An interview with conductor Joshua Weilerstein

Ahead of his ‘Sound of the Orchestra’ Prom on 26 August, we speak to the conductor about his favourite music

An interview with conductor Joshua Weilerstein
Joshua Weilerstein

On Sunday 26 August, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Joshua Weilerstein will present The Sound of an Orchestra – a tribute to Leonard Bernstein’s televised presentations in which he brought the secrets and marvels of classical music to a new generation of music lovers. Thtough music, words and projections (masterminded by Gerard McBurney), Weilerstein and the RPO will be exploring works from the last 250 years, including pieces by Stravinsky, Debussy, Beethoven and Ligeti.

We interviewed Weilerstein in the August 2018 issue about his current favourite music (and book)…


'I’ve been conducting Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony, and discovered this clip on YouTube of Leonard Bernstein teaching it to a student at the Schleswig-Holstein Festival in the late 1980s. He simply takes over by conducting about five minutes of music, shouting out instructions and pointing out bits that are difficult as he goes along, never once looking down at the score. It’s very thrilling, as I think the students in the orchestra might be sight-reading it, and yet he somehow makes it all work.


'I’ve really fallen in love with the Partita for 8 Voices by a young American composer called Caroline Shaw, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2013. It’s such a masterful combination of classical music mixed with other influences including pop music, and it’s great fun to listen to. My recording of it is by Shaw’s own a cappella group, Roomful of Teeth, and is simply fantastic – the level of vocal talent they display is simply stunning.


'I don’t love Wagner, who is one of very few composers I don’t relate to. However, online there are excerpts of from a 1975 Bayreuth performance of Tristan und Isolde conducted by Carlos Kleiber, who is filmed on a ‘conductor cam’ that focuses on just him. It’s quite a ghostly image, but the first time I saw it I thought ‘Wow!’. It’s all overwhelmingly wonderful – the singing, the sound, the way that Kleiber moves. You can tell every nuance from his hands.'


And also… I was on holiday in Iceland with my wife recently and fell in love with the country. While there, I read Haldor Laxness’s Independent People. It’s a great book that gives a really good idea as to how people lived there in the past, so when you see the old turf houses in which they lived, the sense of history is just amazing.


What's on at the Proms tonight?

Prom 58: Sunday 26 August 2018, 7.30pm

The Sound of an Orchestra

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Joshua Weilerstein
Gerard McBurney (creative director)
Mike Tutaj (projection design)


The Prom will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.

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