Will an English orchestra led by an Italian conductor sound more English or more Italian? Neither, according to Giuseppe Sinopoli, who brings his London-based Philharmonia Orchestra to Ambassador Auditorium tonight .
"We're trying to go back to the sound the orchestra once had--the warm sound of the best German ensembles," he said during a phone conversation from Chicago.
The Philharmonia's principal conductor remains ever-mindful of the rich tradition that preceded his arrival four years ago. Formed immediately after World War II by Walter Legge as a way of rebuilding musical life in London, the orchestra was first conducted in 1945 by Sir Thomas Beecham.
But, according to Sinopoli, the Philharmonia enjoyed its greatest success in the '60s under Otto Klemperer: "That was the best period. Klemperer and Karajan combined the English precision with that German warmth--particularly in the strings."
Since succeeding music director Riccardo Muti, Sinopoli said he has "added a lot of German repertory, to help get that sound." The program chosen to open the '86-'87 season at Ambassador couples Schumann's Symphony No. 2 and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5.
The 39-year-old conductor knows that it takes more than programming a Schumann Second--or a Bruckner Seventh, also on the U.S. tour repertory--to bring out the German in an English orchestra: "I've been working closely with our new concertmaster, Peter Thomas, in changing the vibrato (in the strings) and in different bowing techniques.
"I believe the players want the old sound. Many of them remember the Klemperer years. They had a fantastic relationship."
And what of the current relationship? "I am enjoying the orchestra very much. Even though I'm only required to be with them 2 1/2 months a year, I try to invest more time. My present contract expires in 1989. I want to remain in London, and if I stay, it will be as music director."
Sinopoli restricts his symphonic conducting these days to four orchestras, appearing as a regular guest in Boston, New York, Berlin and Israel, in addition to his regular posts in London and Rome (with the Santa Cecilia Orchestra). Opera chores are limited to four key cities--New York, London, Berlin and Vienna.
With all that time on the podium, he said, there has been little opportunity for him to pursue his other major musical occupation, composing. "I am taking a rest from it," he said, a bit unhappily. "It is too difficult to do both (writing and conducting) together. I do have two commissions, though, including an opera.
"Maybe 10 years down the road, I'll really get back to composing."
Another distant plan is to return to conducting a resident orchestra in Los Angeles. But, he added, it will not be the Los Angeles Philharmonic. A frequent visitor here in the early '80s, Sinopoli suggested a falling out with Philharmonic executive director Ernest Fleischmann. "I think he was offended when I made a recording with the New York Philharmonic," the conductor said, declining to elaborate. "Anyway, I won't come back. I love the orchestra, but now it's too late."
Fleischmann denied that there are bitter feelings, noting that Sinopoli and the orchestra failed to produce "the right chemistry back then. But now the orchestra is different and I'm sure he is a different conductor. I hope he can be persuaded to come back."
Sinopoli did express interest in working with Los Angeles Music Center Opera. "I like Placido very much," he said, referring to Placido Domingo, the fledgling company's artistic consultant. "I think I will try to demonstrate my relationship with him, but he knows I won't be free (to do opera) until 1991.
"Right now, the only interesting opera house in the United States is the Met. I won't conduct in San Francisco or Chicago. There is no time. But Los Angeles is something special, something new.
"Conduct opera there? Why not?"