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How Koenigs is working on his musical dream with the WNO; Lothar Koenigs takes up the baton as new Music Director of Welsh National Opera this weekend. Karen Price meets the German conductor.

Byline: Karen Price

A RELAXED Lothar Koenigs looks very much at home inside his new office at the Wales Millennium Centre.

The German conductor has just taken up his role as the new Music Director of Welsh National Opera.

When we meet, he's deep in rehearsals for the revival of Wozzeck, which opens at the company's Cardiff base tomorrow.

"It's the [director] Richard Jones production from four or five years ago," he tells me.

"Wozzeck is always a big challenge but it's a dream to be staging it."

Koenigs, who is casually dressed in black short-sleeved polo shirt and black jeans, has an hour to spare before he's back in rehearsals. He's clearly impressed with the orchestra he's inherited.

He first performed with the musicians as a guest conductor during a concert at Cardiff's St David's Hall.

"The chemistry was right and I was impressed with the quality of the orchestra and chorus," he says.

WNO's general director, John Fisher, later travelled to Koenigs' home town of Frankfurt where they chatted at length about the company.

A few days later Fisher called him to offer him the job, which was vacated by Carlo Rizzi.

"I felt very pleased and honoured.

Immediately I felt I could do something here. The orchestra is in splendid form. I think Carlo Rizzi did a wonderful job here."

Now Koenigs, 42, believes he can carry on his predecessor's good work.

"There are two plans - the dream and the business. To build a season you have to think about what you'd like to do, what you can do and the box office."

Koenigs is keen to introduce WNO audiences to the work of more German composers.

"Of course I am very much into the repertoire of German composers like Wagner and Strauss," he says.

"I think I can serve the company best with the repertoire I know from home.

"But that does not mean I don't know Verdi or Puccini.

"I also think it's good to do contemporary music as well - that's very important."

One piece Koenigs is very much looking forward to conducting is Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nurberg, which will be performed by WNO in spring 2010.

It will feature Bryn Terfel as Hans Sachs.

Koenigs has never worked with the Welsh bass baritone.

"I've not seen him performing live before. I can't wait to work with him.

"He's a great artist but I think in general the singing is incredibly good here [in Wales]."

Koenigs is keen to introduce opera to new audiences, especially younger generations. "I would love to do everything possible to inspire young people to experience opera music.

"There was a dress rehearsal for Madam Butterfly here last week and the theatre was full of young people who had come to watch. It's [dress rehearsals] a good opportunity to bring people into the theatre. After all, we are not on one planet, with them on another.

"We have a phenomenal education department [WNO Max] so there's a lot going on for young people."

Koenigs, who was born in Aachen, has been immersed in classical music from a young age. "When I was five I had my first piano lesson," says the musician, who went on to study piano and conducting at Cologne Conservatory.

He decided that conducting was for him after seeing a production of Tristan and Isolde when he was 15.

"My parents had a subscription to the theatre and my mother didn't want to go so she gave me the tickets.

"It was a bad performance but it made it clear to me that I had to conduct music."

As a student he conducted several times at Tanglewood Festival in America.

Throughout his career he has worked with some of the world's finest orchestras, including Orquesta Sinfonica de Chile, and has conducted a wealth of opera, such as La bohme, Carmen, Eugene Onegin, The Magic Flute, Turandot and Jan[sz]cek trilogy.

Last year he made his debut at the Met in New York where he conducted Don Giovanni.

"I think it was something very special to stand for the first time in the pit at the Met," he admits.

"It was fantastic not only because it was the Met but because the orchestra was phenomenal and the singers were phenomenal."

Koenigs is also impressed with WNO's home - the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay. "I love it - I think it has incredible acoustics. I think it was a great idea to make the Wales Millennium Centre from materials from the local environment. "There are so many things going on here and everyone is so into their music."

As far as life outside the opera house is concerned, Keonigs, who will split his time between Frankfurt and Cardiff during his five-year contract with WNO, admits that music is never far from his thoughts.

"Most of the time I listen to classical music," he laughs.

"I love going to the theatre but not only for opera, for drama as well. I also like to cook with friends."

But with Wozzeck about to open, the only thing he will be cooking up during the next few weeks is drama in the opera house.

Wozzeck is at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, tomorrow and October 2; and Venue Cymru, Llandudno on October 15


STAR QUALITY: New WNO music director Lothar Koenigs is raring to go as Wozzeck opens, and 'can't wait' to work with Bryn Terfel next year PICTURE: Darryl Corner
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Sep 26, 2009
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