Kazushi Ono. Photo: May Zircus (detail) View full image

Building a cathedral of sound

As Kazushi Ono takes up a new role as Music Director of Brussels Philharmonic, he shares some of his guiding principles

My ideal orchestral sound is one that grows upwards, like a great cathedral. To create this sort of dimensional sound, you need a steady foundation, beautifully constructed walls and many sonorities in between. When I work with an orchestra, I try to achieve this profound architecture.

Accompanying voices is one good way to develop the sound of an orchestra. It encourages flexibility in the players, and their tone becomes more like that of singers. It’s more expressive, whether they’re creating a gorgeous carpet for the choir or playing as one with the human voices. Another advantage of programming vocal music is that you have texts to work with – the content has a very clear, concrete meaning, because of the words, so it is easy to translate this feeling into the music.

It’s also very important to me to programme the music of our time. I like to structure concerts with a new piece at the beginning or as a second half, mixing that with better known pieces from the 18th and 19th centuries. When you include repertoire from different periods, it becomes easier for the audience to recognise the differences between them, so they can understand each one more profoundly. It opens their ears. This is what I call the ‘art of relativity’. Audiences may be used to listening to the music of Mozart but if they hear his music alongside Brahms and Messiaen, for example, they can appreciate it even more deeply; if they hear Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring after a creation of our time, it might seem very Classical.

My goal as a conductor is to liberate the musicians and let them make music. That is very important, because a conductor doesn’t make a single sound on their own. As a conductor, if musicians feel that you are concentrating on a conversation with the composer, it gives them the incentive to make music in a profound way. When I’m at the piano at home, I search for the source of the composers’ ideas and how they should be delivered, and my rehearsals are based on these conversations between me and the composers.

As time has gone by, I’ve learnt how to get an orchestra to play together, but music goes far beyond that. The most important thing is not being together but how they are together – floating, or intensely, for example. In the end, the sound of a great orchestra is an accumulation of each musician’s abundant images, and reaches upwards as one instrument, like the roof of a magnificent Gothic cathedral.