New LACO Director Jaime Martín's Secret Love: the Violin

March 13, 2018, 2:10 PM · "Violin was the instrument I wanted to play; it's the reason I'm a musician," said Jaime Martín, the conductor (and wicked-good, London-based flute player) who just became the new Music Director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. "When I was eight, my father took me to a symphony orchestra concert. Nobody in my family is a musician, but my father liked music and so he took me to a concert. The concert program was Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony and Pictures at a Exhibition - I was in tears! The next day I said to my parents, 'I want to learn to play the violin.'"

Unfortunately, in Santander, the city in the north of Spain where Martín grew up, there were no violin teachers. "So I started playing the flute. But the music I really loved, was violin music."

On Feb. 20 Martín was named LACO's new Music Director, replacing Jeffrey Kahane, who stepped down in June 2017 after 20 years. Martín will be the group's sixth conductor; besides Kahane, Martín follows Sir Neville Marriner, Gerard Schwarz, Iona Brown and Christof Perick.

Jaime Martiín
Jaime Martín. Photo by Alexander Lindstro¨m.

From all indications, LACO fell head-over-heals for Martín, and it all happened very quickly. In September he conducted a program that featured Joshua Bell performing the Bernstein "Serenade," and by the beginning of March Martín was speaking as Music Director Designate, at a reception in his honor.

"I did that concert at the end of September, and then one week after I got this phone call, saying, 'We need to do something again," Martín told me at the reception. With an international search well under way to replace Kahane, Martín had been under the impression that he was too late for consideration. Evidently not.

"The orchestra has really been energized by his artistic approach," said LACO concertmaster Margaret Batjer. "He has such a natural way of leading LACO because of his experience, his long career as a principal flutist."

Indeed, Martín held principal flute positions in many orchestras in London, including the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra of Europe, and for 18 years, the Academy of St. Martin in the Field, conducted at the time by Sir Neville Marriner. In fact, it was Marriner who encouraged Martín's conducting.

"One day he said, 'Jaime, you should conduct!" and I said, 'Why do you say that?' and he said, 'Because you are already conducting from the flute chair!'"

Once Martín took up the baton, Marriner predicted, "In five years' time, you will not be playing the flute any more."

"He was right, almost to the day," Martín said. After five years, Martín quit playing in orchestra because conducting had become the bigger part of his life. Martín now serves as artistic director and principal conductor of Sweden's Gävle Symphony Orchestra, chief conductor of Spain's Orquestra de Cadaqués and artistic director of the Santander International Festival.

Marriner died in 2016, and shortly thereafter Marriner's wife gave Martín a gift: Marriner's baton case, with all the maestro's batons inside it.

"I think what I learned from playing in the orchestra is that an orchestra is an extraordinary collection of amazing people," Martín said. "There are a lot of things that an orchestra can do on its own, without a conductor. I think that the function of the conductor is not to be a traffic cop." Instead, a conductor has to take all the energy that is in the orchestra and direct it, in a natural way. A conductor must convince each member of the orchestra to go the same path, even when they inevitably have different tastes and opinions. "If you establish the communication lines, and the respect for each other, then they'll say, 'Okay, I will try that,'" Martín said.

"I do believe that in an orchestra, the sound of the strings is the heart, but the character is given by the soloists in the winds," Martín said. He said he was never a "flute fanatic"; above being a flute player, he has always seen himself as a musician.

"I was always sorry not to have tried to play the violin," Martín said. "If you play the violin, you can play string quartets, and if you can play string quartets, then you can be happy."

"I never knew the flute repertoire when I was young, but I knew the violin repertoire," he said. He remembers, as a child, making a wonderful discovery when playing the LP of one of his father's favorite pieces of music, "Finlandia," by Sibelius. It was a recording by Herbert von Karajan, with the Berlin Philharmonic.

"'Finlandia' was the 'side B' of the LP, and the first track on side B was the violin concerto by Sibelius, with Christian Ferras," Martín said. "So when I tried to put on the beginning of 'Finlandia,' of course the needle always went a little bit to the end of the Sibelius (He sings it). Then I thought, I have to listen to that from the beginning!" He fell in love with the Sibelius Violin Concerto, "so I started to listen to Milstein, the violin concertos; and Kogan had a beautiful recording of Glazunov," Martín said. "I remember comparing Brahms Violin Concerto between the Heifetz-Chicago-Reiner with the Oistrakh recording. I loved the sound of the G string of the violin, I like the deeper sound, I love the sound of the Guarneri del Gesù."

Sitting in the orchestra, he recalls performing with Gidon Kremer, who played a del Gesù when recording the Schumann Violin Concerto with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. "I was playing the flute, so I heard the sound of the back of his violin, and this sound, this low sound, I thought this was really irresistible," Martín said. "I love very much del Gesùs."

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March 14, 2018 at 07:34 PM · "If you play the violin, you can play string quartets, and if you can play string quartets, then you can be happy." -- Haha, this should be on a t-shirt!

March 14, 2018 at 08:00 PM · Gene, he pretty much won me over 100 % when he said that! It's so true, I'd totally buy the shirt.

March 18, 2018 at 02:57 PM · Excellent article, Laurie.

However, the provincialism of my ancestral roots showed through when I read your reference to the very elegant city of Santander as a "town"—and I cringed. ;~)

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