Meet Alexei Moshkov and Misako Akama
The Belgian National Orchestra alternates between two Konzertmeister. Alexei Moshkov, from Uzbekistan, recently celebrated his 25th anniversary within the orchestra. Misako Akama, from Japan, is now starting her third season. Let’s have a talk with both Konzertmeister!
How did you come to join the Belgian National Orchestra?
Misako Akama: I studied at the Paris Conservatoire from 2013 to 2019, and then at the Cologne Conservatoire until 2021. During these studies and my experience as first solo violin of the orchestra of the Paris Conservatoire laureates, I was looking for a permanent position in a French-speaking region. One day, I found myself in Brussels, where I happened to see a poster of the Belgian National Orchestra. That was my first encounter with the orchestra! I auditioned in 2021 and have been a member of the orchestra ever since. I have already learned a lot in just a few years.
Alexei Moshkov: I auditioned in 1998. Before that, I had worked in France for three years as a member of a string sextet. Gaining experience as a Konzertmeister is not easy. When I started the job, everything was very new to me. Fortunately, many colleagues were there to help me along the way. I was very well welcomed in my first years here, which was very nice. I would like to thank my fellow musicians once again for this!
Alexei, how has the orchestra evolved over all these years?
Alexei Moshkov: The orchestra is a living organism that is constantly changing. On the one hand, because it is composed of people, who come and go. More than half of the orchestra members today are people who started after me. On the other hand, the chief conductor is also very decisive. The first one I worked with was Yuri Simonov. He set the orchestra up to perform great symphonic works: by Richard Strauss, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky, among others. Then came Mikko Franck. With him, we played all the symphonies by Sibelius, as well as many works by Einojuhani Rautavaara, a Finnish contemporary composer who was a personal acquaintance of Mikko Franck. His sound was more transparent, polyphonic and linear. Then, from 2007 to 2012, Walter Weller was chief conductor – a brilliant man! He was once Konzertmeister of the Vienna Philharmonic and took a more classical direction, performing symphonies by Schubert, Schumann and Brahms. French music such as Ravel's and Debussy's was also close to his heart. So the sound of an orchestra is constantly evolving, like a living organism.
Which concerts are you most looking forward to?
Misako Akama: The Tristan und Isolde concert in early December will be particularly exciting! We will be playing an arrangement by Henk de Vlieger, whose arrangement of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg we performed two years ago. That was a fantastic experience, especially since Antony Hermus, who will also conduct Tristan und Isolde, knows Wagner's music inside out. I am also looking forward to the concert with pianist Kirill Gerstein on 17 December. The previous concert he played with us a year and a half ago with conductor Thomas Adès, was very inspiring. Kirill Gerstein is a musician who is very open to experimentation. Playing together never gets boring with him!
Alexei Moshkov: I am really looking forward to Handel's Messiah, which we will perform on 12 November. For a symphonic orchestra like ours, more used to playing symphonies by Mahler, for example, this choice may seem strange at first. However, Messiah is Handel's most romantic work, with soloists and a large choir. If there is one piece of Handel’s music that we can perform, this is it. It will be a very interesting experiment for our orchestra to perform Handel's three-hour magnum opus at Bozar! I am also looking forward to Carl Nielsen's Third Symphony, conducted by Michael Schønwandt on 24 November. As a Dane, that music is right up his street. He is a specialist in Carl Nielsen's music. And the contact between Michael Schønwandt and the orchestra is also very good!
Misako, how do you characterise our three permanent conductors?
Misako Akama: Antony Hermus is a fantastic communicator. He talks to every musician, which creates a very strong bond. It is a gift to have him as chief conductor! As for Roberto González-Monjas, our first guest conductor, I find him very attentive to what is happening on stage and very clear in his musical ideas. This season, he will give a concert with us in which he will perform a Mozart violin concerto as soloist and conductor. I am very much looking forward to that! And Michael Schønwandt, our associate conductor, has a very warm personality. You can't help but admire him: for his warmth, his humanity, but also for his attention to detail and his immense knowledge of the craft. Yes, they are three very different personalities, and each one helps the orchestra to grow in their own way.
You studied in Moscow yourself, Alexei. The Belgian National Orchestra still plays a lot of Russian music despite the war in Ukraine. What is your stance on this?
Alexei Moshkov: Indeed, we will soon be performing Shostakovich's Eighth Symphony. It is a piece that loudly denounces the injustice that happened then: the oppression of people, the totalitarian regime. In this work, Shostakovich raises universal questions, in the same way as Shakespeare and Sophocles. Only the language differs. The same goes for Prokofiev, Khachaturian, you name it, the whole host of Russian composers. It is precisely now that we need to keep performing those works!
What do you do outside music?
Misako Akama: When I have time, I love to immerse myself in a book for two or three hours. It’s a great way to relax, because it allows me to escape into another world. I even keep an (anonymous) Instagram account about the books I read. The book I'm currently reading? Haruki Murakami's 1Q84!
Alexei Moshkov: I am originally from Uzbekistan, which was part of the Soviet Union and is now an independent country. When I am not busy with music, I really enjoy preparing traditional dishes from my homeland. Uzbekistan has a very rich and delicious cuisine. Almost all the men there cook well!
By Mien Bogaert