Lemberg Maestro

  • Lemberg Maestro
  • Lemberg Maestro
Issue 9, January 2009.

Lemberg Orchestra Maestro Mattes 

Swiss maestro Gunhard Mattes is the founder and conductor of Lviv’s internationally-acclaimed INSO Lemberg orchestra, which celebrated its tenth anniversary at the close of 2008. A child prodigy who went on to perform alongside some of the greatest figures in modern classical music and lead the Chinese National Symphony Orchestra in Beijing, Mr. Mattes has formed a special bond with Lviv and created one of the most sparkling orchestras in the region.

How did music became such a big part in your Life? Was it your childhood dream to be a musician?

In my very early childhood I was already listening to classical music together with my father, and I can recall that when I first held a musical score in my hands I experienced a peculiar feeling which ran through my whole body. It was like solving a riddle, unraveling a mystery. When I began studying at the Zurich School of Music (today known as the Zurich University of the Arts) at the age of fifteen, I was already convinced that I wanted to be a professional musician. At that time, however, I had no possibility of studying professional conducting in Switzerland. So I decided to study oboe first, and I graduated with three diplomas.



When you first visited Lviv in 1998 what impression did the post-Soviet city make on you?

I remember that it was pouring with rain and terribly cold. The city’s appearance was cold and gray, but I felt comfortable and cozy right away. However, at that time there was no water and the telephone did not work either. As a result I always had that awkward sensation in the back of my mind that my family could not contact me. This was before mobile phones became so commonplace.



Last year your orchestra INSO Lemberg celebrated its 10th anniversary. What was the idea behind the orchestra when you first set it up in 1998?

We had a very clear idea of what we wanted to achieve right from the outset: talented and motivated young musicians were to be given a chance to create a future without having to worry about the struggle to survive. They were to be given the basis for existence, allowing them to pursue their true and inner calling. The idea was to take away the hardship and day-to-day fears that haunted people in the late 1990s. Our motto was “helping young people to help themselves.”



Did you initially expect the INSO Lemberg project to prove such a hit with international audiences?

No, not at all. In 1998 I was a prisoner of my emotions; I felt that I just had to help in some way. At the time I did not really think about the future or about having such great success with this orchestra. I was just focused on helping and supporting the musicians themselves.



INSO Lemberg generally presents a very broad repertoire - what role does this diversity play in the orchestra’s success? 

Unfortunately famous international pieces continue to play a major role in the Western world of classical concerts. When INSO Lemberg are touring in Switzerland I would love to play more Ukrainian composers. However, they are still unknown there. The typical classical audience attends concerts in large numbers when we play Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn and other famous names. If the names of the performers were Lanjuk, Skorek and Bordkievitch then the concert halls we played would remain half empty.



As someone who has conducted and performed all over the globe in some of the world’s most prestigious venues, have you noticed any particular traits among different audiences?

Our concerts in the West are attended by a very particular audience. They know the orchestra already and they know that after the concert they will leave with a sense of delight because the music they will have heard lingers on in body and soul. All the same, I feel that the expectations we have created are very high because in the West we have gotten used to having well-known orchestras, soloists, and conductors. I am all the more happy for the musicians of the INSO Lemberg if the concerts conclude with a standing ovation by the audience – which is practically always the case.

Needless to say that the orchestra is well-known in Lviv, and many relatives and friends of the orchestra attend our home town concerts. I am particularly pleased to see so many young listeners at our concerts! Moreover, I perceive a high degree of expertise among the Lviv audience which I accredit to the city’s various music schools and music academy.




Which piece of classical music best captures the essence of Lviv? 

Well, for me that would be the compositions by Myroslav Skoryk and Yury Lanjuk. However, in the meantime, many brilliant, young composers have come forward, and I would certainly like to provide them with a platform for presenting their works.



What are the future prospects for the Lviv’s long-standing classical music tradition?  

I am still convinced that Lviv is home to many world class musicians. It is my dream to unite these outstanding artists in one orchestra - thus making Lviv known to the entire world! Unfortunately, a lack of the necessary financial means is preventing me from realizing this vision.



How has classical music culture evolved over the past ten years in Lviv?

Much has changed since 1998. Ten years ago, most local musicians would have been more than happy to have the chance of playing in an orchestra like INSO Lemberg. Nowadays, they can pick and choose, at least for the moment. I assume that this situation will change with today’s financial crisis. This surplus of demand has had a negative impact: professionalism, in terms of performance as well as quality of practice, is suffering. Today, the emphasis is on performing everywhere possible and making money. It is obvious that with this work ethic not all rehearsals can be attended, something which is a must for a performance to be more than satisfactory. Musicians show up unprepared at rehearsals – not to mention the poor levels of discipline before and during rehearsals, leaving one with the impression that this wonderful and valuable work within an orchestra is no longer taken seriously. All these facts make me feel rather sad. Foreign tourists, for example, who buy a concert ticket with pleasure and anticipation, are not ignorant. They often have expert knowledge and can compare the quality of individual orchestras.



Where is your favourite spot in Lviv?

For me, the Hotel Leopolis in downtown Lviv is a place of peace and calm. Here I can recover from the problems and challenges of everyday orchestra life. The receptionists welcome you with a gentle and warm smile which makes you immediately feel comfortable and at home. The personnel is most obliging and the service is very good. I often finish the day having a Ukrainian beer at the bar. I also like to spend time on the town hall square, tracing past and imagining future times. Here, I am looking for Franz Xaver Mozart, the youngest son of W. A. Mozart, imagining him walk past this wonderful square towards the opera or the music academy. I often ask myself where the old philharmonic has been or where F. X. Mozart has lived and if the house is still there. I also like the old Polish and Jewish inscriptions on the walls – unfortunately, there are not many of them left. They are witnesses of an era long gone!




What is your favourite Lviv dish?

To be honest, I long for the good old days. I have lost count of how many times I have praised the freshness of Ukrainian cuisine. Practically every restaurant used to serve wonderful, simple but most delicate dishes. I love red borshch, varenyky, and julien, but I also enjoy red caviar. I always recommend my friends dried meat to go with their beer…



How would you describe Lviv to friends elsewhere in Europe?

I would tell them that Lviv is a marvelous, highly cultural city with a myriad of architectural buildings. A visit to Lviv is always worthwhile: the many museums, the beautiful Opera House or the vibrant Prospekt offer many entertaining hours for tourists. In these past ten years, I have taken many tourists to Lviv, and to this day, no one has been able to resist the charms of this special city and its warm-hearted residents. I hope that Lviv can gain the recognition it deserves.