Putting on the Proms: chief conductor

Sakair Oramo conducting You have to be an accomplished musician to be a conductor, says Sakari Oramo

It's curtains up on the Proms season on July 18. What does it take to make it a harmonious experience? In the first of a new series exploring the work that goes into the biggest classical musical festival in the world, chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra Sakari Oramo talks about being in the driver's seat.

What's your earliest musical memory?

It must be my mother playing the piano at home. She is a great concert pianist, and I know inside out some pretty difficult piano pieces that I have never looked at the score of - for instance Alban Berg's piano sonata op. 1.

The world of a conductor is mysterious to outsiders. What traits do you need to be one?

It is far from mystery. You must be a very accomplished musician with a personality capable to win the respect of fellow musicians. Anything external is irrelevant, knowledge and charisma is what counts.

What do you think makes for a great one?

Great conductors in the 20th century, for me: Mravinsky, Beecham, Abbado, Karajan, Carlos Kleiber, Celibidache and Paavo Berglund. They are all so different, but the common denominator was that they all commanded respect of their musicians and had something extraordinary to say.

Violinist Leonidas Kavakos Leonidas Kavakos is considered one of the greatest violin soloists in the world
The Proms has widened out to include music that isn't strictly classical. Is this a good thing?

All this is done to reach out to a variety of audiences that donĀ“t otherwise get any connection with the event. In that sense it is sensible and good, but personally I care more for Vaughan Williams and Stravinsky. I am an elitist, in that sense, whilst still being a normal guy.

You are a trained violinist. What's your favourite piece of violin music?

It just has to be Jean Sibelius's violin concerto, which I have played a few times but conducted many more times with incredible, fabulous soloists like Lisa Batiashvili and Leonidas Kavakos.

You are going to be conducting your first Last Night of the Proms. What are you most looking forward to?

I am looking forward to when, somewhere during the second half, everything gets slightly 'out of hand' and the atmosphere reaches feverish heights.

  • Sakari Oramo will be leading the BBC Symphony Orchestra in Prom 28, 36, 49 and the Last Night (Prom 76). He will also be performing in the Prokofiev Sonata for two Violins with Janine Jansen on August 11.

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