Opera Scotland

Stuart Stratford and Scottish Opera

Posted 20 Dec

Stuart Stratford, Music Director of Scottish Opera, recently spoke about his plans to Iain Fraser of OperaScotland.

Stuart, asked to talk about the origins of his interest in music, explained that he first started out learning the clarinet before continuing to develop his musical talents.

And you then went off to study?

Yes, for three years at university. It was at university that I really got the bug of conducting. There was a fortunate circumstance when there was no conductor for our college orchestra so I said I'll do it. Then my friends said you should consider doing this - it seems to suit you. So I looked into it.

There was an amazing conducting teacher in St Petersburg in Russia called Ilya Musin. I went over there to audition and I got in and spent three very happy years, amazing years, in St Petersburg learning the trade of conducting with him. He was a wonderful gentleman. He was 92 when I started and 95 when I finished. He taught the greatest Russian conductors of this generation and the previous generation, for example Gergiev, Temirkanov, and Semyon Bychkov, all these huge names. Also he taught Britain's own Sian Edwards and Martin Brabbins who is the Music Director of English National Opera now.

And you've been conducting at London's Holland Park?

It's a lovely place to conduct, in the semi-open air with covered canopy. We do some of the more rarely performed works which you wouldn't normally get to hear in an opera theatre say of Opera North or here at Scottish Opera. Last year we did another piece of Mascagni called Iris, a monster of a piece which was great fun to do.

And now you are music director here, how do you approach the job?

There's many aspects to it. Collaborating with all my colleagues with structuring the season and trying to get a balanced but probing and challenging repertoire. There's always a very fine balance between that and getting the financial equation right as well. So it's a great responsibility but very rewarding.

These Sunday afternoon concert performances of opera, do you see this as an experiment or will you go on to do more?

Absolutely. We will see how they fit into the theatre.

I think they're going very well and I'd like to see other rich veins being mined. There's a lot of amazing opportunities to discover forgotten work which for some reason has fallen by the wayside. We mustn't forget that a composer like Janacek was not much performed until the 1960s. People didn't know who he was really. He had been forgotten since his death so it just takes some impetus.

We want to try and rediscover some of these lost gems.

Have you any Russian repertoire in mind?

I could have! We're clearly looking at that, I'd love to bring in some lesser-known Russian pieces at some point. I'd like to see that happen but there are also many other rich veins that are worth mining.

It is public knowledge that your contract here is for seven years so you are going to have quite an influence on the company.

Yes, that's quite right but time goes by very quickly and I've many ideas. It's trying to make sure of the best ways we can develop, and introduce changes in the right way that we can afford - it's a balancing effect.

Obviously you are doing other work as well - other contracts...

I was in Australia last year and going to other places outside Scotland as well but essentially my core activities will still be based here. Scottish Opera is the company I am associated with and I hope to give myself to it in its entirety.

You are preparing Pelléas and Mélisande just now?

A wonderful piece. Debussy started writing it in 1893 and it took him quite a while to finish.

The first performance was in 1902 and so there was this ten year period around the turn-of-the-century that was a fascinating time for a composition of music. So there's this wonderful melting pot of post-Wagnerian with French exoticism. It's an amazing story with an incredibly challenging libretto - it's a fascinating piece.

Have you conducted Pelléas before?

No, it's my first time so it's a real voyage of discovery. You think you know where you're going to be, but find yourself driving and going round in circles.

It's an amazing score, an amazing piece and with Sir David McVicar directing it will be a real treat to see. We are looking forward to it immensely.

And then La boheme?

A new production - this opera I have conducted before; hopefully you'll see some differences from previous productions but it's essentially still the same blockbuster so I'm very much looking forward to it.

Thanks very much, Stuart. 

Stuart is surely the first of Scottish Opera's music director to conduct on the small scale tour - hear what he thinks about it by playing the clip!

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