the first of them. When did you become aware of its value?

I don’t think I am exactly the first one, maybe the first one outside Romania, though my parents were Romanians. But this doesn’t have anything to do with my love for Enescu, born out of my love for Bartok. I’ve always adored him, and the more I conducted his works, the more I discovered that he had a wonderful relationship with Enescu. I realized that everyone was conducting Bartok – not exactly a popular composer, but, in any case, a respected one – , while no one would come close to Enescu, at least for the America of those times. In Europe people would not crowd either, not even for his Rhapsodies. Then I said to myself: ‘Why shouldn’t I do it?’. The more I studied his compositions, the more I discovered how remarkable they were. It was a great pity that they were not scheduled to be played. At the time when I was a music director of the Monte Carlo Orchestra, I was looking for an interesting musical project, and Erato (today’s Time Warner) decided record as much Enescu as I could. We imprinted a lot and when the time came for Oedipus…

… as for EMI…

Yes, because Erato did not have the necessary money for this kind of a recording. I called Alain Lancerot from EMI and I asked him whether he wanted this project. ‘Let me think about it’ was his answer. It was a huge expense. He needed… 45 minutes. He called me back and told me: ‘We’ve got a deal’. We were supposed to record in 1987 with Samuel Ramey as the protagonist. He liked the part a lot, but he had a debut at the same time in Don Giovanni with Herbert von Karajan in Salzburg. He told me that if he recorded Oedipus in June, he would have no voice left for Don Giovanni, and so he cancelled it. We had been thinking who could have replaced him and we decided to wait for two years. José van Dam had told us that if we would wait for a while, he would sing it. We lost Samuel Ramey, but we won van Dam, we lost Marilyn Horne, but we won Marijana Lipovsek.

Marilyn Horne was supposed to be the Sphinx?

Yes. She loved the part, but she couldn’t wait for two years. Lipovsek wasn’t free either, so we recorded her playback. It was all right, because, anyway, the Sphinx is an appreciated part. But Marilyn said she could have never recorded like that.

So, the record companies proposed Enescu, it was not you who had to convince them or to fight with them…

I proposed him, but I did not fight. I got Prince Rainier’s help for the project, because Oedipus was very expensive. The Prince appreciated the idea and financed this recording for the Monaco’s Culture Ministry. Rainier was very interested in developing the Monte Carlo orchestra and in raising its prestige.

Nowadays, where do we place Enescu on the map of classical music?

I still believe that he isn’t as popular as Bartok or Britten, but he is more and more appreciated and played. Many conductors and soloists are approaching his compositions. So does The Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields with the chamber music, Gidon Kremer is one of Enescu’s great supporters. I was once playing with him The Concert for Violin and Orchestra by Brahms and he told me that he had a surprise for me. He played Enescu’s cadence for me. I saw that Vasily Petrenko and the Liverpool Orchestra were playing Suite No 2. As you know, Gennady Rozhdestvensky adored Enescu and played him a lot, and so did Leonard Slatkin. I know that Gustavo Dudamel would like to do something of the kind. I played the Symphony No 3 in Berlin, and Dudamel said it was an amazing music. Pinchas Zuckerman wishes to play Sonatas No 2 and No 3 for violin. Enescu is no longer an unknown or exotic name. You are not going to empty out the concert hall, should you schedule one of his works. Oedipus was also a favourite of many productions. I made it concertant in Barcelona, there was a very beautiful production in Toulouse…

Have you ever thought about doing an Oedipus production also at the Montpellier Radio France Festival?

No, because I am leaving the festival. I don’t appreciate the new orchestra manager, and so I will be leaving it one year sooner. I would have certainly loved doing Oedipus, though so soon after the Toulouse production, it wouldn’t have had a great impact. I had been talking about this with René Koering. I may be doing it with the Gulbenkian Orchestra in about two years, at least big fragments.

Leaving aside your Romanian origins, when did you become aware of Romania’s contribution to the international heritage of classical music?

Ever since I was a child. One of my favourite records was Enescu conducted by Leopold Stokowski. I have always believed that Dinu Lipatti was one of the greatest pianists of all times. Radu Lupu is one of my favourite soloists, and the first recording that he made after he left Romania was Concert No 3 for piano and orchestra by Beethoven with London Symphony and with me. I always liked to help – no, ‘to help’ sounds condescending -, to encourage and to introduce great Romanian artists. I brought Stefan Ruha and Dan Grigore to London and Birmingham, let alone Montpellier where Grigore has already been three times. I have been working with Dana Ciocarlie a lot, too.

