Classical music these days can be too obsessed with realism
If any orchestra can claim to have an infallible nose for new conducting talent, it’s the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. In 1980, Simon Rattle arrived as a fresh-faced 25-year-old, and the next two conductors, Sakari Oramo and Andris Nelsons, went on to impressive careers. The orchestra’s current musical director, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, has been celebrated and has strong feelings about interpretation.
Now that fine nose led the orchestra to Japanese conductor Kazuki Yamada. He currently shares management with Mirga and will take the reins in April next year, but he didn’t think he had a chance. “I knew the CBSO was always appointing someone young, and I was 42, so I thought I was just too old,” he says.
Following in Gražinytė-Tyla’s footsteps won’t be easy, as she is such a charismatic figure on the podium, but Yamada has an advantage as he already knows the CBSO so well. “I first conducted the CBSO in 2012, when I already knew it was one of the greatest orchestras in the world. You know, in England, the rehearsal time is very short, you have to create a performance in one day of rehearsal, but the musicians are so good that we were able to create something excellent.
Yamada is clearly something of a slow-burning talent. His instinct to study long and hard out of the spotlight, combined with luck, ensured he wasn’t pushed into important positions until he was ready. His journey began when he was barely able to stand as a child. “My parents had a piano, and they tell me I loved reaching for the keys when I was very young.”
Born in Tokyo, Yamada found his passion for conducting by listening to the great German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler while still in school. He tasted the next generation for the first time, thanks to a director of a boys’ choir who visibly saw talent. “My voice broke and I couldn’t sing anymore, so he invited me to conduct his choir, and later a small orchestra which he conducted. I really liked that and thought – maybe that’s something I could do.