For many of our readers, Maestro Glen Fast does not need much of an introduction. He has been the face of the Kingston Symphony for 20 years now (although I suppose concert goers are more familiar with his back…). His big anniversary was celebrated this past Sunday at the Grand Theatre with the symphony’s final concert of the season, Simply Beethoven. The concert was a smashing success with a sell-out crowd for Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, Triple Concerto and the famous 5th Symphony. As a member of the violin section I feel very lucky to work with Glen. As a specialist in his field, he knows how to bring out the best in his orchestra, always pushing us to work our hardest, but he is also very personable, funny and down to earth. You can see him discussing the Kingston Symphony in a monthly video blog as well as the newly released video promoting the 2011-2012 season. He is always willing to support his orchestra so when I proposed an interview, he agreed without hesitation.
1. The Kingston Symphony has been very supportive of works by notable composers in Kingston such as those of recent Juno award winners and Queen’s professors John Burge and Marjan Mozetich. Why is it important to you to support and premiere works by local composers?
I am fascinated by the creative process of composers. I have tried myself to compose music at times but only hear the music of others. It takes years of hard work and a very special talent to find one’s own voice. I believe the composers in Kingston that we feature are very special in this regard and deserve to be supported. It is exciting to vicariously be a part of the creative process and bring new music to life.
2. We are lucky to have a full association of musicians including the Kingston Choral Society, the Kingston Youth Orchestra and the Community Strings in addition to the Kingston Symphony. How would you like to see Kingston’s classical music scene develop further? What dream concert would you love to be a part of?
Kingston is very rich in the tradition and love for “Classical” music. So much of our success depends on the dedication of musicians, choristers and the many volunteers working behind the scenes. As the city grows, there will be more resources and audience available to ensure that artistic quality continues to improve and the Kingston Symphony Association prospers.
My dream concerts would include Mahler Symphonies and live operas. How about a month dedicated to all the Prokoviev Symphonies! Signs on buses advertising Shostakovich week! A Canadian Music Festival!
3. Do you have any rituals before and/or after a concert? Any superstitions?
I have for the last 15 years worn the same shoes and cuff links for every concert. I bought them in Mexico when I was giving concerts there. I suppose in a way I consider them “lucky” and I find comfort in the fact that they have done it all with me before. Before concerts I try to keep quiet and focused. I always iron my shirt. Usually the last thought I have before going on stage is how lucky I am to have the privilege of experiencing great music in this way.
There is often a tinge of sadness after performing a great work, knowing it may be years before I have a chance to perform it again. It is hard to say goodbye to such an intense experience. A wee dram with good company can cure this……
4. Which composers and conductors, alive or dead, have inspired you the most in your career?
No surprises here. My early years were full of Bach, Beethoven and Mozart with a twist of Rossini. Then came the romantics, Brahms and Schumann. Of course, I had a great period of love for Mahler which continues. Schubert is the greatest of them all. He saw beyond our existence and soared in a world of complete and profound bliss. On this foundation came the great 20th century composers and the music of our time. All I know about conducting comes from watching and listening to the great conductors. There are many.
5. You’ve played the violin, the piano, the flute and most recently the cello. What made you choose to pursue conducting over performance?
My destiny was driven by passion for the orchestral repertoire. Very early in life I formed an emotional bond with many great orchestral works. Music studies led to opportunities where I could explore and begin to learn the great art of conducting. In a way, conducting is not that different from mastering an instrument. Both take dedication and nerve.
6. You seem to move from classical repertoire to jazz and blues and Broadway tunes (some of which can easily be categorized as pop or rock) with ease. What music do you have in your CD player or MP3 play list that people might be surprised to learn about?
When I was a kid I wore out recordings of Louis Armstrong and Bernstein’s West Side Story. I loved the sound and energy of a juiced up jazz band. The complexities of jazz rhythms and harmonies are amazing. The sentiments are deliciously irreverent. As Satchmo said: “If you have to ask, you ain’t got it.”
I am not a snob. I just don’t like rock music. The energy is for young people and I seem to have missed that stage in my youth. I have no affinity or nostalgia for it at all. It is too loud and too simple. (End of rant….sorry.)
I seldom plan to listen to music. I prefer the random selection that comes to me over the radio. I also love silence!