Welcome to episode 8 (the final episode in this series) of Passing the Baton. This week we have come full circle and Sam Walker passes the baton (appropriately) to RBC Resident Conductor, Daniele Rosina.
Sam Walker (SW)
The lockdown has affected everyone in so many different ways, what has kept you grounded in this uncertain time?
Daniele Rosina (DR)
Certainly my family has kept me grounded - my wife and I had a baby girl, our first child, at the end of December. Having a young baby to care for and have fun with has really helped. Everyone has found the lockdown and the news of how terribly this virus has affected people's lives so difficult. On the days I've struggled, having the responsibility of being a new parent has helped me focus my thoughts and energies elsewhere. I'm also very grateful that whilst acknowledging the devastating effect the virus has had on our profession, work and daily lives, this is the worst that it has done to me...I realise for other families, sadly, the damage left by the virus has been much, much worse.
As a conductor your work is so reliant on collaboration with such a wide variety of people, have you managed to find new ways to work with people in this age of social distancing?
It's been so difficult for musicians, hasn't it? Usually when a crisis or tragedy strikes, the first thing we are able to do as musicians is come together to play for others to give solace, to reflect, or to restore unity or give hope. The pandemic has completely prevented us from doing that as we normally would. I've really enjoyed watching all of the creative ways musicians have found to come together and communicate with potentially a larger audience online than we would ever have in a concert hall. It's been wonderful to take part in Zoom meetings with conductors and orchestral musicians from across the world, sharing thoughts and ideas about music and creative ways in which we might have to work in the near future.
I've set up a project at RBC with the amazing involvement of the students and staff of the Performance, Vocal, Composition and Music Technology departments. We've commissioned six composers to write a piece for a small ensemble reflecting on their own thoughts and experiences of the pandemic. The responses have been fantastic ranging from the comical and light-hearted to deeply moving. I'm working online with instrumentalists and singers on the music who will then record their parts in complete isolation. The recordings will be collated and mixed and released online. The project is called Virtual Thallein - coming soon to a computer screen near you!
Now that we’re over two months into the lockdown, have you found yourself establishing any new routines or picking up any new habits?
I have to admit I'm quite a chaotic person and do not find routines and organisation particularly easy! At the start of lockdown I wasn't in the best frame of mind. I remember watching an interview with a very famous musician who said, almost as an aside, that it might be better to come out of the lockdown feeling better about yourself than when you started. So I started to use the time to exercise and be mindful about what I'm eating and drinking and I feel much healthier and have lost weight. I have been able to get into a routine - teaching/admin/exercise in the morning and then study/read/watch films and family time from the afternoon. I've started writing a journal with to-do-lists and tasks for the day. For the first time in 41 years I'm beginning to be slightly more organised and less chaotic and feel much better for it - I just hope I can make it last when we come out of lockdown!
Over this period has there been any piece of art or culture which has particularly resonated with you? What’s the most unexpected thing to come out of this period for you?
In the beginning, no! As concert after concert was being cancelled the last thing I could do was open a score or listen to music, let alone read a book or watch a film. Thankfully, like those dwarves that keep unexpectedly knocking on the door at the beginning of the Hobbit, I unexpectedly had the urge to study certain pieces: The Magic Flute, Salome, Purcell's TheFairy Queen and Stravinksy's Agon in particular. I've spent much time listening to music also - rediscovering favourites and also pieces or repertoire I'm unfamiliar with or would like to understand better (I have loved exploring Rameau!). And many hours have been spent on the Berlin Philharmonic's Digital Concert Hall.
I've really enjoyed reading, amongst other things, a biography of one of my conducting heroes Dimitri Mitropoulos and The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas - in retrospect both books about people experiencing different forms of isolation. I have also read much about Buddhism - Zen in particular - which I always said I would explore if I had the time and this has resonated with me immeasurably. I've watched many films on the British Film Institute player - Yasujiro Ozu films have become an obsession, I'm so happy to have discovered these. The recent film Parasite completely amazed me also - that's about isolation too funnily enough!
Cooking is such an important art form in my life - I've enjoyed curing, smoking, pickling and fermenting as well as cooking, reading and watching about food during lockdown. I have loved reading the food writer MFK Fisher. I can't stop watching Dianxi Xiaoge's YouTube channel. Dianxi Xiaoge lives on a farm in the mountains of Yunnan, China and not only cooks the most incredible food with mind-blowing technique using mostly hand crafted utensils, but lives in complete harmony with her surroundings living off what her family grows, foraging in the forests and fishing in the mountain streams. I find her way of living and respect for nature truly inspiring.
What’s the most unexpected thing to come out of this period for you?
I hadn't expected how enjoyable teaching online would be. I was pretty uncertain how it would work out. It's been great to hear what is happening wherever in the world my students are. We've had the time and space to study scores in real depth from a musical, theoretical, historical and philosophical point of view. Music has been the starting point for many a discussion about life and art and any number of subjects and in some ways we have made stronger connections than if we had a room booked for an hour on a busy weekday during term time! I hope I get to see my students in person soon though.
As a conductor are there any musicians out there who you wish you could have isolated with to work with creatively? Dead or living.
I couldn't fit them all in my house but am I allowed to say the Vienna Philharmonic?! I'd love to have a drink with Beethoven or Haydn and maybe play some concerti with Mistislav Rostropovich, Fritz Kreisler or Martha Argerich. Some kind of project with Miles Davis First Great Sextet as well. I would be completely unworthy in their company of course and would be much happier listening to - and learning from - their music making.
So many things have been put on hold due to the need for social distancing, what are you most looking forward to being able to do again?
Hug my family and friends, make music with orchestras, eat the best sushi I can possibly find.
Thank you to Daniele Rosina, Mark Ashford, Andy Ingamells, Caroline Pether, Thomas Pilsbury, Naomi Sullivan, Daniel Tong and Sam Walker for sparing their time and shared their thoughts in this first series of passing the Baton.
If you are an RBC student or member of staff - actor, stage manager, singer, instrumentalist (jazz or classical), composer or technician and you would like to take part in a future series of Passing the Baton, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.