Sinopoli conducts music in context of larger issues

April 20, 1994|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

Conductor Giuseppe Sinopoli gets right to the point.

"I am very interested in the way music expresses the tensions and conflicts in our society and in our lives," he says. "Music is not something isolated; there is always a cultural and psychological context."

The 45-year-old Italian is something of an expert on the extra-musical matters about which he speaks. He received a medical degree in his native country more than 20 years ago and then completed the equivalent of a residence in psychiatry.

He no longer practices medicine, but he is performing music in a major way -- most imminently tonight at the Kennedy Center, where he'll conduct Germany's Dresden Staatskappelle Orchestra in works of Wagner, Schoenberg and Beethoven.

In the last 15 years, Sinopoli has become one of the star conductors of his generation. He regularly guest conducts the world's great orchestras.

Sinopoli's qualities as an interpreter were announced in one of his first records, a daring reading of Schumann's Symphony No. 2. In it, he made the slow movement resemble a nervous breakdown, which let the scherzo erupt in barely controlled frenzy. Schumann was a psychotic, but, Sinopoli adds, "There is not one important composer who is absolutely normal. Genius is itself a variety of freakishness and great art is a kind of sublimation of that deviance."

It is possible to take issue with some of Sinopoli's performances, but not with the seriousness of his convictions. In an age in which conductors often seem little more than traffic cops keeping things orderly on the outside, Sinopoli approaches music from the inside.

"Technical accuracy and precision are important matters," the conductor says. "But for me what is most important in performance is the message to humanity."

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