Q+A with Juanjo Mena
FANFARE CINCINNATI: Your other appearances with the CSO have included collaborations with the May Festival Chorus. What have you enjoyed about working with this Orchestra and Chorus?
Juanjo Mena: I remember very well the first time I worked with the CSO - it was special, as the orchestra made me feel very comfortable. I found in them a huge positive energy, and we could immediately start to make music together to a high level. I felt at home, especially as there were some musicians in the orchestra with whom I’d already worked. The May Festival Chorus amazed me from the first minute, for their admirable professional attitude in a work as complex as Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe, not just because of their incredible vocal performance but because of their musicality, and their capacity to quickly react to whatever I asked of them - without doubt, the influence of the great choral conductor Maestro Robert Porco. Later collaborations only served to strengthen our musical relationship.
FC: This piece is often overshadowed by Beethoven’s other masterworks. What is your take on the Missa Solemnis?
JM: We are talking about one of the masterpieces of the choral-symphonic repertoire. It’s incredibly complex and vocally demanding, and it needs to be sung with great intelligence in order to reach the end of the work with strength and quality of tone. Orchestrally, it contains one of the most beautiful violin solos that I know, and displays a contrapuntal mastery of the highest level, which sees the orchestra and choir working together organically.
FC: Who have been your greatest mentors or role models, musically or otherwise?
JM: I will never forget my composition and orchestration teacher, Carmelo Bernaola, who really opened my eyes to the mystery of music. Also Maestro Enrique García Asensio, who taught me a conducting technique that has allowed me to communicate effectively with the orchestra. And of course, the magician who instilled in me the consistent search for perfection, for the perfect sound, for the things that can’t be expressed in words, Sergio Celibidache. But none of this would have been possible without Antxon Lete, the man who came into my classroom at school when I was just 7 years old, he encouraged me to sing the note that he played on his recorder, and after singing it in tune he invited me to sing in the school choir, which was the very start of my beautiful musical journey.
FC: What other projects are on the horizon for you?
JM: After a rewarding year so far that has included my Berlin and Rotterdam Philharmonic debuts, a tour of China and South Korea with my BBC Philharmonic and concerts at the Tanglewood Festival with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, I’m going straight to the Montreal Symphony Orchestra from Cincinnati, then to the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra in a couple of weeks. December brings Bruckner and Berg with the BBC Philharmonic and Michael Barenboim, as well as Haydn’s Creation with the Spanish National Orchestra. In the spring I have two major tours of Europe with the BBC Philharmonic after my NHK Symphony Orchestra debut, and then I’ll be in Miami with the New World Symphony Orchestra. Plenty to keep me busy!
FC: Where do you seek and find inspiration, musically or otherwise?
JM: Life! Every second, every word, every glance, my family, my children, and every orchestral musician who gives everything they have in order to search for the best music making.