Arthur Fagen, conductor

Who or what inspired you to take up conducting and pursue a career in music?

After my grandfather bought me for my 7th birthday a set of 78rpm recordings of classical music, I was hooked on becoming a classical musician from an early age.

Certainly, watching Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts in New York was a major determining factor in my desire to become a conductor.

Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life?

Tito Gobbi for Italian Opera, with whom I worked in the 70’s, as well as Christoph von Dohnanyi, Gunter Wand and James Levine who I assisted earlier on as well as my conducting teachers, Laszlo Halasz, Max Rudolf and Hans Swarowsky.

What, for you, is the most challenging part of being a conductor? And the most fulfilling aspect?  

The most challenging part is also the most fulfilling – becoming one with the music in a way in which the orchestra and audience feel at one as well. Of course, there are also the challenges of travel, learning huge quantities of music and adjusting to the personalities of different orchestras, soloists and singers.

As a conductor, how do you communicate your ideas about a work to the orchestra?

Mostly through spiritual, emotional and mental transference aided by physical gesture and limited verbal explanation. Sometimes, I mark the parts from which the musicians play.

How exactly do you see your role? Inspiring the players/singers? Conveying the vision of the composer?

My role is to convey my perception of the composer’s vision, to bring out the best of the forces at hand, and to enable everybody involved to be in a zone where true artistic expression becomes possible.

Is there one work which you would love to conduct?

Two – “Tristan und Isolde” and Mahler’s 9th Symphony.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

My favourite venues where I have performed are the Wiener Staatsoper, Concertgebouw and Musikverein.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Whatever I am working on or whoever I am performing with at the moment. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

That’s a difficult question to  answer. First and foremost is the artistic satisfaction that comes from realizing a great work of music on many levels – structure, form, style, emotion, colour, etc. with the hope that on very rare occasions it reaches a plane of transcendence. On a more mundane level – public success, financial reward, good reviews and high-level engagements.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Both the craft and art of being a musician.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Above ground.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

It doesn’t exist.

What is your present state of mind?


Arthur Fagen conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Philharmonia Orchestra on Tedd Joselson‘s latest CD Companionship of Concertos: Grieg: Piano Concerto – Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2. Released  on the Signum Classics label

Music Director of the Atlanta Opera since 2010, Arthur Fagen is in great demand as a conductor of symphony and opera in Europe, Asia, South America, and the United States.  He is a regular guest at the most prestigious opera houses, concert halls, and music festivals at home and abroad.

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