Swiss Conductor Lorenzo Viotti on Balancing a Mental and Athletic Mindset
This summer, we launched our second tennis collection on leading Swiss conductor Lorenzo Viotti. The young maestro, age 29, has been rising talent in the opera and symphonic world since winning first at the prestigious Cadaqués Orchestra International Conducting Competition in 2013, succeeding global recognition. At JACQUES, we recognize Viotti as an exceptional role model, for his immense devotion and passion for his craft, coupled with his commitment to his active life practicing martial arts and as an avid tennis player. We had the opportunity to sit in on one of his rehearsals with the Gulbenkian Orchestra and speak with him about his profession’s parallels with his active life.
How did you get to where you are now?
I’ve been studying music, since I was nine years old through percussion, piano, and singing. Everything was inadvertently practiced for conducting, which is one of the largest responsibilities in the music world. The international competitions that I’ve won have helped me to gain valuable experience because you can only learn by actively conducting. We don’t have our instruments at home like a pianist or violinist. It’s about making the right choices at the right time. As soon as you win an international competition and you are the new rising guy, everyone wants you, but you need to be really careful on what you accept to not burn yourself or to do something too early for your career. It is why I chose to build my journey strategically with both institutions, opera and symphonic, simultaneously. Now that I see a bit of what’s happened in the past six years, I am able to take some distance from it. When you have the freedom to choose what you want to do and with whom you want to work with, this is luxury. To be at the service of any type of art is a continuous seek for perfection, all while not forgetting about my personal life, which is quite important to me.
It’s clear you exhibit strong relationships with the orchestras and singers that you collaborate with for the concerts. How do you prepare and nurture these relationships?
You can not prepare for any relationships in life. You can not know if you will like someone or not. If there is a person you want to develop something with, then it’s your responsibility to do it or not, but you can never prepare for it. There are moments it is a love story with extraordinary passion and sometimes, you just have nothing to say to each other. When you work with someone, the audience shouldn’t know if we love or hate each other. The result of the concert’s quality is the most important aspect at the end of the day.
You’ve recently taken on the prestigious role as the Artistic Director of the Gulbenkain orchestra. What do you hope to achieve during your tenure?
My idea is to regain the Portuguese and international attention for the orchestra as one of the greatest musical institutions worldwide. I want the orchestra to believe in themselves and to feel important again. In our first season, we were able to reach a brand new audience–a very active, young, and loyal one
As you’ve mentioned before, the rehearsals are rather physical for a conductor. It seems to us that conducting requires such attention to nuances in body movements. We could see why it takes so much active practice and getting in tune with your body. Can you describe your practice?
No, I can not. The simple explanation is that my movements need to have a sound impact. That’s it. And how I do it is my kitchen. No one will do the same as me and I also don’t want to copy anyone else. Sometimes conductors like to practice their movements in front of the mirror, but this will not be genuine. You can not plan how the orchestra is going to play. With more experience, you will learn how to manage and manipulate sounds and instruments. And every concert will be different because our moods change everyday. One of the goals is to surprise our musicians and to not let them fall into a routine. We always need to be flexible. That’s my way of working.
"It’s about finding a better balance to achieve more oxygen for my profession."
How do you prepare for such intensive mental and physical endurance?
I don’t really prepare. I practice many sports: martial arts, tennis, wind and kite surfing. It’s about finding a better balance to achieve more oxygen for my profession. I need to do something completely different, so I can gain new inspiration and to do what I do fully concentrated. I have never had a routine before a concert. And I’ve never felt stressed or pressured because I really believe maintaining an active lifestyle is a necessity for me. Leadership is not something you can learn. If you have it naturally and want to develop it, it becomes a duty because you are able to change things.
"In my profession, you need to be in the moment, while enduring the strongest balance between your mind and body, so the energy flows better."
What are the ways you are keeping your body fit and your mind clear for your performances?
I travel with different workout instruments in my luggage. I travel every week to a different country. I have an ab roll, so I use it at the airport when I can. I do 100-200 sets everyday. It stretches your body and gives you a nice core. I’m not a fan of weights, so I use my own body weight in any way I can through push-ups and leg workouts. I mix this with cardio and also by staying completely still in silence. Since I travel a lot, I’m often by myself and make time for meditation. I think about what just happened at a concert and how I feel about it. At the beginning of my journey, I didn’t manage my body energy on stage very well. Sometimes, I was giving too much in a moment that wasn’t necessary, but you learn with time. And now, I’ve found a good way to manage it. Combat sports helped a lot in being spontaneous because you can not be stiff. In my profession, you need to be in the moment, while enduring the strongest balance between your mind and body, so the energy flows better.
"Tennis is a sport that demands extraordinary mental exertion."
You’re an avid tennis player as well. Does playing tennis connect with the physical part of your conducting in some way?
Tennis is a sport that demands extraordinary mental exertion. And of course, if you want to play on a clay court with 30 degrees weather for three hours, then you require very healthy physical well-being. It’s not about hitting hard, but it’s about hitting with the right balance on the right position. It’s a sport that demands great precision and a very strong mindset. Most of the time you can lose a match because of a fragile spirit. You are the leader of the game if you do not reveal weak mental moments, which is like any leadership position, where your insecurities can hold big consequences.
Where do you like to play tennis?
Everywhere I can. My favorite is playing outside on a clay court. If I can have the sea not far away, a lot of trees, and play in the middle of natural paradise, that would be, of course, the dream place.
If you could play tennis with anyone, living or dead, who would it be, and why?
I love to play with my brother and my best friend, [Austrian clarinetist] Andreas Ottensamer. They are just the two people I love to play with because we challenge each other without having pride or a competitive aspect. It’s about learning altogether.