Meet the Artist – Joan Enric Lluna, conductor

Who or what first inspired you to pursue a career in music?

I think that music is something that I could not imagine living without, it has been present in my life from a very early age. My mother and my auntie used to sing to each other through the balcony at home in Valencia Zarzuela arias (I used to know all of them); my father, who was an artist, was always playing vinyl records and I remember going to his studio and gluing my ear to the speakers because I wanted to hear what was inside. I especially remember listening that way to Wagner overtures and Dvorak New World Symphony.

Later on, I went to music school and Conservatoire in Valencia, but I was not sure that I would be able to live from music at that time, so I went to University to study Philosophy; I didn’t finish my studies, but it gave me something valuable.

What I think made my decision was to be part of the Spanish Youth Orchestra, where I found a fantastic positive atmosphere, great teachers and amazing colleagues. I got a scholarship to study abroad, with Walter Boeykens, who I met in a Summer course in Nice previously. It was then when I went into it full time. I was around 19 years old.

Your new recording celebrates the life and work of Joaquín Rodrigo. Has he been one of the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Rodrigo was born just a few miles away form my birth place in Valencia. That has already something that makes you attached to somebody as important as him. One of the first pieces that I played as a substitute in the Valencia Municipal Orchestra, when I was 18, was his symphonic piece “Per la flor del lliri blau” (“to the blue lily flower”). I remember it vividly, and also seeing Rodrigo come onto the stage to take the applause. To see so near you such a famous person for a teenager was very impressive.

I met Rodrigo’s son in-law, Agustín León Ara, just a year later at the Spanish Youth Orchestra (JONDE). He was incredibly helpful, inspiring and encouraging. He told me lots of stories of the maestro, and just by chance I decided to study in Belgium with the scholarship from the Spanish Ministry of Culture. Agustín was a teacher at Brussels Conservatory, so we met lots of times and I met then Cecilia Rodrigo, his wife and Rodrigo’s daughter. A really nice friendship has stayed during all these years, and I am thrilled that I can now contribute to promote Rodrigo’s music.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Well, this recording has been one of them. We had very little time for recording, the music was new to the orchestra and these pieces are extremely delicate. The Palau de les Arts Comunitat Valenciana Orchestra, where I belong, is an excellent group, and the musicians gave so much that all my worries went away after the first session. To assume the role of conductor to the orchestra where you are a member is wonderful but challenging and nerve-wracking as well.

Another challenge was the previous recording project, the C. M. von Weber concertos and symphonies. This happened just two weeks after the Rodrigo recording and concert, so I had to have 3 programmes to do in a short time (I did two different ones in Berlin) playing and conducting. It was my début in the Berlin Philharmonie Hall, so I felt a big responsibility. Also this recording has the most well known pieces of the clarinet repertoire, and I wanted to deliver something that needed to be of the highest quality and at the same time very personal. I think I achieved it, although when I listen to it I always find things I don’t like, but this is what happens when you make a recording: what you record belongs to that moment and even if you change your vision of some passages, you cannot change them anymore. Nevertheless, I am really happy with both recordings.

You have already recorded 3 CDs for IBS Classical. Which recordings are you most proud of?

Well, I think that you are always proud of your last recording, because all the memories, the big effort that means to record, the wonderful and the bad moments are all fresh in your mind. As I was saying the Weber CD was a big challenge and I am very proud of it, but the Rodrigo CD has a different meaning, and I am really happy and proud about it because I am helping to promote a part of his music that is much lesser known and that definitely needs to be heard. It is great to rediscover Rodrigo beyond the Aranjuez concerto. He was a very inspired composer, and a fantastic orchestrator. He wrote a vast catalogue of wonderful music, it has been a big responsibility and a very rewarding experience to make this happen. In the repertoire we present he uses a small orchestra with single winds and a reduced string section, he had such an ability as an orchestrator that with these forces he achieves in some moments the strength of a symphony orchestra and next to it the wonderful subtleties of chamber music.

I have to say that, talking about other recordings I am very proud of the ones where I have done something similar to the Rodrigo’s: to rediscover and unfold music that has been unjustly hidden. This is the case of my recordings of Spanish Music of exiled composers. The last one was with Moonwinds for IBS. These composers had to exile themselves for political reasons and to avoid being killed by the terrible time that Spain lived under Franco. We have discovered incredibly great music totally unknown to the musicians and, of course, to the public. I am very proud of having done them, now lots of clarinet players and other musicians write to me wanting to play this music, it is a very rewarding feeling. I hope the same happens with conductors and programmers with the pieces by Rodrigo that we present in this new CD.

To which particular works do you feel a strong connection on the new Joaquín Rodrigo recording?

