BOSTON — Maestro Charles Dutoit looks and acts far younger than his 76 years. The feisty, curious gentleman is a hardcore traveler, and he’s performed with major orchestras all over the planet since starting his career in Switzerland more than half a century ago.
Dutoit has been nurturing his relationship with the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 31 years, performing as guest conductor here and in Lenox at Tanglewood. The bond between the maestro and the BSO is long term, but they’re always looking to keep things fresh and new.
“In our musical relationships we try to find the strengths of different conductors,” Tony Fogg, the BSO’s artistic administrator, explained. “And part of my job is just to find a way to put them in a position where they’re able to be really excited and present their best.”
With that goal in mind the BSO and Dutoit are kicking off a multi-year series on Thursday, featuring music by composers from the first half of the 20th century. Dutoit acknowledges his unique connection to that period in music history.
“The idea was to have a little bit of cycle of this music taking advantage of the fact that I received these traditions at the first degree,” he said.
Fogg called Dutoit “an absolute direct link,” then explained: “He was a disciple of the Swiss conductor Ernest Ansermet, who was a personal friend of Stravinsky, of Ravel, of Debussy — and Dutoit got information, so it’s the closest we have, I feel, today to those traditions.”
Music by those composers is in the orchestra’s DNA through its previous conductors, including Pierre Monteux, Charles Munch and (to a certain degree) Serge Koussevitzky.
“These were figures that really were so important to the sound development of the BSO, and to its lifeblood,” Fogg explained. “It’s wonderful to have Dutoit continuing that nourishment in our time.”
Fogg has had the chance to work with the world’s greatest conductors, and I wondered what it’s like to collaborate with Dutoit. “The challenge of working with Charles is that he has so many ideas and we didn’t know where to stop,” he said. “It was like kids in a candy store when we were choosing these programs.”
This week’s performances feature works by Debussy, Martin and Rachmaninoff. And starting next Thursday Dutoit will lead the BSO through “The Nightingale” by Stravinsky and Ravel’s “L’Enfant et les sortileges.” In January the maestro returns to take on Hindemith, Liszt and Prokofiev.
“I think what we’ve struck upon is a very comprehensive beginning,” Fogg mused. He added, about Dutoit: “For me it’s a real opportunity to learn more about this period from him.”
And for Dutoit being back in Boston is a chance to reconnect with the BSO. “I love the city, I love the orchestra, and I love the hall,” he said. “I mean, the combination is like osmosis.”