Mariusz Smolij and Exciting New "Musical Marriages"
By, Dan Perttu
For my next interview on the “Muse in Music Blog,” I am thrilled to be talking to conductor Mariusz Smolij. Maestro Smolij is a frequent recording artist for Naxos International, and has been consistently gaining international critical acclaim, including praise from the New York Times for “compelling performances.” Maestro Smolij has led over 125 orchestras in 27 countries on five continents, appearing in some of the world’s most prestigious concert halls. In North America, he has conducted the Houston Symphony, New Jersey Symphony, the Orchestra of the Chicago Lyric Opera, the St. Louis Philharmonic, the Rochester Philharmonic, the Indianapolis Symphony, among many others. He is currently the Music Director and Conductor of the Riverside Symphonia (Lambertville, NJ), and the Acadiana Symphony (Lafayette, LA), and is the Principal Conductor of the Toruńska Orkiestra Symfoniczna in Torun, Poland. Here is my fascinating conversation with Maestro Smolij.
Dan: I always like to start by talking about inspiration, which is the theme of this blog. What music inspires you as a conductor? If the entire body of classical music were on fire, and you could only save 2 to 3 pieces, what would you save?
Mariusz: Each historical musical period has a unique library of inspiring/exciting compositions. One of the privileges of being an orchestral conductor is the opportunity to access and work on this extremely varied repertoire. If I was in the “fire situation” and had to save three scores, one of them would be by Mozart, one by Beethoven and one by Mahler.
Dan: I would have similar choices! I’m glad you included Mahler – his work is just amazing. So, what motivates you as a conductor? Why do you do what you do? How would you characterize your artistic vision? How does music by living composers fit into this vision?
Mariusz: The entire creating process excites and motivates me, from the early stages of planning the entire seasons, particular concerts, selection of guest artists or arrangers - to the detailed score studies, rehearsals with the orchestra and the live performance. Producing and recording CDs is a big part of my career and important motivating element for research, planning and work.
For me, motivation comes from the beauty and essence of the music itself, from musical collaborators/colleagues, and appreciation of the audience. My artistic vision has to be compatible with the organizations and people I work with. What I bring “to the table” is passion and knowledge of varied musical styles and composers, and the ability to prepare orchestras to sound the best they possibly can. Being able to work with living composers is a great privilege as well as duty. It also helps to understand true intentions of composers whom we can’t ask direct questions any more.
Working in Louisiana for over 10 years now, I was able to explore another aspect of contemporary music/composers by creating new “musical marriages” between the sound of the symphony orchestra and original works of local popular artists. I have co-created and performed symphonic collaboration with blues guitarist Sonny Landreth, Cajun music legend Michael Ducet, jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis, Cajun/French songwriter and singer Zachary Richards, and many others. I hope those are a meaningful addition to the contemporary library of new orchestral creations.
Dan: What interesting new compositions and collaborations! I appreciate how you have led your orchestra in a crossover of classical and other genres. This makes me wonder if you have preferences for certain aesthetic orientations or styles in new music. What does this imply for your programming and for your audiences?
Mariusz: The works that provide above mentioned “musical marriages” and the new “fusions” of sound with contemporary popular artists have been important and very satisfying part of my programming. Those collaborations also provide unique opportunities to bring new audiences to symphonic concert halls and introduce more traditional symphonic works to new audiences.
Dan: I really appreciate your interest in creative collaborations involving new music. These projects are unique and truly inspiring. This can certainly be a model for many others!
On the lighter side, do you have any hobbies? What do you do to relax?
Mariusz: Working as a conductor is quite taxing mental and physical activity. Staying fit on both fronts is extremely important. I enjoy physical activities of running and swimming and all possible water sports. I am fortunate to travel quite extensively because of my profession and try to explore and learn more about all the places and people I visit. A good book is always a “valued friend” as well!
Dan: Yes, traveling is a wonderful aspect of being a musician. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me! I have enjoyed learning about what inspires you as a conductor, and I very much appreciate your unique approaches to programming.