Monday, 8 February 2016

Gustavo Gimeno and the Eroica

If you’ve not heard of Gustavo Gimeno then you probably missed him directing the first concert by a symphony orchestra, the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse, in the newly rebuilt “Theatre de l’Usine” at Saint Céré last night.

This is the only concert hall in the North of the Lot and we owe our thanks to Olivier Desbordes, who runs Opera Éclate, and has for decades directed the Festival of Saint Céré from the jumble of buildings that used to be a factory making suitcases.  As a result of his track record he has been able to successfully negotiate the funding necessary to redevelop the site, and as one of the residents of the area I am very grateful.

Perhaps you think that Gimeno is the young assistant conductor for the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse, who substitutes for the Grand Chef when they leave their base, but you would be wrong because he's much more noteworthy than such a role might imply. 

In a packed hall Gimeno conducted Beethoven’s Eroica in a fashion worthy of its name.  From the startling opening chords through to the coda it was a performance to remember. The energy and drive that he gave to this long symphony was sustained throughout. In only his second performance with the orchestra he drew playing of superb accuracy and detail from a somewhat reduced ensemble together with some beautiful solos from several of the woodwind principals.

To open the concert he chose Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite and he achieved a delicacy of colour and precision that my partner and I found surprisingly affecting in that rather episodic piece.

The room at the “Theatre de l’Usine” is too small for a full symphony orchestra and has a rather dry acoustic. It wouldn’t be kind to singers, but that same quality is very revealing of ensemble playing and the strings were up to the task.

So who is Gustavo Gimeno and what has he done?

He was the principal percussionist for the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra from 2002 to 2012, when he became the assistant conductor to Mariss Janssons.

He has also held the post of assistant to the late Claudio Abbado working with the Orchestra Mozart, the Filarmonica de Bologna, the Lucerne Festival Orchestra and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. In 2013 he assisted Bernard Haitink with the Orchestra Mozart.  Here in an interview with Classical Music he talks about the experience of working with Claudio Abbado as his assistant. 

In 2014, when Janssons cancelled unexpectedly for medical reasons, he took on a series of concerts with the Royal Concertgebouw . These were a sensational success and heralded the start of his international career.

In less than two years he has established a full schedule of international engagements ranging from Europe, to the USA, to New Zealand and has accepted the post of chief conductor for the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg. Between March and August 2016 he will be appearing with:

Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Such a rapid acceptance by the major orchestras reminds me of another Gustavo (Dudamel) who has also had a meteoric career, but he is based in Los Angeles and only visits Europe occasionally.

Looking Forward (English with French subtitles)
In this video Gustavo Gimeno talks about conducting and Mariss Janssons, and some of Gustavo’s colleagues, recall his first concerts with the Royal Concertgebouw.  Don’t miss the snippet of Die Fledermaus at 3:34.

Here he lets Sibelius work his magic, creating the serene image of a swan via the cor anglais solo in The Swan of Tuonela.

And how about a little Tchaikovsky?

Or the wonderful sound he creates in Bruckner's 7th?

I will certainly be looking out for him in future programmes and wish him every success!