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Juanjo named BBC Philharmonic chief conductor

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Richard Wigley Richard Wigley | 15:47 UK Time, Monday, 5 July 2010


BBC Philharmonic general manager Richard Wigley describes the long road he took to making a decision on a vital new episode for the orchestra - the appointment of a new chief conductor.


The journey was long but the result spectacular; the biggest decision for any orchestra's general manager is the appointment of the next chief conductor.


  juanjo_mena_Sussie_Ahlburg.jpgIt began in November 2007 when I was speaking to a well-known tour promoter in Spain (Barcelona ... 1am ... great food, you get the picture...) and asked him who was the pick of Spanish conductors. His unequivocal reply was Juanjo Mena, someone whom I'd not been aware of.  Given the exceptional quality of the upcoming generation of conductors in Spain, this was high praise indeed. Juanjo was at that time artistic director and principal conductor of the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra, with its spectacular new theatre a few hundred yards downstream from Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum, which allowed him to be mainly at home with his young family in his beloved Basque country.


I travelled to Bergen to watch him conduct an inspired choice of Luciano Berio's Rendering (a contemporary 'completion' of Schubert's 10th Symphony) and Schubert's 9th (the 'Great C major').  The result was impressive and his talent obvious so I immediately approached his agent about conducting the BBC Philharmonic in the following summer.


During the next couple of years Juanjo conducted the orchestra four times in a range of projects and incrementally built his relationship with the musicians.  Juanjo (pronounced with a Basque 'j') conducted a public concert in Huddersfield and recorded a CD for Chandos along with studio broadcasts for Radio 3. 


The moment when everyone sat up and said 'wow' was during rehearsals for Bartok's The Wooden Prince, an exceptionally difficult work that wasn't in the orchestra's repertoire.  In only a day-and-a-half he was able to draw a wonderful performance from the musicians by rehearsing with great knowledge and clarity.  He became the clear favourite, and we are delighted that he has agreed to join us as chief conductor from 2011/12. 


Our planning of future seasons is very exciting and will build on the platforms built by previous incumbents Ted Downes, Yan Pascal Tortelier and, currently, Gianandrea Noseda.  We are privileged, as the audiences will be, in attracting this wonderful musician to the BBC Phil.


  • Juanjo Mena will be conducting the BBC Philharmonic in a live broadcast from Manchester on BBC Radio 3, Afternoon on 3, Friday 9 July at 2pm.

  • The photo of Juanjo Mena is copyright Sussie Ahlburg/BBC Philharmonic



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