- Story by Sean McIntyre
Not so long ago, when Christian Kluxen was growing up in Denmark, there was a common expression about people with a good sense of culture and an interest in the arts. Such folks were said to have surely come from a home with a piano.
Kluxen says the phrase is used less frequently these days as younger people draw inspiration from other sources in an entertainment universe that offers unprecedented scope at the expense of less and less time to meditate on what it all means.
It’s a disturbing trend, which the 36-year-old says has been especially noticeable in the world of classical music.
“We are the first generation where most of us didn’t sit down with our parents and listen to classical music,” he says. “I am convinced that ours is the lost generation of classical music.”
But Kluxen wouldn’t have competed with hundreds of applicants in a multi-year process to become the Victoria Symphony Orchestra’s new music director if he wasn’t hopeful that change is possible. After all, we live in a world where classical music consistently evokes powerful emotions in popular films and primetime advertisements.
All we need to do, Kluxen says, is make great music accessible. Providing the opportunity to experience Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 performed by some of the most accomplished musicians in the world, for example, is bound to generate enthusiasm and expand people’s musical understanding.
“Culture is not something we make, it’s what we are. It lies within all of us already, it just has to be found and opened up,” he says. “Many people of my age are searching for something with depth. If we can just get them in the concert hall once, or maybe twice, they will come back.”
VSO audiences will often see Kluxen in his role as conductor, though much of his work as musical director occurs off stage as he guides the organization’s artistic direction. Among other tasks, he’ll help create a repertoire based on the orchestra’s strengths, recommend guest conductors and soloists, and be engaged in the process of hiring new musicians.
“There are many people in the institution who set a way for the organization, but I’m here to say which way the organization should be going artistically,” Kluxen said in an interview at the VSO’s View Street headquarters, only a few hours before the public launch of the organization’s 2017/18 season.
Small Danish flags on the office’s main reception desk welcomed Kluxen to the city and the building was charged with an atmosphere of eager anticipation and excitement over what’s ahead. Kluxen is one of those fabulously energetic people who can spark inspiration in those who surround him.
A busy string of concerts and opera performances across Sweden, Germany, Norway, Denmark and Finland saw Kluxen spend fewer than 10 nights in his own bed during the first three months of 2017. Despite the gruelling schedule, Kluxen landed in Victoria with the same confidence, energy and enthusiasm that enabled him to complete a three-year assistant conductorship at the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in 2013, and undertake a Dudamel Fellowship at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in the 2014/15 season.
He’s conducted orchestras around the world. After his brief stay in Victoria and a well-deserved two-week reprieve, he was off to Italy, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Romania before returning to the West Coast in early summer.
|Victoria Symphony Orchestra Music Director Christian Kluxen photographed at Bodega tapas & Wine Bar. Lia Crowe photography
Accompanying this impressive resumé, however, is a comforting genuineness.
Within 48 hours of his arrival in Victoria, Kluxen had already gotten to know the young owners of a new cafe across from the VSO’s downtown headquarters, received an impromptu city tour from his hotel’s concierge and got a sense of the city’s folk scene from some local musicians.
Kluxen likes to consider himself a normal guy with an extraordinary job. His interests are pretty commonplace: cooking, drawing, drinking and making crazy plans for the future with his girlfriend. Musically, his interests are understandably diverse, ranging from Radiohead and Rage Against the Machine to Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald.
“I don’t go around hearing music inside my head all the time,” he says. “People often think that conductors and musicians are a mirror of what they saw in a movie like Amadeus, but I think you’ll find that most of them are really normal people. If they hear music all the time, everywhere they go, this would probably require some hours with a psychologist instead.”
Kluxen is funny, opinionated and refreshingly unafraid to speak his mind. Qualities likes these bode well for a conductor eager to inspire a broader, new generation of classical music lovers and for one who’s been given the keys to chart the VSO’s artistic direction.
Sporting jeans, a black T-shirt and a simple blazer, Kluxen was dressed in the casually stylish uniform of the up-and-coming generation of millennials who refuse to curb their hopes and dreams to facilitate business as usual. He says he’s got nothing to gain from putting on airs to sound older, wiser or more sophisticated. His life is an ever-evolving journey, and Kluxen doesn’t shy away from confidently speaking from the heart.
“I’m just myself and I will always speak my thoughts,” he says.
Kluxen’s candour is infectious. It’s not long before he feels like an old friend who is able to laugh, confide and commiserate. He switches seamlessly from talking about the emotional weight of a great piece of music, the tragic consequences of funding cuts to local arts and culture and the power of music to address society’s ills.
“I conduct in many places and, basically, I have to say it makes me very optimistic to always see that people are just people and that, actually, we all do the same things in slightly different ways,” he says.
“I do this job because I like it, but I also believe that it has the power to change something for some people.”
Thankfully, it may not be long until the family piano gets placed back in its rightful place after all.