For a long time now, Riviera Insider editor-in-chief Petra Hall has wanted to interview Kazuki Yamada. It’s no surprise why: the international career of this astounding 37-year-old has led him to be venerated as one of the most sought-after conductors of his generation. It takes him around the world and so the new artistic and musical director of the Philharmonic Orchestra of Monte Carlo is staying in the principality for just two months…
RIVIERA INSIDER: Kazuki Yamada, you have been the artistic and musical director of the Philharmonic Orchestra of Monte-Carlo since September 2016. How does it feel to carry so much responsibility and how much freedom to you have over the orchestra’s programme?
KAZUKI YAMADA: It just feels wonderful! I have control over all artistic decisions - if you are purely the musical director, that isn’t possible. I hope that everyone is satisfied with the final product. For every season, I propose a central theme; for the next season it will be ‘Music and Nature’. My contract runs for three years.
Managing the entire Monegasque orchestra is an enormous task. Do you have other commitments?
In Japan, for example, I lead the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra and am musical director of the Yokohama Sinfonietta, an ensemble that I founded as a student.
I am also the guest director of the Orchestre de la Suisse de Romande until August 2018. I have worked with many famous orchestras such as those of Saint Petersburg, Birmingham, Warsaw and Stockholm, as well as the WDR Symphony Orchestra of Cologne, Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Tonkunstler Orchestra of Vienna and many others.
You have worked with musicians all over the world. What cultural differences do you notice most?
In Japan, we don’t have the long orchestral traditions as in Europe, but the standard is almost of the same level now. When working with an orchestra, I hardly notice any cultural differences. But having left my country at 30, I have come to realise that everything is different in Japan. Here I am Yamada Kazuki, not Kazuki Yamada. Addresses on letters, driving, the food… Nothing is the same. I do, however, eat in the Japanese style every day.
Do you miss home?
I go to Japan very often, but mostly I am so busy that I don’t get to see my parents. That’s difficult as an only child! My mother visits me more often in Europe.
How is it going at the Philharmonic Orchestra in Monaco?
I hope the musicians feel good. I could already see great progress last September. I don’t have a dictatorial leadership style, but when mistakes are made, I have to point it out! I met the orchestra for the first time in 2011, just after the death of Yakov Kreizberg, when the musicians were still mourning. Since then, I have been here every year. My ambition is to grow as a conductor and let the orchestra grow.
Under your guidance, what will change and what will stay the same for the orchestra?
It is my first year as an artistic and musical leader. At first, I will change little - I am still in the observation phase.
Music connoisseurs compare your motions those of a karate practitioner. Where does all your strength come from?
I get it from the music, nature, the people… When musicians and the audience meet in the hall, a very special and powerful energy evolves.
You are currently living in Berlin. What do you think of the city?
My wife works with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra and we feel very comfortable in Berlin. As I travel often, its excellent transport links are very important.
When you are producing a programme, what elements do you pay the most attention to?
Monaco is a very special country because there are so many different nationalities living here. Capturing their attention is a major challenge. This is why we try to tailor our work to their different expectations and feature musicians from all over the world in the orchestra. For example, I am very excited to announce that star violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter will be performing with us in October. This is great news for the German community, but also for everybody who loves high quality music. My job is really very exciting!