Pablo Heras-Casado: No Watch, No Baton, Lots of Talent

Pablo Heras-Casado
Pablo Heras-Casado, principal conductor of the Orchestra of St. Luke's. He will conduct the group at Carnegie Hall. Photographer: Paul Goguen/Bloomberg

New Yorkers, weep.

Had it not been for the incompetents running the New York City Opera into the ground, a most remarkable young conductor would have been on the podium there these last three years.

Pablo Heras-Casado had started looking for an apartment in Manhattan when he learned he did not, in fact, have a job with the company.

Neither did the man who hired him, arts manager Gerard Mortier, who quit before taking office because his promised budget had shrunk dramatically.

The Spanish Heras-Casado, now 35, roamed the world instead, soaring into the conducting stratosphere.

He records with Harmonia Mundi, presides over Freiburg’s baroque orchestra, guests at major orchestras and as of now leads the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, meaning he will finally spend more time in New York.

Wearing a snappy jacket with differently colored buttons by Desigual, Heras-Casado stopped by Bloomberg’s world headquarters in New York for lunch with the Muse team.

Hoelterhoff: How did you find out it was not going to work out at City Opera?

Heras-Casado: I opened the newspaper, and then I called my manager and said: “We have six months to fill.”

Lots of ‘Carmens’

Hoelterhoff: Great. You’ve focused on orchestral music, but are scheduled to do lots of “Carmens,” the opera Spaniards seem doomed to conduct.

What’s the piece you most want to do as you build your repertoire?

Heras-Casado: “Wozzeck!” For me, this is one of the top five or six works in opera history.

Hoelterhoff: When you step in front of a new orchestra for the first time in Vienna or Berlin, how do you establish rapport with players who’ve seen so many come and go?

Heras-Casado: I don’t like to talk very much. I present myself and then I play the piece through without stopping.

Hoelterhoff: I notice you are not wearing a watch.

Heras-Casado: I don’t wear any kind of jewelry. My friends joke I might change my mind with a Rolex.

Hoelterhoff: You also don’t use a baton?

Heras-Casado: No, I am left-handed. One of my early teachers said: Musicians are already very unsympathetic to conductors. If you even take your baton with the left hand, you are not going to make any friends in the orchestra.

Losing the Baton

So I went home, closed the door and for many, many days I was waving this way and that and became skilled enough. But I never felt it was really an extension, and so I just stopped with the baton.

Hoelterhoff: You’re traveling as many miles as a CEO. Any advice?

Heras-Casado: If it’s five hours plus, I travel first class. I need space for my scores since I study aboard and travel alone. It’s a very useful time to work.

I did get a personal assistant recently to help get me around.

Hoelterhoff: Do you listen to music on your iPod?

Heras-Casado: I like to listen to very early music, composed in the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.

But I also listen to say, Esperanza Spalding. I love her. She plays the bass amazingly, and the voice is beautiful -- every note has color.

Hoelterhoff: Would you consider doing a piece with her?

Heras-Casado: I would love to. Maybe Weill’s “Mahagonny” songs or his “Seven Deadly Sins.”


Hoelterhoff: What do you do after a concert in a strange town?

Heras-Casado: I cannot go back to the hotel. If there are musicians around, I always invite them to go out. In Gothenburg, I was recently…

Hoelterhoff: Gothenburg! Where the sun never shines?

Heras-Casado: Yes. The orchestra is very good. And the musicians run their own bar, the Sibelius bar. You draw your own beer. It’s great!

Hoelterhoff: New pieces? I hear you’re set for a world premiere in Madrid, where Mortier became intendant.

Heras-Casado: It’s composed by Mauricio Sotelo and based on one of Lorca’s hermetic and abstract plays, “El Publico.” It’s quite surreal.

Hoelterhoff: How do you invest your money?

Dream House

Heras-Casado: I like old houses. My dream was having a house in the Moorish quarter of Granada. The Alhambra Palace is on a hill and then in front of the Alhambra is another hill. In the middle is the most beautiful stream in the world.

The architectural model is Arab with narrow streets up and down, and a type of house called “Carmen.”

Hoelterhoff: Carmen?

Heras-Casado: From the Arab, meaning like a garden or vineyard.

You enter through a small door, and it’s like a paradise, with fountains and trees.

The luckiest houses face the Alhambra.

Hoelterhoff: Do you have a lucky house?

Heras-Casado: Yes, I have a lucky house.

(Manuela Hoelterhoff is executive editor of Muse, Bloomberg’s arts and culture section. Any opinions are her own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)

See more interviews and stories by Manuela Hoelterhoff. Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on Broadway and Mark Beech on music.

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