Cristian Mandeal conducts the first concert of the Orchestra’s 2014-15 season at Cadogan Hall next month. Hannah Nepil speaks to him.

When Cristian Mandeal guides the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra through Franck’s Symphony in D minor this September, he will aim to steer a path between two cultures. ‘This symphony sits on the boundary between a French and German mood,’ he says. ‘There is a flexibility to it, which is more appropriate to French music than German – but it’s not French in the same way as Debussy or Ravel or Berlioz. It is a mood which is very specific to Franck.’

On the topic of bridging cultural boundaries, Mandeal has plenty to say. The 68-year-old Romanian conductor tells me that he has lived ‘two lives’. The first, which lasted until the ‘nineties, was based entirely in eastern Europe under Nicolae Ceauşescu’s regime. I made a lot of friends then because that was the only way to have a decent life.’ The second, beginning with the death of Ceauşescu and the fall of communism in 1989, saw him make a career in Western Europe. That’s why his CV boasts roles ranging from permanent conductor of the Cluj-Napoca (Transylvania) Philharmonic Orchestra to Principal Guest Conductor of the Hallé Orchestra, Manchester.

Growing up in a family of talented amateur musicians – his father played the piano, his mother the violin – Mandeal initially studied the piano, before deciding to focus on conducting. But being a musician in Romania at the time, as he points out, was far from straightforward. ‘The possibility of travelling was very limited. And, as a musician, you were restricted to specific repertoire. Religious music was not accepted. You could not conduct the Requiem by Brahms or Mozart for example. You were obliged to conduct a lot of national Romanian music. It didn’t matter if it was good or bad.’

Still, he developed an affection for some Romanian repertoire, that he still holds today. In addition to the work of – probably – the best-known Romanian composer George Enescu, Mandeal regularly champions new works by fellow countrymen, such as Ede Terényi and Cornel Taranu. ‘There are very European aspects about all of these composers, but you can recognise the moment you hear their music that there is something very particular which belongs to Romanian culture,’ he says. And what is that? By way of explanation, he launches into a comparison of Romanian and Gypsy music – the latter also prevalent in his homeland. ‘Gypsy music comes from all over Europe and it has a very eclectic style. Romanian music comes from the countryside and it is a very old aesthetic,’ he says. ‘It comes from the deepness of the earth.’

Cristian Mandeal conducts a programme of Beethoven, Brahms and Franck at Cadogan Hall on Tuesday 23 September 2014 at 7.30pm.

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