Conductor Marc Minkowski: horses, Mozart made for each other

Wed Jul 30, 2014 1:41pm EDT
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By Michael Roddy

VERBIER Switzerland (Reuters) - French-American conductor Marc Minkowski loves music and his second passion is horses, so he is combining the two at a concert that will open the annual Mozart Week festival in Salzburg next year.

Nor is this going to be like an opera where someone leads a horse onstage and it stands there munching from a feed bag. Minkowski's horses will be performing inside Salzburg's 17th-century former "rock riding school", which was later transformed into a concert hall, to the music of Mozart's cantata "David Penitente" on the festival's opening day.

"The horse is a naturally musical animal, his rhythm is already musical and he's the best interpreter, the best dancer, you can find - of course with a decent rider," Minkowski, 52, told Reuters at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland where he conducted a rousing version of Beethoven's opera "Fidelio" last weekend - without any four-legged stars.

Minkowski, who has staged a horse-music event at a festival he runs in the spring on the Ile de Re off the west coast of France, is being aided and abetted in his project at the Mozart Week, where he is the artistic director, by the French horse-trainer extraordinaire who goes by the single name of Bartabas.

Details of what the horses will be doing are under wraps, but a horse trained by Bartabas can be seen in a YouTube video galloping backwards.

Minkowski said the link between horses and music should come as no surprise, since some of the first concert venues were built by the same architects who designed riding schools. The hall in Salzburg is just such a place, and was converted to concert use when the Salzburg Festival was founded in 1920.

"The orchestra and the singers will be performing in some arcades and the horses will be ... in the middle, after years of absence from this space for these animals. It will be quite an event," Minkowski said over coffee on the patio of a Verbier hotel with a breathtaking view of the surrounding mountains.

Inventive programing comes naturally to Minkowski, who is known as a specialist in what are often called period - or historical - instruments, but who resents being pigeonholed.   Continued...