Jan 22

‘Playing with the Concertgebouw orchestra is like playing football for Real Madrid’

An interview with Arno Piters by Ansie de Swardt

“A dream come true,” said Arno Piters, out from Amsterdam to tutor the young clarinettists of the SANYO at their Summer Course, about playing in the famous Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.  “It’s like football: The game is nice, but it is even nicer if you play with Real Madrid or Manchester United.”

The Concertgebouw attracts illustrious conductors.  Piters played with the former chief conductor Bernard Haitink (now retired). “He is not demanding you to play; he is always inviting you to play. Some conductors give you this [makes a pointing gesture], he always gives you this [makes an open hand inviting gesture].” 

The current resident conductor is Daniele Gatti and Piters has great admiration for his technical and listening skills, and his interpretation of pieces. “He does not listen to many recordings, he says, as he wants to re-create each piece for himself.”

Claudio Abbado, who is in the top three of most ‘best conductor’ lists, was another story: Piters auditioned for the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra but then got the (permanent) job at the Concertgebouw; on the same day as he got accepted for Abbado’s orchestra.  Under pressure from the former he declined the latter, to his perpetual regret (Abbado passed away in 2014).

I then wanted to know the obvious: was it his first visit to South Africa? And?… He responded with great enthusiasm that there was something about the vibe here that he could not put his finger on, and was still trying to figure out.  Perhaps an unusual openness, he speculated.  He paid homage to his own teachers, saying how much as they had influenced and inspired him, and now his wish was ‘to be a little inspiring’ to his students.

His teaching technique is based very much on the approach of his teachers, which is to give hints and tips, but to ‘force’ the students to discover many of the aspects of the music by playing it for themselves.  And how did the students respond? “People here are very open, so that when I teach one-on-one, all the others are really paying attention and listening and following everything. Not on their phones or playing a game or staring out of the window or picking their noses!”

Tiaan Uys, one of Arno Piters’ students at the Summer Course, after his performance as a soloist with the orchestra. Photo by Cornel van Heerden.