Have you had the chance of meeting Sergiu Celibidache?

Yes, I used to go to his rehearsals as often as I could, but I did not want to meet him personally. He was like a hypnotist and I did not want to be under his spell. I thought that the musicians who succumbed to him, except for the very strong ones, nullified their personality. I was afraid. I watched him with a great interest; he was one of the greatest minds and one of the greatest musicians of all times. I only met him once, in the elevator.

And how about Romanian singers?

Last night I was at someone’s place and we were listening to old recordings. It is amazing, but proportionally, I believe that Romania has given to the world more valuable singers than any other country, even Italy. If we start from Stella Roman and Virginia Zeani… we were listening to The Force of Destiny performed by Ludovic Spiess and Nicolae Herlea. You would not hear such voices nowadays. The person who was proposing Herlea said that, to him, Lawrence Tibbett was the greatest. Out of curiosity, I listened to them in parallel. Tibbett was wonderful, but not like Herlea. Maybe his voice was really the most beautiful Verdian baritone voice of all times. The duet of The Force with him and Spiess is incredible. The world has had many great singers, but Romania, this little and unfortunate country has produced an incredible number of singers. Mariana Nicolescu was one of the greatest performers. We could never forget Ileana Cotrubas, and today we have Angela Gheorghiu. To me, she is the voice of the supreme beauty and an accomplished artist. I do not understand all the problems connected to her. We have worked together, and her professionalism was faultless. We had our rehearsals and it was a pleasure to collaborate with her. She is a delicate artist, perhaps one should approach her carefully, but, oh my Lord, the beauty of her voice… Romania has produced many remarkable voices. Marius Brenciu was the winner of the ‘Enescu’ Competition the year when I was the artistic manager. I was proud for him. Look at his career today. And there will be many others. I don’t know what you eat or probably it’s because of the light, the weather, the language… Or maybe the Slavic and Latin genes give us these incredible singers.

You have also been the musical manager of the Lisbon Gulbenkian Orchestra. For how long?

It’s been eight years now. It’s been a great joy. You are going to listen to it, the orchestra is wonderful. When I came here the last time, people were very surprised. No one would expect an orchestra of such quality. I hope you too will think that we’ve improved ourselves. We have a wonderful working atmosphere; we’ve made many recordings for Pentatone, a good company. One of our most recent programmes was based on virtuosity pieces of the Hungarian repertory, with many Romanian accents: Rhapsody I by Bartok, The Romanian Concert by Lygeti, Koday…

Beside Enescu, please name three more composers who made you who you are today!

I cannot! Bruno Walter was asked the same thing and he said that he was too generous for that!

How about five?

No. I could name you a few that I love now. Beethoven, Schubert, Verdi, Bartok and Ravel. I think that Ravel never wrote an unnecessary note, though he wrote many scores.

No Mozart, no Russian composers.

Not now. Tchaikovsky, of course. Yes, Mozart too… Obligé… I used to say that I would take Mozart on a desert island. Now I’m not so certain. The composer that I don’t approach enough is Haydn. I like sinking into his music, but ‘the Baroque fascists’ are waiting for me around the corner. And then, there is this fascination of old instruments… I was telling one of my friends that, if it we ever had the case of a bypass operation, at least he didn’t have the obsession of old instruments… I learned a lot from those people’s efforts and I like listening to some concerts by John Eliot Gardiner, Christopher Hogwood, the great pioneers and exponents of this music. On the other hand, the other day I was listening to a symphony by Haydn conducted by Collin Davis. It was marvelous. On another occasion, I listened to Neeme Järvi with Santa Cecilia Orchestra. Wonderful! Give me a symphony by Haydn or Mozart conducted by Daniel Barenboim. This is not bad at all…

Suppose you were a soloist, who would like to have as a conductor?

