There are few conductors of international standing who come from Spain. Among them is the Basque Juanjo Mena. He discovered his talent for conducting at the age of 16, when he was given the opportunity to direct a girls choir. “This was the best experience of my life!” as he revealed in a recent interview – because he realised what it takes to be a conductor: to interact with the performers and to coordinate the musical energy and tonal balance. After studies in his home town of Vitoria-Gasteiz and at the Real Conservatorio Superior de Música in Madrid, he went to study under Sergiu Celibidache in Munich. Someone who, according to Mena, he owes a lot to. “He gave me the capacity to see the possibilities of the orchestra, to take a risk, to think we have to serve the music but also to be creative.”
From Bilbao into the world
He began his career in his homeland where he was artistic director and principal conductor of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Bilbao from 1999 to 2008. This was followed by positions as principal guest conductor with the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa and the Bergen Filharmoniske Orkester. Since 2011, Juanjo Mena has been chief conductor of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra in Manchester. He also appears regularly with major international orchestras, including the Dresden Philharmonic and the orchestras in Boston, Chicago and Cleveland. In February this year, he made his debut with the New York Philharmonic. He now takes to the conductor’s desk of the Berliner Philharmoniker for the first time, presenting a Spanish-Latin American programme: Claude Debussy’s Ibéria, Alberto Ginastera’s Harp Concerto with Marie-Pierre Langlamet, and Manuel de Falla’s ballet El sombrero de tres picos, with the soprano Raquel Lojendio as the soloist. For the music of his compatriot Manuel de Falla, Juanjo Mena is regarded – how could it be otherwise – as a specialist.