Gabriel Bebeselea

Gabriel Bebeșelea, conductor: “There is an exodus of Romanian musicians because culture is highly underfinanced.”

At only 33 years old, Gabriel Bebeșelea is already considered by specialists form around the world as one of the most talented conductors born in Romania in the last decades.

He has won numerous international contests, including a scholarship at the famous Royal Concertgebow in Amsterdam.

This fall he was named main conductor of the George Enescu Philharmonic, in the same time being the main conductor at the “Transilvania” State Philharmonic in Cluj-Napoca. His career began shining as far back as 2011, when he was named main conductor of The iași Opera, becoming the youngest head of orchestra to occupy such a position in Romania.

He has conducted important orchestras, such as Rundfunk Sinfinieorchester in Berlin, Barcelona Symphony Orchestra (OBC), Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse, Konzerthausorchester Berlin, The Arturo Toscanini Philharmonic, The Russian National Philharmonic Orchestra or Singapore Symphony Orchestra.

In Romania he gained the title of doctor in music at the age of 31, summa cum laude.

He lives in Vienna, but he wishes to give back to Romania what he has learned overseas.

The passion with which he speaks about music is contagious, and his youth can be a breath of fresh air in a field widely regarded as “old”.

Where does your passion for classical music and conducting come from? How did it all start?

I was fortunate to be born into a family in which classical music was very important. Both of my parents have studied music, my father is a music professor, my uncle a cello player, my aunt is a pianist, so a family of musicians.

So, even before I was born, I believe, my road had been paved in this direction, even though my parents didn’t necessarily encourage me to chose this. I was free to chose whatever profession I wanted.

Only, surrounding myself by the world of music, I felt more attracted to this.

Did you first start by studying a certain instrument or were you attracted to conducting?

“There’s an anecdote that my mother told, that when I was a small child, around the age of 3, I was conducting the records played by my parents using knitting needles.”

Gabriel Bebeșelea, conductor

But I first studied the violin, from the age of 7, for 12 years, I’ve also studied piano, but then I concentrated on the path of conducting.

Why did you chose this path?

If I think about that anecdote, I believe this path chose me.

It was something that attracted me for a long time, I was very interested by composition, conducting, by 11-12 years old I had already started reading many treaties, books in this direction.

I was very interested by what happens inside the musical phenomena and more than being inside like this, I don’t believe there is a way.

It was somehow a natural step to directing.

Could you point out a moment in your career when you took steps abroad, when you stood out overseas?

It wasn’t a single moment. I consider myself lucky for having a lot of professors.

In Romania I studied with the master Petre Sbârcea and the master Horia Andreescu, after that, outside the country I had a scholarship at Royal Concertgebouw, where I saw all the great conductors. And this changed me radically, because seeing great conductors work day by day is something absolutely fantastic.

photo: Amelie Losier

Could you give us some examples, conductors whom you saw working during these studies in Amsterdam?

I was very much influenced by Mariss Jansons. He was the chief conductor of the orchestra and I was fortunate to watch him many times during rehearsals.

But, actually, what was more interesting was that week by week, I would learn something new, absorb something new, information that ended up being useful to me in the music that I made down the line.

Some I only observed rehearsing, and with others I was fortunate to work actively.

Then, one of the conductors that have influenced me a great deal was Bernard Haitink, with whom I also worked.

Seeing a great conductor daily, one can only model one’s self and become better, because such musical colossuses simply transmit the energy and desire to make better music.

Did it matter, in any way, the fact that you are a Romanian? Perhaps coming from a country that has produced many important conductors?

It didn’t matter neither in a positive way, nor in a negative way. But, truly, it is highly important to have a basis, a culture, not only musically.

The conductor must be highly engaged in anything regarding art, conducting doesn’t mean only music and getting a composer’s message across. This message can be better transmitted, the richer life experience you have.

What else makes a conductor complete?

I tend to believe that the role of the conductor isn’t that of dictating the interpretations, but that to inspire.

That of doing a very complex analysis of the composition, of discovering the key in which that message can be transmitted to the public.

It’s a rather complex path, if we think about it.

“The conductor converts the musical score into sound, in his head, and the, together with the orchestra, plans the interpretation so that everything reflects towards the audience.”

So, I think it’s more an exchange of energy.

I believe in the inspirational role of the conductor, not that of dictation and convincing by force.

Gabriel Bebeșelea/ photo: facebook

Regarding musical studies, do you think it is essential for a young musician to have access to international education, in order to evolve?

Absolutely. And not only regarding conducting. I would advise everyone to travel as much as possible, to see as many systems, not only educational, to observe as many aspects as possible, to absorb more.

This could lead to the improvement of the system, not only educational, in Romania. And regarding a musician, a musician that doesn’t travel, cannot be up to date, does not have access to all the information.

A musician that does not travel, doesn’t have terms of comparison. Without these terms of comparison, it’s difficult, if not impossible to persevere.

Then, how important does the financial aspect become in the development of a musical career?

It is and it is not. There are many scholarships, many possibilities. Anytime a young conductor asks me what to do, I point him toward those scholarships, the ones I had access to.

I was fortunate to be able to apply to some grants and thus get to follow these conductors, to watch them, to ask the, to get modeled by.

Gabriel Bebeșelea/ photo: Ionuț Macri

Could you describe your vision as a conductor? How would you like the concerts you conduct to be like?

Firstly, the composer’s message is the most important. But, during this pandemic, I have reflected on our role as musicians. Why do we do this?

Especially as this is the only period in time in which concert halls have been closed. Even during world wars they were not closed, because they were comforting the spirit of people affected by the war.

An I have arrived at the conclusion that, in fact, we are the ones who should create a sanctuary for the concert going audience.

