Music conductor as sound designer | Kaspar Zehnder

DENISE AZZOPARDI interviews Swiss conductor and flutist Kaspar Zehnder prior to his appearance as conductor in Concert Three of the Piano Concerto Series to be presented by the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra on May 27. Mro Zehnder reveals his expectations for performing in Malta with the MPO, and gives his comments on the challenging pieces that have been chosen for this concert – Vella Gregory’s Rhytmii Vitae, Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos, Britten’s Scottish Ballade and Dvorak’s Symphony Nr 6 in D major

Swiss conductor and flutist Kaspar Zehnder
Swiss conductor and flutist Kaspar Zehnder

To what extent were you involved in the choice of music for this concert, and what is your connection with the pieces?

The choice of the Dvorak symphony for this concert was my doing; the rest of the pieces were chosen by someone else. I’m always curious and happy to discover new things and add them to my already chosen pieces to make an interesting whole. This is the goal of every concert. My first performance of a Brahms is never the same as the second, third or fourth, due to the difference in place and time it is performed, and the fact that I work with different orchestras. A concert is a live event, and as a conductor, I’m coordinating my ideas with what the particular orchestra has to offer.

I feel rather at home with Dvorák. I used to live in the Czech Republic for a couple of years, and I have a special understanding of his melodies, rhythm, and instrumentation. I think I’m a specialist of Czech music, and this is not just because I was chief conductor of the Prague Philharmonia. Czech music consists largely of tales, folksongs, and village dances that evoke romanticism and nostalgia for childhood life.

You might ask: Why am I not a specialist of Swiss music? – well, actually I am, but there is no specific Swiss national school, as the different parts of my country are more related to the ‘big brothers’ –  Germany/Austria, France, and Italy.

How are you preparing for the execution and conducting of these works?

I prepare by studying the structure of the pieces. Only if you have a real overview of the music and good imagination can you stand in front of the orchestra and come up with the right sound and technical details – it’s like working on a sculpture or a painting. I work a lot with colour and sound balance. The conductor is, after all, a sound designer.

Are there any challenging passages for the soloists in Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos?

Well, the entire piece is challenging. Poulenc was able to use all the elements that are typical of contemporary music in this work, which is also very accessible to wider audiences. His music is very atmospheric.

Can you pinpoint the striking elements of the four works to be executed?

Each piece is very individual in its own way, and together the works represent a mix of very different styles and nations: Maltese, French, British, and Czech. Vella Greogry’s Rhytmii Vitae has got some fascinating rhythm, Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos is a spectrum of colour, Britten’s Scottish Ballade causes the listener to conjure up images of the Scottish landscape, and Dvorak’s Symphony Nr 6 in D major comprises timeless melodies and folk dance combined with great classical mastery.

What is your relationship with Malta and have you ever performed here?

I will be travelling to Malta for the first time. I know the country from a historical and touristic point of view rather than a cultural one, so I am very curious about this other aspect of the island and can’t wait to discover it.

Would you like to express your thoughts and feelings about your collaboration with the MPO?

I am looking forward to the occasion tremendously!

Concert Three of the Piano Concerto Series takes place at the Manoel Theatre on Friday, May 27 at 20:00. Tickets from €10 to €30. For bookings, log on to, email [email protected] or phone on 2124 6389. For further information, visit