STREAM: 10 Favorite Conductor Conversations with WFMT Critic-at-Large Andrew Patner

By Matt DeStefano |

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Andrew Patner, WFMT’s critic-at-large and the classical music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, routinely forged personal relationships with conductors and other musicians, exchanging ideas about life and music. He would discuss his candid observations and objections with conductors directly, often over dinner, and they appreciated the open dialogue. Maestro Riccardo Muti said of Andrew, “I had enormous respect for him as a man of great culture and deep humanity. We had a sincere friendship.” These 11 programs were recorded between the years 2009-2014 and feature some of Andrew’s favorite conversations with 10 different conductors.

Gianandrea Noseda

Gianandrea Noseda (Photo:

Andrew spoke with Italian conductor Gianandrea Noseda, who made what Andrew called a “thrilling debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra” a month before the interview. That debut featured the music of Saariaho, Beethoven, and the CSO premiere of the 1895 Rachmaninoff Symphone No. 1. In this conversation, Andrew and the maestro talked about the development of a conductor, working with pianist Radu Lupu, and learning from conductor Valery Gergiev. They also discussed the relative merits of language and physical communication. (Recorded March 8, 2010)

Bernard Haitink

Bernard Haitink

In a program from 2008, Andrew interviewed former Chicago Symphony Orchestra principal conductor Bernard Haitink in the maestro’s hotel room over a cup of espresso brewed by Haitink’s wife, Patricia. Andrew and Haitink discussed books, Beethoven, Haydn, metronome markings, and the Holocaust. (Recorded May 5, 2008)

Pierre Boulez

Pierre Boulez (Photo: Astrid Ackerman)

Conductor, composer, and writer Pierre Boulez was the principal guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra  from 1995-2006. From 2006 until his death in 20016, he served the CSO as conductor emeritus. In an interview recorded at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall, Boulez discussed two of CSO’s programs, which included works by Stravinsky, Varèse, Elliott Carter, Janáček, and Szymanowski, as well as Elliott Carter‘s 1975 song cycle A Mirror on Which to Dwell. (Recorded March 2, 2009)

Riccardo Muti

Riccardo Muti (Photo: Pietro Paolini)

Andrew spoke with Riccardo Muti in his first conversation as music director designate of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra about Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem Mass. The conversation, recorded in Muti’s seventh-floor studio in Orchestra Hall, took place immediately following the maestro’s first open rehearsal of the Requiem with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Muti referred to the Requiem as “one of the most terrifying texts in Christianity” that “underlines the pains and the worry and the fear of all of us.”  The Requiem, according to Muti, “represents exactly the way … the Latins in general, but the Italians in particular … create their relationship with God.” (Recorded January 19, 2009)

Kent Nagano

Kent Nagano (Photo: Nicolas Ruel)

In the spring of 2007, Kent Nagano presented a controversial set of performances of Brahms’s Requiem in Chicago. Interpolations of a piece commissioned by Nagano and composed by Wolfgang Rihm were inserted throughout the piece. Weeks later, Andrew and Nagano sat in a dressing room at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall to discuss the controversy surrounding that performance. They also talked about Busoni’s Doktor Faust, Nagano’s time in León, and artistic direction in ensembles. (Recorded July 9, 2007)

The conclusion of Andrew Patner’s two-part conversation with American-born conductor Kent Nagano covered the maestro’s then-new position as Music Director of the Bavarian State Opera (his tenure concluded in 2013), a brief history of music in Munich, and the world premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland. Andrew and Nagano also talked about standards of performance, compromises in music, and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. (Recorded July 16, 2007)

Emmanuel Villaume

Emmanuel Villaume (Photo: Robert Hart)

Andrew touted Emmanuel Villaume as one of the world’s “leading conductors of French repertoire and French opera.”  This conversation was recorded in 2008, when Villaume was in town to conduct Massenet’s Manon (featuring Natalie Dessay and Jonas Kaufmann) at Lyric Opera of Chicago. Andrew and the maestro discussed Manon, Villaume’s upbringing, his path to conducting at some of the world’s largest opera houses by his early 40s, German music culture and religion in Strasbourg, France (where Villaume began his musical education), and the importance of early childhood exposure to music of great composers. Villaume confessed to Andrew that he “tasted the blood of opera.  I drank it, and I loved it.” (Recorded October 20, 2008)

Krzysztof Penderecki

Krzysztof Penderecki

In a program from 2011, Andrew Patner talked with distinguished composer and conductor Krzysztof Penderecki, who was in Chicago to lead concerts at the Grant Park Music Festival. They discussed Beethoven, the difficulties of being a composer and conductor, music in Poland, the country’s search for identity and independence, avant-garde music and the composer’s progression away from it, and working with the Grant Park Orchestra. (Recorded August 1, 2011)

Esa-Pekka Salonen

Esa-Pekka Salonen (Photo: Todd Rosenberg)

Andrew Patner spoke with the conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen in this program from 2013. At the time of the interview, Salonen was in town to conduct two weeks of concerts with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The maestro discussed his relationship with Witold Lutoslawski, the music of Henri Dutilleux, the story behind the recording of his Correspondances with the French Radio Orchestra, and Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. (Recorded February 25, 2013)

Susanna Mälkki

Susanna Malkki

Andrew Patner described cellist-turned-conductor Susanna Mälkki as “one of the figures of today in terms of leading orchestras now and leading orchestras who are … particulary interested in contemporary music.” In this 2013 interview, recorded from a dressing room at Orchestra Hall in Chicago, Andrew talked with Mälkki during her week conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a program of Sibelius, Thomas Adès, Stravinsky, and Debussy.  Mälkki discussed these programs and described how assembling programs is like creating a menu.  She discussed Finnish music and Finnish people, the Stravinsky Violin Concerto in D, Sibelius’s Suite No. 1 from The Tempest, Op. 109, conducting teacher Jorma Panula, and contemporary music. (Recorded October 21, 2013)

Leonard Slatkin

Leonard Slatkin

In a program from 2014, Andrew Patner’s guest was conductor and “figure in the American music landscape” Leonard Slatkin. The program was recorded when Slatkin was in town to lead performances of Schuman, Barber, Bates, and Gershwin with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, ahead of his long-awaited return to the Grant Park Music Festival. The maestro discussed that return, his work with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and the music of William Schuman. (Recorded April 21, 2014)