After a Surprise Debut, the Conductor Thomas Guggeis Is Rising Fast

Thomas Goggis was a young repetiteur at the Berlin State Opera five years ago when he was asked a career-changing question: Could he do “Silo”?

He had worked with singers, but this new production of Strauss’s opera was intended to be led by veteran maestro Christoph von Dohny – until a dispute with the director forced him to withdraw just hours before the final dress rehearsal. fell So Gogis went to his place. And he was back in the pit on opening night.

“It was a case of a star being born,” said Bernd Luby, general manager of the Frankfurt Opera, who saw Goggis lead the performance.

It wouldn’t be the last time Gogis, now 29, stepped into a high-pressure situation. Earlier this season, as Kapellmeister, or house conductor, of the State Opera, he led two rehearsals and runs of a new “Ring” cycle after Daniel Baronboim. Withdrawn due to illness.. And on May 30, he will make his North American debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. A revival of Wagner’s “Der Fliegende Hollander.” Taking over from Jaap van Zweden.

Things are moving fast—Guggeis starts this fall as general music director of the Frankfurt Opera—but he’s trying to maintain a steady growth that some of his colleagues have dismissed in favor of peripatetic celebrity. has given up

“It was a question of how to proceed,” he said in an interview at the State Opera here. “Do you jump on a moving train or do you stay on the track? With my agent, I decided to stay calm. There will still be interest and potential in two or three years if there is an opportunity.

Besides that An uncle – percussionist Edgar Goggis – Goggis grew up in a non-musical family in Bavaria. His father was the director of a brewery, and his mother was a tax clerk. But he played the instrument from a young age, and sang.

Guggeis pursued these interests at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Munich, but not with a single-minded focus. He studied conducting but, aware of the dangerous life it promised, also pursued a degree in quantum physics.

He said, “I was really interested in the subject, and I just wanted to get something on the safe side. You never know how it works as a conductor. When I started, if you Asked me, ‘Where do you see yourself in 10 years?’ I’d say I don’t know. But I’ll have this second degree, and I can always go back to it.

Now, Guggeis can read about a discovery he remembers studying in school. But his specialty was theoretical particle physics, which is impossible to practice on a part-time or ad hoc basis. That is why he has stopped being in the field.

During his time in Munich, Goggis was often at the Bavarian State Opera under the music directorships of Kent Nagano and Karel Petrenko. One day between classes, he sat in on a rehearsal of Strauss’ “Die Frau Ohne Schatten” led by Petrenko. By the second act, he decides to drop out of school and stay. He was hooked, and he looked at almost everything in the house that amounted to parallel education. “Watching these conductors,” he said, “was amazing, but also very creative.”

Goggis continued to study conducting in Milan, then returned to Germany to serve as a repeater in Berlin. He trained the singers on the piano but almost never spoke to Daniel Barenboim, the house’s long-ruling teacher. “It was hard to get close to him,” Goggis said, “because everyone out there wanted something from him.” But slowly, the two developed a relationship in which Barenboim became increasingly accessible.

For his part, Barenboim didn’t need much time. He saw the young conductor leading a rehearsal and immediately thought he was gifted.

“You can see these things directly with someone,” Barenboim said. “And he was obviously a very natural conductor. He had a rare combination of ease and comfortable responsibility. He moved his arms naturally, and was naturally in command. Right from the start.”

Their relationship deepened. “It felt like family,” Gogis said. “He was generous, supportive, kind and always there when I had questions about my career.” They talked about music, art and philosophy, or gossiped about Pierre Boulez. Between these conversations and rehearsals, Goggis would see and later ask about him, Barenboim became, he said, “the most influential mentor for me.”

Belongs to Gigis. For a class of conductors – more common in Germany – who come through opera houses than concert halls, even if their careers balance the two. He said that the repertoire he learned as a repetiteur was “deeply stuck in my head and guts” and that his time as Kapellmeister at the State Opera in Berlin, as well as in Stuttgart and Berlin, led him to the podium. Appreciated their approach. , such as how to conduct rehearsals and arrange soloists or tackle large-scale works for orchestra and chorus.

“You can never buy that experience,” he said, “no matter how talented you are.”

He has attempted famous pieces such as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony away from very public stages such as the Philharmonie in Berlin or the Musikverein in Vienna. He has conducted Beethoven, but in Italy, in a five-concert series with the Milan Symphony Orchestra, heeding the advice he once attributed to Herbert von Karajan that regardless of the work that you Guide the work, the first 15 times it won’t happen. good; So start early.

When Guggeis shares such memories and insights, he sounds like a conductor looking back on his career rather than forward. His combination of confidence and self-awareness was part of what endeared him to Brainboim, who said: “He’s very talented, but he knows he has a lot to learn. He has A great curiosity, and it will remain for the rest of his life.”

Curiosity, but also the courage to take on the classics of Wagner and Strauss in front of a boo-happy audience at the Berlin State Opera. (Reviews have been positive during his tenure as Kapellmeister.) So, when he stepped into the pit for “Salome,” it was just another day on the job. He was supported by Doheny, who remained a mentor—and gave him much of his score library—and stunned Barenboim.

“It was remarkable,” Barenboim said. “There was no ‘what do we do now?’ His future was very clear.”

Luby, general manager of the Frankfurt Opera, was similarly smitten by a 24-year-old conductor he had never heard of before. “I wanted to know more,” he said. “So I saw him several times, and we started meeting a lot.” Loebe was looking for a new music director, and Guggeis was “the only guy I wanted.”

The Frankfurt orchestra, Loeby added, was used to having two or three selections, but he insisted on Goggis, who formed an instant bond with the musicians. During the pandemic, he led them in a streamed performance of Mozart’s “Requiem” — one of the few online videos of his conduct — that highlighted his clear direction, level tone and sense of form. shows. Then, in 2021, he was named as their new music director.

Mozart is like Gouges. will begin their era. Next season, with a new production of “Le Nozze di Figaro” premiering Oct. 1. In a demonstration of the range he hopes to have, he will also lead Ligeti’s “Le Grand Macabre,” Wagner’s “Tannhäuser,” Verdi’s “Don.” Carlo” and Strauss’ “Elektra,” in addition to concert programs.

Guggeis’ inaugural season in Frankfurt took shape as he was wrapping up his time as Kapellmeister in Berlin. There, he was working with Barenboim. A new production of Wagner’s four operas “Ring”. which was unveiled at the same time last October, a huge and practically unheard of feat for a repertory house. It was years in the making, but Barenboim’s health declined rapidly that summer, and the planned four rounds between Goggis and Christian Thielemann.

When his condition permitted, Baronboim shared his wisdom with Gigis on, for example, the notoriously difficult passages in the opera’s 16 hours of music that should be the focus of rehearsals. They still speak. Guggeis values ​​his advice, considering it the same as singers who work with coaches throughout their careers.

Guggeis was also in constant contact with Thielemann, an experienced hand at Wagner. “We were working on problems together,” he said. “It was very exciting. But then he would also say things like don’t worry about ‘Ride of the Valkyries,’ because it’s going to run itself, it’s going to lift itself up. It was all really amazing to me. “

Earlier this month, Goggis said goodbye to Berlin, for now; His tenure as Kapellmeister ends this season. He led two concerts with the Staatskapelle, the opera house’s storied orchestra, and was on a plane to New York the next day to rehearse “Holänder.”

“The little bird is now flying the nest,” he said in an interview at the Met. “I’ve been working professionally for about five years. I was with this wonderful orchestra and now I’m working here in this great place. Being here is something I never expected. had, nor could ever desire.

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