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Christian Kluxen doesn't want the Victoria Symphony to be Victoria's secret anymore

Matthew Parsons

Western Canada’s symphony orchestras are in the midst of a game of music director musical chairs. It started in Saskatoon last fall, when their orchestra welcomed Eric Paetkau as their new maestro. It continued in Regina this past summer, when Gordon Gerrard took up the baton there. This past October, the Victoria Symphony, the Calgary Philharmonic and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra all unveiled the fresh faces that will be manning their respective podiums as of fall 2017.

Over the next three weeks, we’re going to introduce you to all three of these new maestros. First up is Victoria’s new music director, Christian Kluxen, who will be stepping in after longtime music director Tania Miller departs next year. A 34-year-old, generously bearded gentleman from Denmark, Kluxen is becoming quite familiar to audiences in Europe. He’s conducted such esteemed institutions as the London Philharmonic, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and the Danish National Opera. He’s less well known on North American stages, but he did spend a season as the Dudamel Fellow at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, studying with their music director, Gustavo Dudamel himself.

When Kluxen's contract starts at the beginning of the 2017/18 concert season, he will start splitting his time between Victoria and his home base in Copenhagen — which is where he was when CBC Music reached him by phone.

What experiences made you want to become a conductor?

Well, music had always been something to me where I could connect to my friends. When I was a child, I started playing on a drum set and piano. And at one point my mom said, "Well, maybe you ought to start playing in this boys' marching band." So, I started playing the flute there, and eventually I conducted this marching band. That was when I was 15 or 16. So, I got my first conducting experience there, and I really kind of connected to my friends making music. It was just a game, basically. At that time in life I was not completely a musical genius, or a prodigy. For me, music was something that you play as a group. And it kind of continued that way. Some of the happiness about music-making is that I continued using it as kind of a game, and just having fun with your friends. That kind of followed me all the way through.

What did you learn from your experience as a Dudamel fellow at the L.A. Phil?

First of all, American orchestras, and to a certain extent Canadian orchestras, they work so differently from European orchestras. Because they have a completely different way of being funded. And this was very good for me to experience — how you can very honestly make music, and even do very experimental projects, even though you are sponsored by private donors and not necessarily from the state. We think in our part of the world that we can really do something special because we are not funded by private donors. But I really saw there that the L.A. Phil is an orchestra like any other orchestra in the world, except there's more money involved in that orchestra than maybe any other orchestra in the world. And this makes everything very, very easy. And they can do really extravagant projects, simply because there is such a big amount of money available. So that was one thing I really have to say was a new experience for me.

Also, I learned something from all of the conductors, especially [L.A. Phil conductor laureate] Esa-Pekka Salonen, who I admire a lot. We come from the same part of the world. And of course I learned something from Gustavo. We are about the same age. And it's very nice to meet someone like him who has a world career and find out that ... well, he might be the greater talent, but he also has normal human thoughts that inspire him to make music. He's just a human being. And he gets inspired by, I dunno, the washing machine. The sun coming up. Someone being mean or nice to him. Like I do! So, we are not that different in many ways.

There are a lot of things to admire in someone like Dudamel or Salonen. But the most basic thing to admire is that they are able to be themselves on the podium. And that is something that I had really not learned. It really works to just be yourself, in the long run.

In this current era of international music, where all conductors are globetrotters, did you get a sense in Denmark of what music in Canada is like?

First of all, in an artistic way, I see Canada as more a part of Europe than North America. I suspect this may be the reason why there are more European conductors coming to Canada. Because maybe in some ways, Canada might be more connected to European musicians than to, let's say, American musicians. I'm not saying American musicians support what is happening at this moment in the world. I'm just saying that there might be a sort of feeling in the Canadian spirit that they might be more connected to Europe.

The second thing is, when you say "globetrotter," I really want to avoid being a globetrotter. I want to really try to be "local." Geographically, I think any orchestra cannot be successful globally or nationally if they are not successful locally. That's what makes the Victoria Symphony very special. Because, everyone that I've met in Victoria knows the Victoria Symphony. I mean, you can even go and ask people who have never been to a Victoria Symphony concert and they will still know the Victoria Symphony, in some way or another. I cannot say that all of the local people in different cities in Denmark know their local Danish orchestras. So, this is something very, very special that's been developed that I want to grow even more.

I think that the main thing about the Victoria Symphony is that even though they are a local symphony orchestra, they have a global way of thinking. When I come to them and say I want to do Mozart and Beethoven, but I want to do them differently, even though there may not be many other orchestras in Canada who play Mozart and Beethoven like this, they still want to do it. And they hunger to do it. And they hunger to do the classic works, but also more experimental works. They have a really open, global mind. Not only the orchestra as a whole, but each specific member. I went to a party with the musicians the last time I was there. There are no conservative minds in that group. At least, this is my first intuitive feeling. This is something I think that Tania Miller brought into the orchestra: "Let's do something with music. Let's move it somewhere and let's not get stuck in there and let's keep on being open."

What's a piece of music you've been listening to or studying that you want to geek out about right now?

Oh, that's very difficult, because right now, when you called, I was actually programming some concerts for the Victoria Symphony. You understand, it's not so much for me to listen to one type of music or one piece or one composer in a couple of weeks. It's really a lot about how they go together. So, right now I'm listening to a lot of different stuff. Right before you called, I was listening to the Ligeti Chamber Concerto for 13 Instruments, some waltzes by Schoenberg and also an overture by Bach.

Lots of variety!

Yes, and I think there should be this variety! Who says that Bach and Ligeti don't suit each other? They suit each other perfectly! When I see the Victoria Symphony's programs, I think there are lots of good things going on. But I would also like to push it even further!

It's probably a bit early to talk about the end of your contract, but where would you like to see the Victoria Symphony in four years?

Well, like you say, it's quite early to say that. But I would say, if the Victoria Symphony has the same standards of playing that they have now, then I have succeeded. But if anything becomes better, then I have more than succeeded. They have such a good playing standard, they are in such good shape that if I can just keep that, at least, then I've done quite well, I think. And if I can keep the community who are already with the orchestra, then I'm very happy. But again, I want to take it even further. I don't want the orchestra to be Victoria's secret anymore! [Laughs]

Matthew Parsons is dull on Twitter. Check out his new Tumblr instead. 

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