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Diego Matheuz is a conductor
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Diego Matheuz is a conductor
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Diego Matheuz is a conductor
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"I like to just live each day. Of course I think about the future, but what I want is to arrive at 80 and to still be making music."
24 March 2014

Diego Matheuz is a conductor

Interview by Jessica Wilkinson
Photography by Lucas Dawson

Meeting Diego...

Diego Matheuz has achieved more in his 29 years than most do in a lifetime. Named by Gramophone Magazine as one of the “new conductors on the verge of greatness,” Diego is seamlessly attuned to his craft, and you don’t even need to see him at work to know it. It simply emanates from his being.

Originally hailing from Venezuela, Diego is a graduate of the Venezuelan El Sistema—an internationally renowned, free orchestra program that has taught over two million students, 70 per cent of which live below the poverty line. For Diego, El Sistema is one of the few places he calls home.

In a thick accent, brimming with warmth and exuberance, Diego lights up when he speaks of home and of his music—two things so very close to his heart. His energy is infectious, the sincerity and warm familiarity to the way he speaks wraps around you, lingering just long enough to leave you completely entranced.

Despite his spirited passion and boundless charisma, Diego is about as humble as they come. Without a skerrick of arrogance, he talks of his accomplishments, and they are by no means few.

Without even skimming the surface, Diego has been Principal guest conductor of Orchestra Mozart since 2009, was appointed Principal Conductor of Teatro La Fenice in 2011 and in 2013, he was appointed Associate Conductor of the Sinfónica Simón Bolívar de Venezuela.

His globe-encompassing career has not forgotten Australia—Diego is settling, albeit briefly, in Melbourne for his second engagement since being appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Diego will be directing two symphonies this month and another in September. He may move at the pace of wildfire but Diego is unreservedly present, living his passion with unwavering devotion.

Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people.

JESSICA WILKINSON: Your job takes you all over the world, but you’re originally from Venezuela. Where do you call home these days?

DIEGO MATHEUZ: I live between a few places. I have one house in Venice and one house in Venezuela, but my real home is Caracas.

Is it? Is that where your family live?

[Smiles] yes, in my heart that is home. My family lives about a four-hour drive from Caracas in Barquisimeto, where I was born. Any time I go to Caracas, they come to visit or I’ll go to visit them.

For a number of years you studied violin as your principal instrument—how did you become interested in conducting?

It was very funny. I was living in Paris and when I came back to Venice, maestro Abreu asked me if I’d like to conduct. I had never conducted but I said I could try. So he said, “Come tomorrow and I’ll give you your first lesson.” Once my conducting career became busier, I didn’t have time to play in the orchestra anymore. I still play violin sometimes but it’s not enough to be in really good shape.

Do you miss playing the violin?

Yes, a lot. When you play an instrument you are more connected to the music. I miss that.

How different is it conducting an orchestra as opposed to playing in one?

When you play in an orchestra the feeling is completely different because you have a connection with the instrument. You are the one who has made the sound and made the music. When you conduct, your energy helps to create a layered sound. It’s an amazing feeling.

You feel the power and every single movement means something. I can move my eye and the orchestra will know what it means.

How do you bring a fresh approach to symphonies—like Beethoven’s Fifth—that orchestras and audiences already know so well?

I think Beethoven’s Fifth is one of the most difficult pieces in the world, because everyone knows it. The key to making it fresh is in the small details, to get close to what the composer wanted and what their idea was when they were creating it. Audiences will always come and listen, because every time, it will be new and different. That’s the beautiful thing about music.

There is no secret. It’s like being a doctor—you always have to be learning and investigating.
Diego Matheuz

You’re only 29, and you’ve achieved so much. Your international commitments aside, you’ll be here in Melbourne to conduct Beethoven’s Fifth later this week, the Rachmaninov’s Paganni Rhapsody at the end of March and Beethoven and Tchaikovsky in September. Do you ever sleep?

[Laughs] yes, I am very busy but I do get some time off… sometimes. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, having a BBQ at my house or spending time for myself.  Anyway, this year I get old. I turn 30 [laughs].

The Stravinsky Festival with Melbourne Symphony last August was your first engagement since being appointed Principal Guest Conductor. How are you liking your role with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra?

I’m really looking forward to this period, I’m really very excited. We have an amazing program with really beautiful music, like Sibelius Second Symphony, which is one of my favourites.

I just love coming here, because the connection I have with the orchestra is really beautiful and I feel like I’m home.

Do we approach music differently in Australia as opposed to Europe?

No, but I think the people are different. In Europe, the people are more…. I have to be careful what I say here [laughs]…relaxed. In Europe, everything happens fast, but here everything is so calm. Of course when we have to go fast, we go fast, but it’s not this hysterical frenzy.

What drives you to keep extending and expanding your career? Do you have an end goal that you’re trying to reach?

No, I don’t think so. I think that will come with time. I like to just live each day. Of course I think about the future, but what I want is to arrive at 80 and to still be making music, doing exactly what I’m doing today.

I don’t think many people could say that. So if you had your time again, you wouldn’t change anything?

I wouldn’t change a thing. I love this with all my heart.

It seems your 2014 calendar is already full. What are you looking forward to most this year?

Of course the shows I have with MSO, and I have a new opera that is premiering—The Rakes Progress in Venice. I have my debut in Cologne in Germany, then in Genevre in Switzerland. Actually, it’s hard to remember all the things I have on [laughs].

You took part in the Sistema residency at the Salzburg Festival last year. Is it nice to go back to Sistema, where it all began?

Actually I go back all the time. I go at least eight to nine times a year to Caracas, and every time I go, I work with the Sistema. It’s wonderful because for me, the Sistema is home.

You’re a graduate of the Sistema program which has produced a number of talented musicians—what is it about Sistema that is so special?

First, all the education is free. For a conductor, it is very special because you get the opportunity to conduct everyday. To have the opportunity to be training in front of an orchestra everyday is really important when you are studying, and we had this possibility.

Is there someone in your life that has influenced you or made you want to become who you are today?

Yes, I have two people who were very influential in my life. One was maestro José Antonio Abreu, who was my conducting maestro, and the founder of the Sistema. The other is Claudio Abbado, who was also my mentor.

What piece of advice would you give to an aspiring musician or conductor?

Study, study, study. There is no secret. It’s like being a doctor—you always have to be learning and investigating. You have to learn the skills of your craft and love it.

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