Royal Philharmonic artistic director and principal conductor Charles Dutoit made his debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1981 and has returned to guest conduct the BSO again and again in the years since. Now the BSO is honoring the venerable Swiss conductor with the title of 2016 Koussevitzky Artist, which acknowledges his considerable contributions to the orchestra over the past 35 years. We caught up with the well-traveled maestro—who’s visited every country on earth—before he lands in Massachusetts to conduct four programs at Tanglewood on Aug. 12, 15, 18 and 19, just two months shy of his 80th birthday.
You must be excited about this season… I love Tanglewood. I love the Boston Symphony. I have all my life. I was a student at Tanglewood many decades ago. So I’ve always kept a close relationship with Tanglewood and the Boston Symphony. I was listening to the Boston Symphony in Symphony Hall in 1959. Imagine that? At the time, I was a conducting student in Switzerland, and I could not imagine that one day I’d be so closely associated with the Boston Symphony. Because that was the first orchestra I heard in America.
So, I understand you’ve traveled to all 196 countries. That’s incredible. Yes! But this is 50 years of traveling. It wasn’t done in one season, you know. [Laughs.] I think it’s a question of wanting to do it, too. If you just let your life go as it comes, you’ll never achieve things like that. Never in my mind was there this idea of having this marathon…but curiosity, I was very curious to see the whole world.
What have been some of your favorite places to visit? It depends on which point of view, frankly. But to think of the natural beauty of nature, I love to be in the American West, in Arizona and all of these places, because this is what America was in my mind when I was a kid. I was looking at the Western films; this was America for me. … But I read a lot about the countries I was going to visit, trying not to judge these countries with my own criteria, by things I have at home, but to judge them as themselves, for what they are. To be wide open and not compare them all the time, which is a bad habit. I’ve been twice to North Korea and met wonderful musicians, and despite their incredible government, which of course no one would support, the people there are just like you and me. I had experience working with some of these musicians, and they were discovering what an orchestra’s sound should be, and they were crying! So all these experiences are very rich and very important.
When you travel, do you listen to classical music on the plane? No, no, no. I listen to classical music when I can go to a concert, to listen to a colleague or a friend, but I very rarely listen to a recording at home or on the plane. I like to look at a film or read. When you do so many concerts a year and you have some time off, you don’t do the same thing. [Laughs.]
What kind of movies do you like? I basically only see them on the flights! But you know, just yesterday I saw that fantastic Boston movie with DiCaprio—The Departed! That is the last one I saw, and I liked it very much. I had a hard time understanding it at the beginning. You have to concentrate to figure out who these guys are exactly and who they’re working for. [Laughs.] I love these actors. I love Nicholson. I think he has a great presence. But I also like things that are not so serious. It really depends on what they are presenting on the plane!