Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 6. 1965.
Juan Matteucci: The Man And His Music
Juan Matteucci: The Man And His Music
Juan Matteucci, former conductor of the Philharmonic Orchestra of Chile, is the principal conductor of the NZBC Symphony Orchestra. He has not confined his interests to music, however, holding the position of Professor of the History of Art in a Chilean university. Recently he extended his one-year contract with the NZBC to three years.
On entering Juan Matteucci's office my attention was immediately drawn to a colourful pennant with "Chile" emblazoned across it, hanging behind the desk. I was confronted by a small man dressed in dark sports clothes—a warm smile and a firm handshake soon put me at my ease. He then introduced Hungarian-born Lazlo Heltay, the associate conductor.
Q. There has been much criticism of the existing method of Corporation control of music in New Zealand. How does this compare with methods of control you have experienced overseas?
A. My experience of this system is a very good one. The facilities at my disposal are good. The general control of a number of musical activities is preferable to having many different people controlling many separate organisations.
Q. With you the NZBCSO is now placing a greater emphasis on the emotional aspect of music. Do the New Zealand musicians respond to your demands for this as well as those overseas?
A. I don't make any distinctions between New Zealand players and others—they all belong to one category. The psychology of musicians is a special one. In general no one understands the difficulties of being a professional musician, it is much harder than any other profession. Not only is there a need for years of study, but also the demand for the development of a physical response to an instrument, and to the music itself. Finally, one has to develop a mental response to the music—the attention to its technical aspect.
Through these demands a professional musician develops a "certain sensibility." It is extremely difficult to find a "stupid" musician; unfortunately in my time I have experienced many "stupid" employers !
As regards conductor-orchestra relationships, it is extremely important that the conductor not impose himself on the orchestra overmuch. His role must be almost imperceptible. Above all, the conductor must be sure of himself and his music; if he is not, the musicians will fight against him. I do not believe in the conductor who thinks he owns the orchestra. He must feel that he is another member of the orchestra—the central point of the ensemble. He must work with the orchestra. (I mentioned George Szell, the dictatorial American conductor. Matteueei smiled and replied, "Well, we all have our own opinions.")
With this orchestra there is a special rapport between the members and myself. I have a feeling of having been its conductor for the last twenty years.
Q. The New Zealand public is often accused of being apathetic in its response to the Arts. From your brief experience in New Zealand would you agree?
A. New Zealand has not yet had enough time to develop a tradition; they are just starting to do so now. When one considers the small population, the geographic location, and the rugged nature of the terrain which causes comparative isolation of the population, it is seen that New Zealand has considerably more musical activities per capita than most other countries.
Q. Programming for this year has provoked much unfavourable comment. Can you give your reasons for selecting such a large proportion of the "standard classics," a move which is contrary to the policy of recent years?
A. People do not realise that this is for purely technical reasons. The orchestra is expanding at the moment. The NZBC has given me all the facilities required to build a large orchestra. To have good ensemble playing in the orchestra it is necessary for the members to be able to play the standard classics. Once we reach the stage of having achieved a "similar sonority"—developed the players' techniques so that they play as members of an ensemble, not as individuals—then I will be able to prove that I am not discriminating against contemporary music.
To his sudden question: "What do you study?" I replied "English." (Well, you have a course of English Literature, but before you read extensively you learn the "language" side of the subject; you learn what each word means—then comes James Joyce.)
Next year the orchestra will be performing Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring"; I will also be introducing Chilean music. Some Chilean music is good, some is bad, but they have one common factor— they are all difficult.
Q. There has been considerable criticism of lack of opportunities for New Zealand musical talent, notably the recent outburst by members of the Berkshire Quartet. Is this justifiable?
A. Definitely not! The problem in New Zealand is that the people who have the necessary talent do not want to become professional musicians: instead those who do not have the talent are the ones who wish to make music their career. A good example of this is the number of vacancies in the string section of the orchestra. We need forty-five string players, at the moment we have nine vacancies; there have been a large number of local players auditioned,, seventy-five per cent of which have been nowhere near the required standard.
(This lack of available talent necessitates Matteucci searching overseas in an effort to build the orchestra to full symphonic size.)
Q. From your experience as a lecturer in music and as a Professor of the History of Art you are in a position to offer some constructive comments on the New Zealand education in the arts.
A. In Chile I helped to conduct a special type of university course— "Comparative Art." This is a broad education in art not confined to the specific spheres. For example, we would take the "Romantic" period; different lecturers would extensively cover the period—, there would be lectures on Romantic literature, art, music, architecture, etc., all illustrated. This is the background our people have.
In New Zealand there is definitely an urgent need for a national music conservatory. You will be surprised to hear that in Chile there are two official conservatories, one for aspiring professional instrumentalists, the other concentrating on the more theoretical aspect of music—historical research, composition, etc.
Thus with this somewhat inevitable plea for a national music conservatory the interview ended. On the surface it appears that a satisfactory relationship between the orchestra and its conductor has been re-established, how long it will last is another question. Matteucci seems generally satisfied with both the orchestra and the conditions in New Zealand, although in view of his reticence in discussing the aspects of control of the NZBCSO one should not blindly accept these statements as a positive guidance to unqualified success.