Conductor Norrington: classical music's good for you

Wed Mar 11, 2009 11:41am EDT
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - It pleases British conductor Sir Roger Norrington no end that when he conducted a 16th century opera in Italy exactly as the composer intended, a reviewer called it "prophetic and modern."

"That's how it can sound when you get 'near' a composer," Norrington, who will celebrate his 75th birthday on Monday by conducting a gala concert in London's Royal Festival Hall, told Reuters in an interview.

The amateur violinist and singer who turned professional conductor in his late 20s has infuriated and delighted listeners, probably in about equal number, ever since he began what he calls a "mission" to perform music, old and new, as closely as possible to what he thinks the composer had in mind.

"When it's a living composer I call them up on the phone," Norrington told Reuters, over the phone.

"When it's a dead one I have to try and get near enough so it's a 'local call'," he added, by which he means he consults old texts and fills in the blanks from experience.

The result is Beethoven at tempos some conductors might consider a gallop. He also abhors vibrato, the lush but wobbly sound of strings and woodwinds that he sees as a blight inflicted in the 1930s, and favors what he calls "pure tone."

He's a self-confessed popper of pills as well -- taking some 150 a day -- as part of a diet and medical regime that has helped him survive melanoma cancer since being diagnosed more than 17 years ago.

But it's not just the pills that keep him going.   Continued...

<p>People play in a fountain in front of the renovated Royal Festival Hall in London before the reopening celebrations in this file photo from June 8, 2007. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor</p>