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French Conductor Alain Altinoglu's Dexterity with the Baton and the Bishop

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Marco Borggreve
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Conductor Alain Altinoglu

Is leading a symphony orchestra anything like playing chess? As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, one very busy conductor, Alain Altinoglu, is drawn to both.

Listen to WRTI on Sunday, December 18th at 1 pm as Alain Altinoglu leads The Philadelphia Orchestra in a broadcast featuring music by Dutilleux, Mendelssohn, and Brahms.

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Conductor Alain Altinoglu talks with WRTI's Susan Lewis about his passions for music, music education, conducting, and chess.

Radio script:

MUSIC: Brahms, The Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Alain Altinoglu

Susan Lewis: Conductor Alain Altinoglu leads opera and orchestral programs around the world, teaches in Paris, and plays piano in chamber music and in recital with his wife, mezzo-soprano Norah Gubisch. And he also likes to play chess.

Alain Altinoglu: You imagine at what time do I play chess?

SL: Right.

AA: But yeah, I love chess. You know I have Armenian roots, and its an Armenian tradition, we have of course Kasparov, who was this great champion. 

SL: But is chess like conducting, or a break from it?

AA: It is totally like conducting. 

SL:  There’s plotting in advance.

AA: When you give an upbeat to the orchestra, the orchestra has to understand before playing what to play. The conducting is a job of anticipation. In your head you have to know what you want to hear. What is the aim, what is the sound, the color, the tempo...and then you have to adapt your gesture to the orchestra to obtain this. Each orchestra is going to react  differently.

SL:  And then during the match—or performance—being in the moment, but also being prepared for what might happen.

AA: And of course when you have experience, when you conduct Brahms one to 10 times, or 50 times, you can anticipate where the problems are going to be. A musician plays too late, too loud, too soft, you have to immediately react and show what he’s doing. You have to anticipate the problems...so it’s like chess.

SL: Alain Altinoglu is music director of the famed opera house La Monnaie in Brussels. He teaches conducting at The Paris Conservatory.

As senior producer of arts and culture, Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and producer of The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series, to which she also contributes weekly intermission interviews. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.