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Dorset lives: Kirill Karabits

Kirill Karabits has been a breath of fresh air as principal conductor of the BSO, and is keen to put the 'Bournemouth' back into the Symphony Orchestra

Kirill, shortly after joining the BSO

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra celebrates its 120th anniversary this coming May with a concert of music that has been particularly associated with the Orchestra – including Wagner’s Tannhäuser Overture from the then Municipal Orchestra’s first ever concert under Dan Godfrey’s baton on 22 May 1893.
‘It seems as if the new band will catch on’, a contemporary newspaper report correctly predicted and the Orchestra’s principal conductor Kirill Karabits is determined to see that it continues to flourish.
‘We should do more with the Orchestra in Bournemouth, it is Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, after all,’ says the quietly determined Ukrainian. ‘I would like us to have more projects in Bournemouth. You know, the Orchestra gave British premieres to lots of famous works when it was based here so there is a tradition of performing new works and different symphonic projects that I would like to see us continue. I love coming to Bournemouth, it always feels special when I come here. The central area through the gardens and down to the sea, it is quite beautiful and I am glad to see it developing as a cultural area.’
Karabits’ undoubted passion for the BSO has seen him commit his future to the Orchestra at least until the 2015-2016 season, but he prefers to think of his tenure in more fluid terms.
‘I don’t want to be married like on a piece of paper, that is not good for my thinking. It’s like a relationship, I have to be free to leave at any time and, for the other side, they have to be free to say they’d like to move on with someone else. That freedom is how you make the best relationships and create great work.
‘When I am here I feel I can relax and express myself more comfortably. It is important for an artist to have that, I know the Orchestra and they know me and there is something special in that relationship. I am proud of what has been achieved with the Orchestra. There are things we’d like to work on, but I am enjoying my time here, it feels very special to me.

Kirill in contemplative mood for the camera

‘When I am in this country I live in Poole, but I get out as much as I can. I’ll come to Bournemouth just to walk around the centre and feel that atmosphere, but I also have favourite places in the countryside, out in the Purbecks. I spend more time here than anywhere else in the world, so a part of me is always here and will always be here. When I’m here I come back to people I know by their first names, whose life stories I know, this is important for an artist.’
Now in his fourth year as principal conductor Karabits seems to be settling into a dynamic, progressive groove. At his instigation Bournemouth Borough Council’s on-going renovation of the Pavilion as part of its Town Centre Vision, included the installation of a specially designed acoustic shell (a plywood stage screen) to greatly improve the acoustics of the Grade II Listed venue.
‘Yes, I was very pleased at how well Bournemouth reacted to the acoustic shell. First we borrowed a shell as I wanted to experiment, to make sure it could make a difference, and it did – so I had lunch with the Mayor and he really made it happen, very quickly. It has made a huge difference to the sound in the Pavilion auditorium, now it can do justice to the music and you see we are already playing more concerts here.’
Not that there’s any suggestion of Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra quitting its headquarters at Poole Lighthouse, but there is a mood of genuine excitement about the new range of possibilities in the town that will always be its spiritual home.
‘I know there is this thing about Poole and Bournemouth,’ says Kirill with a grin, ‘but one should not exclude the other. The things we do in Poole are very dear to me and without that loyal, devoted, knowledgeable audience subscribing to our seasons at Poole the Orchestra would not have survived 120 years, that’s for sure.
‘However, for us to do more in Bournemouth it does not mean we should do less in Poole. Poole and Bournemouth are related, like cousins. We will be opening the new outdoor performance space on the seafront and it’s true I am excited by Bournemouth, about the prospect of working with new people, probably more local than I am, to bring something new to the area.
‘I would like to see the Orchestra involved in events that would bring younger people to it. We can do lunchtime concerts to reach new people, we can do short concerts, but in a symphonic situation. There are so many clubs and discos and Bournemouth has a lot of young music makers and DJs that I would like to work with to see what we can create. Why not? I would love to make something truly revolutionary in Bournemouth.’

Outside the Pavilion, the accoustics of which Kirill has been keen to have optimised for the BSO

The problem, as ever, is in reaching beyond the core audience, but in Kirill Karabits those perhaps more youthful ears have an instinctive ally who is able to articulate his passion for the music – both in performance and in conversation – with an eloquence that cuts through the widely misunderstood but apparently stuffy veneer of the classical world.
‘When I am here I feel I can express myself more comfortably. There are times you want to stretch yourself and pull out a piece of music that is not performed very often and there are some pieces of music you know very well but have never performed and you’d like to see what you can find in them. Sometimes you want to play music you have performed many times before and know extremely well as there is always something new to be found because you come to every performance as a slightly different person.
‘There are notes written on a page and if you bring them to me I could play them with no problem, but what impact would that have on the listener? The art is in performing those notes. A score is really like script, it’s what you bring to it as a conductor, how you bring the musicians to it, that creates the electricity in the performance. If you do it properly that’s where you find the energy in the music.
This is my life.’

• Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s 120th Birthday Gala concert is at the Pavilion Theatre on 18 May. Violin virtuoso Nicola Benedetti will join the Orchestra in a programme of Wagner’s Tannhäuser Overture, Jupiter from Holst’s The Planets, Marietta’s Lied by Korngold, Romance from The Gadfly by Shostakovich, the same composer’s Andante from Counterplan and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 2 ‘Little Russian’.

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