From this recording, if I had to choose one, I feel quite attached to the “dance” of the “Two Miniatures”. It comes from Spanish popular music, it feels really close to me, it possess such rhythmical power that it transports you into a incredibly “earthy” feeling. In general Rodrigo uses a lot of old Spanish songs, sometimes from Valencia region, where we both come from, so it is very touching listening to them, both in form of lied or in orchestral music. In the piece I mentioned earlier, “Per la flor del lliri blau”, he uses Valencia traditional songs, some of them are part of my childhood, so having them “elevated” into the superior form of Classical Music, mastered by a composer like Rodrigo of course can be quite emotional.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

It really changes form year to year. At some point you have an idea, you start to develop it until it has some kind of shape and then you start planning it. It is never easy, you have to act as a musician, producer, librarian….. But when you achieve it is an incredibly wonderful feeling.

When I did the recordings of exiled composers, I became very obsessed by the subject, so it took about three seasons to develop the repertoire, finding the music in archives, writing to people that you think might have a copy of the pieces you read about, and trying the music with my wonderful pianist, Juan Carlos Garvayo to get to now it.

For the Weber project I had it in my mind for years but I could not find the way to make it real until I found an agent in Geneva, where I spend a good part of the year, who put me in contact with an orchestra in Berlin that offered a very attractive project, the Berliner Camerata: two concerts, in Berlin and Frankfurt (oder), and 4 days of recording sessions. I started about one year before to prepare it, although I have been playing the Weber concertos since I was about 10 years old, like most clarinet players, you need to make decisions about your performance and try to master it. The Symphonies were more new to me, so I had to learn them well. I also became obsessed, it is the only way to give your best to the music you perform, it has to be part of you every day.

For the Rodrigo it was a bit different, because the people in charge of the Palau de les Arts at the time proposed me to conduct the project in Summer 2018, I was incredibly happy to accept the offer, of course, I thought, what an opportunity!! So I had about 8 months to prepare it together with Weber, it was a very intense and wonderful period, my day was divided in two: Weber and Rodrigo (it was like an actor that assumes two different roles).

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I love playing in the Wigmore Hall in London. It really is the perfect hall for chamber music. I haven’t played there for a long time, but it was a regular venue when I lived in London. I hope to be back there at some point. I love other places too. I felt amazed by the acoustics and warmth of the Philharmonie Kammermusikzaal in Berlin, it is one of this halls where you feel at home. In Spain, the hall in Zaragoza is great, and I feel really good performing at the Palau de la Música both the one in Valencia and in Barcelona, not only because the acoustics and wonderful atmosphere, but also because I feel at home with the audiences there.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

This is a very difficult question, but I will answer with at least two: one was when I conducted the 30th anniversary of the Cadaqués Orchestra at the Palau de la Música in Barcelona, a project that has been a very important part of my live; another was my début in the Philharmonie in Berlin; and another one was when I played the Brahms and Mozart quintets with the Tokyo quartet at the City of London Festival.

There are many more, of course, concerts with the Alexander String Quartet in the USA, with the Brodsky around the world, with my group Moonwinds in Valencia and in the Cadogan hall in London…. Each concert leaves you a different kind of memory, I always try to give all of myself in every concert, every single one is the most important when you are doing it. So, luckily I have lots of memorable concerts to remember.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I would say that you succeed when you achieve your dreams, or at least part of your dreams (it would be impossible to achieve all of them), combined with the response from audiences and other factors in the music world.

My dream has always been to be able to perform music at my best to make people happy, or at least happier than they were before your concert. The best feeling I get is to hear from members of the public the words “thank you for your concert” (normally I feel thankful for being able to play!). Nothing can equal this feeling. When I play the clarinet I can see the audiences’ faces, when you spot a little smile, eyes that become alive, you feel they are with you. It is the best feeling in the world, that I can call success. When I conduct I see the musicians faces and eyes. The challenge is to keep them interested, keep them with you living Music intensely. Then you feel immediately the audience reaction from your back.

The other side of success is more complex, you have to be liked by people in charge of programming or writing in the press, and this can be more complicated. When they count on you or like your work it’s great, when not, some times it is disappointing, you can feel sad, etc, but you have to recover your dream next day and carry on with it.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

One basic thing is to know inside yourself that you love music to a point of obsession. Then you are ready to go.

Another piece of advice: listen to music all the time, especially when you are young and have the time for it. You need to build up your references as far as performers, you need to admire performers and composers to get “inspiration” from them and make up slowly your own artistic personality. Listen to all kind of music, though.

And of course, practice practice and study study. You can have lots of fun aside of it, but being a musician takes a great part of your time. You have to be ready for it.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

First of all, in good health, and then I would love to carry on conducting and playing.

I would like to develop my star project, Moonwinds, into a pedagogic-orchestral project. I am working on it and have a team on my side, we will see…. we have potentially difficult times ahead, but Music should play an important role in overcoming them.

I have been thinking also of doing some kind of master or doctorate, there are several subjects that have interested me for now a long time. I just need to find how to fit it in.

Joan Enric Lluna’s new recording of works by Joaquín Rodrigo with the Orquesta de la Comunitat Valenciana will be released on IBS Classical in summer 2020.

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Joan Enric Lluna, one of Spain’s leading musicians, combines his work as a clarinettist with orchestral conducting and teaching.

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