The former executive director of San Francisco Symphony, Mr Peter Pastriech participated for the first time as the judge for the 18th Tokyo International Music Competition for Conducting. In a book “The San Francisco Symphony” (Presidio Press) written by David Schneider (the then principal second violinist), he introduced, alongside a photo, that Mr Pastriech was “a strong negotiator who greatly contributed to the development of the orchestra”.
─ Q: May I first ask about your musical history?
PP: My stepfather was a professional musician - a dance band musician - so he wanted me to study some kind of instrument. So I played the trumpet when I was younger and studied the instrument in America and Paris. I studied English literature at Yale University and I took a year to study French literature at Sorbonne University in France and all this time I played the trumpet. Then, I went from Yale undergraduate to medical school in New York for a year and used to play the trumpet in the doctors’ orchestra. There, I met a conductor in the orchestra who told me about the orchestra management and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I wasn’t expecting to make my life in music and my parents expected me to be a doctor. I was going along with it for a while but I took a leave of absence from medical school and first managed a small orchestra in New York called the Greenwich Village Symphony. After a couple more orchestras, I managed St. Louis Symphony for 12 years and San Francisco Symphony for 22 years as an executive director in both orchestras.
─ Q: Have you been a judge on a competition before?
PP: I was a judge for the Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition in Bamberg, Germany twice. The first was in 2004 when Gustavo Dudamel won, and the second time was 2 years later but there were no first prize winners.
─ Q: Were the results of this Competition as you expected or completely different?
PP: I had a list of who I hoped would win and it was almost exactly the same so I was very happy.
─ Q: Did you expect Ms Okisawa to win the first prize?
PP: Yes. I knew she would make it to the finals but I wasn’t sure if she would come first. It was only after the “Don Juan” that it was clear. It is a very difficult piece and I think the judges realized how hard it was to do. But she did it so well and in a way, it was more impressive than having chosen Beethoven or Brahms which is not as technically hard to conduct.
─ Q: Was the final decision of the winner smooth?
Overwhelmingly, the ones who won did win by a large margin. The nature of this competition was that there was no discussion. People voted and they counted the vote. Nobody discussed their favorites nor tried to change other judge’s mind. In Bamberg, it was quite different from that but I think that both systems work fine.
─ Q: Were there any conductors who made an impression on you but didn’t make it to the final round?
PP: Dean Whiteside. He’s very talented and talented in an American way. And I thought that most juries who were Japanese did not react to him the way I did.
─ Q: Amongst the judges, you are the only person who does not actually go on stage.
PP: Perhaps I moreover have an audience view in comparison to others but I am a professional manager who managed symphony orchestra for 50 years. So I would say that my view is not exactly the same as the audience or the conductor.
─ Q: Do you think competition is the best way to find talent?
PP: It is a way to find talent. I was involved in hiring conductors, assisting conductors and music directors for orchestras for a long period. I would say that the competition played a small part in seeking them. Mostly, I went to concerts to see how they sounded. met the conductors and talked to them, and talked to other musicians and orchestras on which conductors they liked and learned something from. I also talked to other managers who dealt with other conductors and travelled to Europe, Asia and America to seek conductors.
─ Q: How would you define a good conductor?
PP: The most important thing is to ask whether he/she make the orchestra sound good. Do the concerts come out exciting and interesting? If you sit there and it’s boring and you’re falling asleep, then there’s no sense in continuing. But there are conductors who are exciting to listen to but would not be good musical directors for an orchestra who needs to hire and fire musicians, do touring, recording and help with the fundraising.
─ Q: Do you have any noteworthy young conductors in mind?
PP: A German associate conductor of San Francisco Symphony, Christian Reif is very talented. And I am also interested in looking for good women conductors.
─ Q: The winner of the competition this time is, in fact, a woman. So you don’t think gender matters in terms of conducting?
PP: No, not at all, but it’s not just about conducting.
─ Q: What was your impression of Min-On’s skills in organizing this Competition?
PP: Very organized. More organized than any other I’ve been.
─ Q: If you are asked to come again to judge, would you come?
PP: Oh sure, absolutely! With great pleasure.
─ Q: Thank you.