Who or what inspired you to take up conducting and pursue a career in music?
I started playing the piano as a little boy, when I was four. It all seemed very fun, just like a game, but it was also my most precious company in moments when I needed solace or comfort, and music never abandoned me. I had been composing since I was a little boy, and as a teenager I realized that I liked opera and symphonic music so much, that I ought to become a conductor.
Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life?
There have been wonderful people who have influenced me and that have helped me become who I am today. My piano teacher growing up in Mar del Plata, Argentina, Juan Pedro Carletto, was a truly inspiring figure to me. Besides being a phenomenal concert pianist, he was also an exceptional tango pianist, and he taught me a lot about tango, cats (he had many), and even about refurbishing old pianos (he also did that professionally). Working as the assistant and cover conductor for Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony for two seasons was one of the most invigorating experiences of my life. I learned so much from MTT, observing him work in every rehearsal, assisting him, being ready to step in for him, helping the producers for some of the fabulous recordings with the orchestra, and being an extra pair of ears for that wonderful musical family, it was all invaluable experience. The conversations in between rehearsals and after the concerts, with truly interesting people that would come backstage, from composers, intellectuals, politicians, to musicians of many stripes, it was all formative for me. MTT was very generous with me and offered me the opportunity to make my debut with the SF Symphony in their first performance of a work by John Luther Adams (The Light the Fills the World).
What, for you, is the most challenging part of being a conductor? And the most fulfilling aspect?
I suppose the most challenging and the most fulfilling aspect of being a conductor is two sides of the same coin: working with people. I love working with people, so it is very rewarding. At the same time, being a conductor is somewhat akin to being the CEO of a company. It is really nice to be the CEO of a company where you know people very well: you help them and you can do so better when you know their strengths, their desires, their areas for improvement, their openness, their imagination, etc. It is wonderful to build long term relationship with an orchestra, so that when you go back you continue building and strengthening these bonds that get even better with time. When you go to a new orchestra, the challenge is to figure out as quickly as possible what the group dynamics are in this particular ensemble, and how to help them become better than they are in the short time that you have as a guest conductor, without disrupting the work culture that they may have.
As a conductor, how do you communicate your ideas about a work to the orchestra?
I love singing. I don’t enjoy talking too much. I appreciate having had fantastic conducting teachers that taught me to be very clear with my hands. Some orchestras love poetic images about what type of sound or expression you are looking for in a particular passage. Some orchestras prefer more a technical approach. There is not a one size fits all solution. As a conductor one has to be able to read what works best in each case.
How exactly do you see your role? Inspiring the players/singers? Conveying the vision of the composer?
It is a combination of many factors. First of all, one has to have a clear vision of how the work should go. Try to understand the composer to the point of almost impersonating the composer. Feeling as if you had written the piece, to be absolutely certain about how it should be interpreted. But then, the part of conveying this vision to the musician is just as important. If a conductor has a clear idea but is unable to convey it, it is a problem. And if the conductor has no idea what he/she wants, then it is a problem, even if their hands are moving kind of properly. A monkey can beat a 4/4 pattern. Conducting is about something else, but having a great technique will make everybody’s life much easier to fulfil that vision of what the composer’s intentions are.
Is there one work which you would love to conduct?
I would love to conduct Gruppen, by Stockhausen, and I have not had the chance to do so yet. I have conducted two operas by Luigi Dallapiccola (Il prigioniero, which I consider to be one of the masterpieces of the 20th Century) and Volo di notte. I would love to conduct his third opera: Ulisse. I would also love to continue doing as much as I can to promote the works by underrepresented composers. This past season with the Camellia Symphony Orchestra (based in Sacramento, California’s capital) I managed to program at least one work by a female composer (sometimes two) in each program. We also programmed an entire concert with works by Latin American composers, and another one with works by African American composers. This to me is also very important. The concert hall has been too restrictive for too long.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?
I have been blessed to conduct opera and concert performances at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires many times. I studied in Buenos Aires, so I always looked at this sacred temple of classical music as the most incredible place, where giants like Toscanini, Erich Kleiber and so many others had performed. Coming back there on a regular basis to conduct opera with the Orquesta Estable and concerts with the Orquesta Filarmónica de Buenos Aires is always a thrill. I also enjoyed conducting at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, it is a truly unique place, and I’m delighted to be going back there soon. Conducting Aïda at the Coliseum in London for English National Opera was also a very special experience.
As a composer, of which works are you most proud?
There is one of my orchestral works that I am very keen on. It was written for the Orchestre National de Lorraine, and performed subsequently by the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and the Munich Radio Orchestra. It is a short (7 minutes) energetic and humorous piece that is a perfect concert opener. It’s called “elapsing twilight shades”, and it was inspired by Longfellow.Here’s a recording of it with the Munich Radio Orchestra, conducted by me.
How would you characterise your compositional language?
My goal is not to be in a straight jacket. I need the freedom to reinvent my language for each piece. I do love experimenting with sounds, and letting odd influences get into my own music without any taboo, whether it be tango, something I am conducting, or avant-garde.
How do you work?
I love changing location when I compose. Sometimes I’ll go to a park, sit on a bench, or to a café, or at my desk, or by the piano. Changing perspective helps me see the piece differently.
Who are your favourite composers?
My first love was Mozart. And I always go back to him. Especially Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni. But I am completely in love with a wide range of composers, such as Ligeti, Berio, Sibelius (I have conducted all his symphonies), as well as Schumann. I also love working with living composers, and I am very fond of Oscar Strasnoy’s music. I conducted the world premiere of his opera “Requiem” at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, and I would love to conduct the premiere of another opera by him.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
I wake up every day thinking how lucky we musicians are to have this incredible wealth of history, so many phenomenal composers that have left these documents for us to perform, and how wonderful it is to be able to express ourselves and enrich our societies through what we do. I am happy when I can work very hard and deliver an outstanding performance of works written by these outstanding artists, and to share with the world all the love, dedication and passion for this profession that I have. If at the end of the day, your work has touched someone and made their day better, if you have given someone a smile, that to me is great encouragement to continue looking for ways to improve, and always offer more. The day we as artists stop thinking about how to continue growing and learning, we better retire.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Work hard. Use the superpowers you acquire to help others. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Remain humble. Dance whenever you can. Keep working hard.
Based in California, Baldini conducts regularly several international orchestras including the Munich Radio Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Buenos Aires Philharmonic, BBC Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, National Symphony Orchestra (of Argentina and the US), Orquestra Sinfónica do Porto (Portugal), San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, and Ensemble Dal Niente. Baldini recently made his debut conducting Verdi’s Aida in London for English National Opera, and has conducted new productions at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, where he received the National Critics Association Award for best operatic performance. He has also conducted opera at the Aldeburgh Festival in England and as the Music Director of the Rising Stars of Opera at the Mondavi Center, in collaboration with the San Francisco Opera. Baldini made his conducting debut in Salzburg at the Awards Weekend when an international jury distinguished him and two other conductors out of ninety-one submissions worldwide for the Nestlé/Salzburg Festival Young Conductors Award. From 2014 until 2016 Baldini served as cover conductor for Michael Tilson Thomas with the San Francisco Symphony. He made his debut conducting the SF Symphony in December 2014 and was immediately re-engaged as a guest conductor. During the 2014-15 season, Baldini conducted 11 concerts with the San Francisco Symphony, including 7 subscriptions.
(Artist photo by Liliana Morsia)