I believe that the audience comes to the concert hall to isolate themselves from the mundane. And then, the more responsible and honest our interpretation, the more it’s based on musical analysis, the more we succeed in creating this sanctuary.

There is this misconception that classical music is especially appreciated by the elderly. Are you thinking about the repertoire that you will chose at the George Enescu Philharmonic to attract the youth?

I’m not a believer in hook works. There’s an expression in The United States – crowd pleasers – meaning these well known works, that if they are in the poster, the concert is sold out.

I believe this is a cheap and easy recipe. On a short term it can bring audience, but on the long run it doesn’t create anything but a chain of weakness – you’ll end up doing only crowd pleasers.

I believe in something else. I believe in conceptualization. I believe in the concept-concert, in the whole story behind the concert and I think that if the work is well bound, regardless of it’s genre, it’s style the composer or the period it was made in, these can attract young audience, but it’s important that the message of the concert is directed toward this.

Is there a migration phenomenon in the musical field, one of musicians leaving the country, to join bigger orchestras? For example, at the Enescu Festival, in almost all of the invited orchestras there are Romanian musicians, some even heads of orchestra.

Yes, such as at Royal Concertgebouw, Liviu Prunaru is a concertmaster. A lot of the orchestras all over the world have Romanian musicians. This only cements what I said earlier – musicians travel.

Their mobility is an absolutely natural and necessary aspect. Because their development depends on this journey.

But do you think that Romania has got a problem in keeping it’s talented youth? That it doesn’t offer enough financial and professional support?

This is where I wanted to get to.

“There’s an exodus of Romanian musicians, not just a mobility. That is absolutely necessary, but here, things are happening at an accelerated pace. Because here, culture is highly underfinanced.”

It is extraordinarily and painfully underfinanced.

We can talk about the greatest orchestras in Romania, they will never compare, financially, to the orchestras of Hungary, let’s say. They can not become competitive in this regard.

The artists’ international circuit reaches Romania through The Enescu Festival, that has an immense contribution.

And as to the artists, the critical aspect, this is also a problem of the educational system, that in numerous ways has, and I’m sorry to say this, many flaws.

And it’s a key point, upon which I would insist, because all of these musicians have left Romania during their studies.

They have left to perfect their art and have found an artistic direction. Then, it is difficult to return to Romania, where the educational system is underfinanced, culture is underfinanced.

And the, what keeps you, a young conductor, motivated to conduct two Romanian orchestras, especially given that you are living in Vienna.

I am very much preoccupied as to what is happening in Romania, because this is where I started my studies.

I think that it is important that those who managed to study abroad, to bring something back to Romania. And I’m not the only one. There are a lot of Romanian conductors having a career abroad and returning with love. And o lot of players, but not to work in an orchestra.

I hope that Romania will reach the point of attracting young musicians back, after their forming in prestigious universities abroad.

Do you think that Romania also has a problem regarding the infrastructure of the concert halls?

To say the least.

“It is very painful that Romania hasn’t built a concert hall from start to finish, after the second World War”

All of the halls have been built for something else and then transformed, or there were changes brought to cinemas.

Romania has not built a hall and I say this with great pain – it is the only country in the area that has managed this counter-performance.

There are countries that are not part of The European Union that have built concert halls to respect their own culture and to respect their guests.

In fact, the instrument of an orchestra is the hall. Without a good hall, it doesn’t matter if they play very well, they will never reach their full potential.

And The Palace Hall has got only one advantage – it’s very large, that’s it.

Do you think that we have come to this situation also because of the lack of good cultural management?

What I can say is that there is a lack of a cultural politic, the lack of a coherence between cultural management and what is happening at the highest level.

Normally, minding the level reached by The Enescu Festival, we should have had a concert hall of international standards.

I would love for somebody to come with a strategy in which they have in mind the benefits of a multi-functional concert hall, one that could be used intelligently from event to event.

During this pandemic, do you agree with the recording and transmitting online of the concerts? There have been many musicians that have said that music should only be listened to live, in a concert hall.

Here I, myself, am split.

On the one hand, I agree with Sergiu Celibidache, he was totally right. Once the music leaves the concert hall and the audience is not there, they do not experience these things we were talking about.

Music is not like the other arts, you can not paint some more lines or shoot another take.

On the other hand, Nobody has ever lived something like this until now. We were forced to put a stop to our activity and try to find some survival mechanisms in these times, as do all the other fields.

It’s about survival.

“If we stop completely and wait for the moment in which we can make only live music, only in front of an audience, we might have to wait so long that the art will die completely.”

And then, I believe that survival of the art, of the musicians and the audience – these come first. Obviously, by respecting all of the current rules.

You were saying that being a complete conductor is also about life experience. What other passions do you have, other than classical music?

I like jazz music, I even have a concert ticket in Vienna, but it got canceled. I love traveling and reading. In fact, one of the best aspects of my profession is that I get to travel a great deal.

And I love going into the archives and studying manuscripts. Discovering lost works of doing somewhat of a musical detective work, following a theory, seeing if it confirms or not.

And some of the greatest satisfactions I’ve had in libraries, when I’ve discovered works that I had searched for years.

Gabriel Bebeșelea/ photo: Ionuț Macri

Is Vienna the city in which you’ve decided to settle down?

I’ve studied in Vienna and then it was somehow natural to stay here, because it’s very easy to travel.

Other than the fact that it’s one of the perfect cities for a musician.

How do you see yourself in the future, what would you like to do and where?

I don’t have a where, but I have a what: music, as well as I can.

I want to be the best version of myself when I’m in front of an orchestra and in front of an audience.

As an ending, do you have any advice for the youth wanting a musical career and for their parents?

For the youth – be brave, because that will open many paths, and to the parents – if they see their children dreaming, encourage those dreams.

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