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Young Artist Profile: Michele Gamba

The Italian conductor and répétiteur on the ‘Pappano sound’ and why learning music is like using a good olive oil.

By Lottie Butler (Assistant Content Producer)

20 June 2014 at 7.43pm | Comment on this article

‘I discovered Beethoven’s 7th when I was six. I heard it playing in the kitchen, picked up a fork and started conducting,’ says Jette Parker Young Artist Michele Gamba. ‘From then on, I said I wanted to be a conductor.’

For Michele, music came early. He started playing the piano aged four, when he came home from school to find his parents had bought a piano, and gave his first solo piano performance at the age of 12 (he played Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 14).

He studied at the conservatoire in Milan, the Scuola di Musica di Fiesole in Tuscany and the Royal Academy of Music in London, and made his conducting debut at the Royal Festival Hall with the Future Firsts London Philharmonic Orchestra in 2009. He then worked as assistant conductor and répétiteur at the Hamburg State Opera, before joining the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme in 2012.

Next Season, after two years as a conductor and répétiteur on the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme, he will take up the post of Jette Parker Associate Conductor, assisting Royal Opera Music Director Antonio Pappano.

‘I hugely admire Tony as a conductor. He communicates fantastically with singers and orchestras, and the way he makes music is so natural and so physical,’ says Michele. ‘I was in the car a few months ago and I heard Brahms’ 2nd on the radio. It had this lush, warm quality to it, and I knew instantly it was Tony conducting! He has an unmistakable quality of sound – "the Pappano sound". It emanates from him in the pit and the rehearsal room.’

Michele is currently working as répétiteur for Pappano in rehearsals for Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.

‘Strauss really was a master of orchestration and Ariadne auf Naxos shows his genius. The instrumentation is exquisite. It very light and almost chamber-like, yet Strauss draws out very subtle colours as well as big outbursts of sound.’

In addition to his répétiteur duties, Michele will perform the celeste with the orchestra.

‘The celeste stands out clearly in the music; it brings a translucent quality to the orchestration,’ he says. ‘It is great to be in the pit with the orchestra as you can learn a lot. You understand the communication between the musicians and learn how to breathe with the body of the orchestra as a whole.’

Ariadne aux Naxos, which opens on 25 June, stars Karita Mattila and Thomas Allen.

‘Working with Thomas and Karita, it is easy to understand why they have such fame,’ says Michele. ‘Karita is making a role debut, yet it seems so natural for her and she makes it sound like a piece of cake. They are both true musicians who understand their characters, yet also bring something personal to the role.’

Since joining the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme in 2012, Michele has worked on a huge number of productions. His first Season included The Ring CycleLa bohèmeEugene OneginToscaWritten on SkinDon CarloSimon Boccanegra and La rondine.

‘It’s a very busy position as we are involved in everything for the Main Stage,’ says Michele. ‘I have to pace my study and start working on a piece at least four months in advance. I need time to really get into the music; I have to be able to play it through, listen to it and live with it for a while. It’s like using a good olive oil, I need to let it marinate! Ironically, the more disciplined you are with your practice, the freer you are with your music.’

This Season, he has worked on Les Vêpres siciliennesCarmenLa Fille du régimentLa traviata, Tosca and Dialogues des Carmélites.

‘Working on Les Vêpres siciliennes, a big new production with a long rehearsal period and a fantastic cast conducted by Antonio Pappano, was a highlight for me,’ he says. ‘With opera, there is so much traffic to deal with when conducting – you have staging, costumes, movement and chorus scenes – and it is all part of the conductor’s job to make these elements organic with the music. Les Vêpres siciliennes epitomized the ‘Pappano sound’ and it was wonderful for me to contribute to the musical result,’ he says.

‘To be working with Tony for the six productions he is conducting in the 2014/15 Season is a real honour. It will offer such a different palette of colours, and I can’t wait to get started!’

Michele will be conducting Act 1 of Così fan tutte for the JPYA Summer Performance on 20 July. The Jette Parker Young Artists Programme is supported by Oak Foundation. Find out more about the programme in our News and Features section.

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