“I never thought of doing something else than music”. Truly passionate about music and raised in an artistic environment, Lubnan Baalbaki started by studying violin at the national conservatory of Lebanon, before pursuing musicology studies in Lebanon at the Saint-Esprit Université with the aim to become a conductor.
The opportunity to reach his goal appeared when he travelled to Romania and met Petre Sbârcea, a maestro who would be his first teacher and mentor. “Everyone asked me, ‘Why did you choose Romania?’ and I always answered, ‘I did not choose her, she chose me actually’ […] I don’t know if we can believe in destiny… But I think it was my way to do it. I mean, that was the best way to do it, because he is a fantastic teacher and he had a huge experience in this domain.”
Conscious about his strengths and past achievements, the conductor sees life with humility and considers experiences as learning opportunities. “Different experiences are always richness for any artist.” Although it “sometimes doesn’t have such a direct influence in your life”, it helps to shift and shape perspectives. “It is like you go to the school and you study mathematics and sometimes you ask yourself ‘why am I studying this much mathematics, I will not use it in my whole life!’ but no, you use it: your way of thinking changes.”
Thus, Baalbakis encounters with famous conductors, such as Kurt Masur, have often been an eye-opener as he experienced another way of conducting. “I took a huge lesson in my life seeing Kurt Masur doing absolutely nothing and it sounded like a heaven of music. He just trusted his musicians and he led them in some key points from time to time. But at the same time the music was full of his presence and his knowledge.” Last but not least this experience inspired Baalbaki to make mutual trust a core component of his work with the orchestra. ”I think it is the main point of good leadership: how to make yourself trustworthy and trust the people who are working for you. That is the main thing.” (…) “I trust musicians. I believe that each one of them has his own intuition and his own vision of music. He is a musician and he could have an honest intuition about a sound. That is why I leave them to contribute as well. Many times, I ask the orchestra ‘Please, play your own interpretation, your own feeling’, because I want to see what they have. It is not only me who has ideas. Sometimes I have a kind of an imagination of an idea and they make it a reality for me. This is part of leadership: trusting your group. After all, they are doing the job. If you go there with the confidence that they can do it great, let them do it! Let them try to do it great. Sometimes you just lead the way, but they do it actually. They do the thing.”
Trust is important. And so is accountability. For instance when Baalbaki prepares a piece meticulously and long before he meets the orchestra for the first time. Baalbaki uses his time to prepare to develop a perspective of the piece or a commitment of the piece. Yet, when the work with orchestra succeeds, his imagination is outperformed by the result.
I believe that there is one true version of what an orchestra with a conductor can play for one piece for example. Working the same symphony, the whole week, there is one true version that will be, and I prefer to keep this for the concert. That is why during the rehearsals I work in a really practical or pragmatic way. Then in the concert, I let them and I let myself serve the music from our different point of view.” Maybe there is no better way to explain a modern leadership style. An attitude that transcends the self to serve a work of art. ”..music expresses itself. We, musicians, just serve the music. (…) we serve the music and we try to do it as loyal as we can, to be loyal to the composer and to the music, which is written. I believe sometimes a composer writes down things that he couldn’t imagine before. It is also the same thing with a conductor. Sometimes on stage I do things that I could never imagine. It is always a different experience but it is about serving the music as loyal as we can.
Read the full interview with Lubnan Baalbaki here.
Interview: Dirk Dobiéy, Transkription and Blog: Thomas Castéran, Dirk Dobiéy
Picture Source: Lubnan Baalbaki