Peruvian Miguel Harth-Bedoya is the Chief Conductor of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra in Oslo (KORK or Kringkastingsorgestret in Norwegian). He has also been Music Director of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra for seventeen years, as well as making appearances as guest conductor with a wide variety of orchestras and opera companies around the world.

© Helene Ulrichsen
© Helene Ulrichsen
You’ve been in post as Principal Conductor of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra for nearly three years now. How would you characterise its sound? How has its sound changed during your tenure?

Now as I answer this, I am actually starting my fourth year as Principal Conductor. The characteristic of the sound of KORK is its versatility. I don’t find that the orchestra has one particular sound but it’s an orchestra that adapts itself to any repertoire in very quick time and this has been proven because of the variety of repertoire that we do constantly. The sound does change for no other reason than every conductor hears things differently.  So, I don’t have a plan to change their sound, but it will change continuously because my ears hear it in a particular way.

This season, you have programmed Ginastera’s Harp Concerto. Is there a desire, coming from Peru, to including more music by Latin American composers in Oslo?

In brief, yes. We have been doing this already, including a recording of the music of Jimmy Lopez and a new CD album of works of the 21st century by young South American composers. It is a means of complementing the existing repertoire that we hear in Oslo and also I have an affinity for it. But at the same time, I’m as invested in Norwegian music or Scandinavian music, and music from anywhere, as I am in Latin American music.

 Are there any composers you are keen to introduce to the Norwegian public?

Oh yes sure, because the list of South American or Latin American composers is so large that I’m sure I will introduce more composers in due time.

On the converse side, you have performed (and recorded) Grieg since taking over your post. What have you learnt about Grieg through conducting a Norwegian orchestra? Do they bring something special to his music?

I find that Grieg is of great value to the Norwegians and to us Peruvians or foreigners, and yes, what is nice is that you get a certain feeling from the Norwegians playing Grieg. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the only way to play Grieg. For example, having recorded the Grieg Piano Concerto with a Ukrainian pianist, conducted by Peruvian conductor, played by a Norwegian orchestra – I think that having this variety of backgrounds and interpretations brings life to the music.

This season, the NRO is celebrating its 70th birthday. What are your anniversary highlights?

The Birthday Concert that happened on September 1st was our first highlight. It was an all Norwegian programme with Grieg through Tveitt and through two contemporary works of living composers. That to me was an exciting collaboration, which has also shown that my coming to Norway was to as much learn about Norway and its musical heritage as to bring additional repertoire to Norway. That concert will also be part of a recording project of Norwegian compositions by living composers. We also have another anniversary celebration later in October, and that one is with no Norwegian music on purpose, so that we can celebrate the orchestra playing any music, playing universal music. 

Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra © Julia Granberg
Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra
© Julia Granberg

You are taking the orchestra on a brief tour to Bucharest. How important is touring in today’s cultural climate?

Well, touring is hard. It’s tough because moving people and equipment is hard. But what is great is that basically it’s like the Olympics on a small scale. You meet with other colleagues that are in the same “sport”. In this case we are going to a Festival of Radio Orchestra where we are all presenting our work, except that we are not “competing”. I find it to be a great way of exporting music and musicians.

Two great friends, Brahms and Schumann, feature prominently in the coming season. What is it about the music of these two composers that you appreciate the most?

It’s just great music. Simply put, both Brahms and Schumann are able to write abstract music, music that has no storyline or literal content or context, and yet it’s music at its best.

Is Schumann's orchestral music, criticized for its weak orchestration, still neglected?

He was unique. You can criticize anybody for not fitting in to the “standard” sound or orchestration, but if anything, it’s one of the things I like about Schumann: that it throws you off slightly as a conductor or a standard orchestral musician. You have to make up for it; you have to figure out a way to convey Schumann’s ideas in the way they are written. Brahms is a little clearer because everything is explained, and it does work.

What is it about Brahms’ Double Concerto that appeals to you?

Like all the other concertos of Brahms, really these are orchestral works, with extensions of soloists or input of soloists. In this case the violin and the cello cover an immense range of possibilities rather than if, for example, it was just the violin. Perhaps it comes close to the piano, in which you can cover a lot more notes from high to low, except that it’s also the texture of two string instruments. It’s also a great opportunity to have two people play soloists in an orchestral work!

Is there a work which you never wish to conduct again?!

I don’t think there is one.  If there were such a piece, I would give it another chance, because it would mean that it would have been me who didn’t get the piece, not a problem with the piece itself.

Best tip would you give to a young conductor to cope with a difficult singer/soloist?!

Take a deep breath. And smile.

Which is your favourite and least favourite airport?

Oh, well actually, one of my favorite airports is the Dallas Fort Worth airport, because it is extremely convenient and efficient and it is my hub.  I don’t know if I have a least favorite – all airports seem to function as they are supposed to… so I would have to say that it would probably be any airport that doesn’t have espresso.

What do you sing in the shower?

Actually, I don’t sing in the shower! I like the silence!

 

This interview was sponsored by the Norwegian Radio Orchestra.