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[Herald Interview] From percussionist to maestro: Gustavo Gimeno's unique journey to conducting

By Park Ga-young

Published : May 22, 2023 - 13:41

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Gustavo Gimeno, music director of the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra (Vincero) Gustavo Gimeno, music director of the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra (Vincero)

When the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra returns to Korea for the first time in 20 years, it will be led by conductor Gustavo Gimeno, who has experienced a unique career of becoming a conductor from a percussionist.

Gimeno, now one of the most sought-after conductors, started learning to conduct while working as the percussionist of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, a Dutch symphony orchestra based in Amsterdam.

The motivation to learn conducting was to become a better musician.

"I love music and just wanted to become a better musician and deepen my relationship with music. Plus, I have always, since I was a kid, been interested in everything related to conducting," Gimeno said in an email interview last week. "It just felt like that was perfect moment to get into it seriously."

And being a percussionist was an advantage once he was learning to conduct.

“Considering percussion isn’t always actively playing in every score/piece of music, that allowed me to open the score and follow the rehearsals led by the conductors I had in front. I especially have very fond memories of the rehearsals with Mariss Jansons,” he said.

Mariss Jansons was a Latvian conductor who served as chief conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra from September 2004 until the 2014-15 season. He died in 2019.

In February 2014, Gimeno made his conducting debut with the Concertgebouw Orchestra for which he had served as principal percussionist between 2001 and 2013. He stood in for Jansons, and since then his conducting career went into overdrive.

Gimeno, 47, has been the music director of the Luxembourg-based orchestra since 2015, which has a diverse composition of members thanks to its geographical advantage of being surrounded by Belgium, France and Germany. The orchestra has 98 members from 20 countries.

“The result of different cultures and personalities is that our orchestra is open-minded and very flexible,” he said.

The conductor of the diverse orchestra aims to cultivate their own voice and personality. When recording an album, they consider aspects such as uniqueness, their contribution to the music industry and how to express their individuality.

"It doesn't make too much sense to me releasing a CD with repertoire which has been recorded wonderfully 100 times in the history, rather than finding our own voice and personality."

The Spanish conductor is also serving as the music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra until 2030, and will conclude his tenure with the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra after the 2024-2025 season and subsequently assume the role of music director at the Madrid Royal Theatre starting in fall 2025.

For those who aspire to become a conductor, Gimeno advised: “Study, preparation, love for music and for people, be curious and always to learn and to do better every day.”

One performer who might be interested in Gimeno's advice is Korean cellist Han Jae-min, who has said he wants to learn to conduct one day.

Han, 17, will collaborate with a foreign orchestra in his native country for the first time when he takes the stage with the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Gimeno this week to perform Dvorak’s Cello Concerto, Op. 104, B. 191.

“Young successful soloists as Jaemin are unique, really talented,” Gimeno said, adding, “it is for me a pleasure and honor to be part of their lives and witness his development as an artist.”

The Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra is led by its music director and conductor Gustavo Gimeno. (Vincero) The Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra is led by its music director and conductor Gustavo Gimeno. (Vincero)

In addition to Dvorak’s Cello Concerto, Op. 104, B. 191, the orchestra will perform Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, Op. 64, which Gimeno said are “wonderful Romantic compositions, which I think suit our orchestra, which is always loved by audiences.”

The concert takes place Thursday at the Seoul Arts Center. Outside Seoul, the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra will first bring the repertoire to Art Center Incheon on Wednesday, and later to Gyeongnam Culture and Art Center in Jinju, South Gyeongsang Province, on Friday and Daegu Concert House on Sunday.