Karabits Shares with Ian Lace his Impressions of Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius

Kirill Karabits, Chief Conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, delivered a profoundly moving performance of Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius on May 15th 2019 to conclude the BSO’s 2018/19 season. Following this (click here), I asked Kirill Karabits about his impressions of Elgar’s masterpiece.

Kirill Karabits

IL: Can you please recall when you first heard The Dream of Gerontius and what first impressions you had of the work then?  Do you think it has a resonance, particularly for younger generations, in today’s increasingly secular and cynical world?

KK: I have actually never heard the work live and only started listening to recordings just before programming it and, of course, during the process of preparation for the performance with the BSO. It is difficult to say whether this work can make somebody become more religious, but certainly a mystical element of this composition can easily catch your imagination and open different levels of possibilities in understanding this work.

IL: Perhaps you have listened to a number of recordings of the work over the years? Please identify those that impressed you and why. If you were cast away on a desert island and you could only take one recording of The Dream of Gerontius, which one would that be and why?

KK: My preferred ones are conducted by Barenboim and Barbirolli, because of the very good voices and how the architecture and dramatic structure is built through the work. Both interpretations are different but are very convincing for me. I would probably take Barenboim’s recording on a desert island.

IL: What challenges and opportunities are presented in conducting The Dream of Gerontius?

KK: It is definitely the balance between the romantic musical language which has to be very rich and expressive; at the same time the story needs to provide a certain distance between the listener and performers leaving some space for reflection. I think this work, as well as other Elgar works, has to be “driven” by the conductor in order to keep the attention and not to lose the shape of changing scenes and episodes.

IL: Elgar had said that ‘This is the best of me…’  For yourself, what would you say are the most inspired sections of The Dream of Gerontius and, possibly, in contrast, the weakest?

KK: Difficult to say, I always try to consider a musical piece as a whole because certain sections would not function in the same way without what comes before, whether it is inspired or weak. My favourite moment is the end of duet between the Soul and Angel at the beginning of the second part.

IL: Looking forward, would you favour conducting other Elgar devotional works such as The Apostles, The Kingdom or The Light of Life?

KK: Yes, absolutely!

IL: Are there any religious/mystical works by other British composers that you would like to conduct; for instance, works by Vaughan Williams (including the mysticism implicit in his Fifth Symphony) or, say, Gerald Finzi’s Intimations of Immortality?

KK: Thanks for the ideas, I’m always interested in new repertoire. Another obvious name that comes to my mind as well is John Tavener…

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