Ben Finane: Is Beethoven's Eroica your favorite Symphony?
Andrew Manze: Certainly the Eroica is my favorite Symphony: it blew me away as a teenager. I hope it is not overstating things when I say that I feel it is the most important symphony because it kicked audiences out of the comfort zone of the 18th century and into the Romantic era. It was Beethoven's favorite symphony, too!
BF: You have plumbed the depths of music from the Baroque, Classical, and early Romantic periods. Is there a period to which you are more drawn?
AM: I apply the same principles to any period. Whatever the repertoire, I am always trying to answer the question: What does the composer want the music to sound like? I applied the same approach I use for Baroque music to later periods, and it feels very organic. I feel comfortable in all these periods and I ultimately don't see them as being very different. The vocabulary gets larger; the range of colors and palette becomes wider.
Where Bach is dealing with music as reflection of the world around him, the tidiness of the situation he was in, for Beethoven, things were becoming very untidy. A couple hundred years ago, Beethoven would have been a servant; now Beethoven is the master of his audience. I have this image that Beethoven is rewriting the rules. He's not rejecting the past, he's redrafting the rules for the future. If you asked Beethoven or Brahms about looking back, they wouldn't see any difference: Brahms would see himself as a very late Baroque composer.
BF: Tell me about your decision to put down the bow and focus exclusively on conducting.
AM: The violinist's bowing arm is related to the early conducting arm; performers were directing orchestras from their seats. Bach would play the first violin and conduct, for example. As the orchestra grew larger and demands on the orchestra grew tougher, it became difficult to play and conduct, and the orchestra needed more of a full-time director. In my career, in working through the repertoire, it seems the natural next move. Conducting frees me up more to give my full attention to the needs of the orchestra. I'm as involved in the music as I was before, though I keep doing a double take at the airport: Where is my violin?