Barenboim! He is the world’s greatest conductor! There are others too… it’s hard to say… there are many conductors that I like, but I’ve never thought about who I’d like to have as a conductor… With Barenboim you don’t just play, but you also take your time and study, you study every detail; you take lessons and learn from him, which everyone should try. I think I would like to perform with someone like Dudamel and I would have liked to make music together with George Szell or Bruno Walter. I would have been afraid to play alongside Toscanini. I cannot imagine how I would have survived such an experience, though it seems that he was extremely lenient as an accompanist… There are also less known conductors, but it is a pleasure working with them: Edo de Waart or Jésus Lopez-Cobos… I think I would also have liked playing with Christian Zacharias, whom we listened to last night with the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra. He is a very temperamental musician. I was the artistic manager of the festival in 1998. When Cristian Mandeal replaced me in 2001, he was very gentleman-like to underline at the press conference that the programme of that edition was mostly conceived by Lawrence Foster. I was the musical manager of the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra, and the invitation came from me. That was probably my best investment. They think of Bucharest as their second home. Both the orchestra and Zacharias are so loved here! There were three things that we established for the time when I was the festival manager. I was happy they were so beautifully developed by Mr. Holender. The festival is at an extraordinarily high level! I almost cannot realize how so many ideas are brought together, but the festival is extremely coherent, and the programme is amazing! It’s challenging, it doesn’t just stick to the standard repertory, but there are also so many other interesting works. Let alone the people chosen to perform these works (including Enescu) – sometimes they do it brilliantly, sometimes they don’t. For instance, Valery Gergiev does Symphony No 3, which I have also performed with an Italian orchestra several years ago. I told you that we have initiated three things: the midnight concert series. Everybody was saying ‘It’s not going to work, no one is going to come!’.

Your name was on everyone’s lips this summer when you conducted the orchestra of the most glamorous event of the season: the princely wedding of Monte Carlo.

It was such a joy! The atmosphere was wonderful. Many agreed that the programme was more humane and more emotional than the one of the British royal wedding. It was a pleasure for me to attend the Monegasque marriage. I worked well and relaxed. Albert looks after each detail, Caroline was concerned with how her children were going to sing, all the family behaved wonderfully… To me, it was first of all a homage paid to Prince Rainier and Princess Grace. I am not interested in all the rubbish written about the Grimaldi family. I know their beautiful parts. Any family has problems or bad moments. Since Rainier up to the present, in Monaco, the family has been trying to get involved into noble causes, to use the riches of the country for charity or environment protection. I had the chance of knowing Princess Charlene a little, but I hope she will be able to snub to the tabloids who tried to discredit the beauty of those moments. They are a beautiful pair and I hope they will do a good job. You know, we didn’t have any cameras at the rehearsals, we didn’t have any journalists, we didn’t have any photographers. You could see how the spouses completed each other, and what a beautiful atmosphere there was. Albert came to me, he hugged me, with tears in his eyes… I call him ‘Albert’. We, Americans, don’t think that royalty comes from God, but it is a form of social development. He said: ‘Larry, I’m thinking about a follow-up, because you have conducted at my mother’s funerals’. So it is. In 1982, when Grace had the terrible accident. I was on holiday and I urgently returned to Monte Carlo where, in the Cathedral I conducted the music of the unhappy event. There are so many who say: ‘I am a friend of the Prince, I am a friend of the Princess!’. I think that the longevity and continuation that I enjoy in Monte Carlo are due to the fact that I never said that. Neither myself, nor my wife, Angela, Romania’s honorary consul in Monaco, appointed by Prince Rainier. There had been four candidates. The other three were oligarchs, rich as Croesus. He chose her, being convinced that she was going to do a good job and he never compelled her to take part into the great social events. She does amazing things. Every year she celebrates Romania’s National Day with remarkable musical ensembles, she organized poetry evenings dedicated to Eminescu, soirees about important episodes of Romania’s history, she brought many theatre companies to Monaco. My daughter, Nicole, speaks Romanian very well thanks to my wife. There is already a Romanian group in Monaco. We are in a very close relationship especially with Caroline. Sometimes we go out for dinner or we talk for hours on end. Of all the family, she knows the most about music and it was due to her that that famous Monte Carlo Ballet was rebuilt, one of Europe’s best companies.

Have you ever thought of yourself as an ambassador of Romania?

No. I am not so close to the country. I love Romania, I like coming back here. Maybe I felt a bit like that when I was the festival manager. It’s a too pompous investiture for me. I like to bring me contribution when I can. I appreciate other Romanian composers too, especially Pascal Bentoiu. I have played his works abroad too. I don’t feel an ambassador. I was never appointed that by anyone.


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