Salvador Brotons, conductor

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

I come from a family of professional musicians. My father and my grandfather played in orchestras in Barcelona and my home was filled with music when I was young. Sometimes I would play flute while my father played piano, and then we would switch instruments. My journey started with these instruments and later I started to compose, and after that I was interested in conducting. I don’t think anybody is born as a conductor. You become a conductor as a culmination of your career after being a very good musician. I played principal flute in an orchestra, then began composing, and after all this I was ready to be in front of an orchestra and conduct.

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

My father and mother were both large influences on my musical life. My mother was not a musician, but she was the one who asked my father to teach me music while I was growing up. My father saw that I had an aptitude towards music because of my perfect pitch and taught me solfège and music theory.

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

One of the most challenging parts of being a conductor is the aspect of rehearsals. I need to be clever in the way I prepare the piece for the rehearsals. I want to inspire the musicians and let them have freedom, but at the same time be tough and demanding. Limited rehearsal time is a challenge, but to achieve a strong performance it’s about alternating between working hard and letting them play.

The most fulfilling part is communicating with the audience during concerts and being able to play pieces I know deeply by heart.

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

I don’t like to talk too much in the rehearsals, so I try to be very direct and specific. They should know that you know the piece very well and you are convinced with what you are doing. I don’t want to just tell them what isn’t good, but focus on the positives, pacing the rehearsal in a good rhythm. Rehearsals are short so I have to prioritize what is most important, which to me is the toughest part.

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

I feel that my role is to be communicative and clear and show everyone the joy of music. I want to express my vision and demand excellence, while always talking and communicating in a nice way. I see my role as a collaborator, so if a singer wants to go a little faster, we do it a little faster, or if a soloist wants to go a little slower, I want it to go a little slower because I want to make their lives easier.

Is there one work which you would love to conduct?

There are a few that I would love to conduct still, but what comes to mind is Richard Strauss’ ‘Alpine’ Symphony. I’ve programmed it once with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, and once with an orchestra in Palma de Mallorca, but both times it was cancelled. It’s an expensive symphony which involves a lot of extra players. I would also like to conduct Rite of Spring but I’ve never had a large enough orchestra to conduct it.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

There are a lot of venues I like, but I would say my favourite is the Palau de la Música in Barcelona. It was built in 1906 using modernism architecture and is exceptionally beautiful – just seeing the building is a joy. I grew up listening to my father’s orchestra in the hall, so it is part of my upbringing as a musician.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I do a lot of exercise, like swimming, walking in the mountains, and running. Enjoying nature refreshes my mind, and every day I run at least 7 kilometres while listening to music. Diving in the Mediterranean is also a passion of mine.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences?

I think we need to be close to the audience. I’m so happy with what we’ve done at Vancouver Symphony Orchestra to grow the audience so incredibly. Mainly it’s because of the quality of the orchestra, but also the way we have approached the audience. It’s crucial that the conductor is close to the audience. I often do the pre-concert talks before concerts to connect to people, because even just a few words make the audience want to come back to listen to the orchestra. I like to converse with them and ask questions if they come to talk after a concert, not be stiff and serious like some conductors are, which can make classical music suffer. The familiarity with the conductor, the way they conduct, and most importantly the sound of the orchestra are the things that will draw an audience back. Music is for everybody, and we just need to communicate that.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success is being content with what you are doing. If you compare yourself with another artist or think they are ahead of you in some way, it will just be frustrating. Musicians do exceptional, enjoyable, creative, communicative work, and we’re privileged to be doing our profession. That’s the most important thing that should be in the mind of a musician every day of their life.

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

Being positive, especially to young players! Learning to be a musician can be complex and it’s easy to get discouraged, especially in the current day. I want to encourage aspiring musicians to see the beautiful part of music – the enjoyment of creating music and the privilege of communicating emotions from the heart every single day.

Now in his 31st season leading the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra as Music Director and Conductor, musicians and classical music enthusiasts still delight in having Dr. Brotons lead them.

Salvador Brotons was born in Barcelona into a family of musicians. He studied flute with his father and continued his musical studies at the Barcelona Music Conservatory where he earned advanced degrees in flute, composition and conducting. In 1985, he won a Fulbright scholarship and moved to the U.S. where he obtained a doctorate in music from Florida State University.

As a composer, he has written more than 130 pieces, mostly orchestral and chamber works and has won major composition awards, including the Premio Orquesta Nacional de España (1977), for his Cuatro Piezas para Cuerdas, the Jove d’Or prize (1980), the Premio Ciutat de Barcelona (in 1983 for his first symphony and in 1986 for his piece Absències (for narrator and orchestra), Southeastern Composers League Award for his Sinfonietta da Camera (1986), the Madison University Flute Choir Composition Award (1987) for his Flute Suite and the Premio Reina Sofia de Composición (1991) for his piece Virtus for Orchestra. He has also received many commissions.

Read more