Francesconi: Trauma Études. Interview with Brad Lubman

Francesconi: Trauma Études. Interview with Brad Lubman

Luca Francesconi’s Trauma Études makes its world premiere on March 15, in Washington, D.C., where it will be performed by Ensemble Signal, conducted by Brad Lubman. The piece, presented as part of the Library of Congress concert season, was commissioned by the Dina Koston and Roger Shapiro Fund for New Music.

We had a chance to ask Brad Lubman (conductor and co-artistic director of Ensemble Signal) a few questions.

Over the course of your many years as a conductor, you’ve dealt with many composers whose works you’ve conducted, including world premieres. Is the approach a conductor uses for a new piece, hot off the presses, different with respect to the treatment a piece that’s already well known receives? Would you say there’s more responsibility involved in conducting a world premiere? Can you tell us about some of your own experiences? 
My feeling is that it is all basically the same. Although it’s true with pieces that are already in the repertoire there might be established ways of doing things, I think the conductor must look at any piece with a fresh state of mind. Whether it’s an old piece or a brand new piece, the composer has put information down in the score and it’s our job to figure out what the composer wants and to bring those ideas into the world, to realize to our best ability (in whatever the performing ensemble is) the ideas and wishes of the composer.

You’re also a composer. Would you say that this influences the way you approach a piece you’re conducting? Would you say that this in some way makes you a “privileged” conductor? 
I know that my composing helps my conducting and vice versa. I always suggest to young conductors that they do some composing, and to young composers I suggest they do some conducting. It’s similar to my telling young conductors that they need to also play in chamber music ensembles and play in larger conducted ensembles. This way there is a cross-fertilization of knowledge and experience, all of which is very helpful.

This isn’t the first time you’ve conducted music by Francesconi. For instance, you did three productions of his Quartett (in Oporto, Strasbourg and Buenos Aires). Can you tell us about those experiences and your artistic relationship with Francesconi? 
I met Francesconi some years ago, in 2004, when he was invited to be a guest composer at the Eastman School of Music (where I conduct the Musica Nova Ensemble). I programmed Francesconi’s “encore/da capo.” When I met Luca, I felt we had a strong artistic bond, similar musical and artistic sensibilities. So I’ve always welcomed the chance to conduct his music and to work together.

Francesconi describes his music as “energy, free from all clichés”. How would you describe it? What do you find interesting about it?
That’s a good description from Luca himself! What I find interesting is that Luca's music is not necessarily about Luca himself, rather it seems to be about music, drama, and life in a bigger sense. There could be various influences under the surface of a given piece, but they all come through via Luca’s imagination and sense of musical sculpting or narrative.

Along with Trauma Études, Ensemble Signal will be performing Songs Without Voices by Oliver Knussen, who recently passed away, and Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. What, if any, are the points of contact among these three works? What inspired you to create a program that includes all three? 
The Library of Congress looks to program pieces for which they own the manuscripts, one of which is Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, so that was one idea we all discussed at first. Then, Ensemble Signal’s co-artistic and executive director Lauren Radnofsky had the idea to commission Francesconi, which the Library of Congress took into consideration, and happily we all agreed on pairing the Schoenberg with a new work from Francesconi.
There are a few reasons why we programmed the Knussen work. An important reason for me is that I was Knussen’s assistant conductor at the Tanglewood Music Center from 1989-94, during the period when he directed the Festival of Contemporary Music there, and he was a very important mentor to me. Additionally, Ensemble Signal has performed several Knussen works over the years, and had the chance to work with him as a composer when we performed his music.  He had also been a featured composer at the Library of Congress a few years ago. After he suddenly passed away last year, we wanted to add Songs Without Voices in his memory.

Photo: Peter Serling