Alain Altinoglu, conductor and musical director of the La Monnaie opera in Brussels, discusses the particularities of the classical music world, where reactions are "tangible and immediate" and those of a type of leadership that rests not on the orders given but on shared gestures, on a common passion and an imperative to get people working in unison. A meeting with a leader of men.
Leaders League. What is your definition of success?
Alain Altinoglu. In our universe, that of music and concerts, success is measured tangibly and instantaneously. Unlike a business, it occurs immediately after the performance. This results in a virtuous circle: the success of the performance is felt by the audience whose reactions contribute to those of the orchestra and create an atmosphere that essential for collective success. My leadership role is to bring the team to this final stage, to the culmination of the concert and, when the time comes, to unite the musicians so that each talent expresses itself and works in the same direction. For me, that's success: a room that reacts well to our performance, a public standing at the end of the concert and, beforehand, having managed to interpret the music written by another in the most accurate way. On this point, unlike other sectors, we are in permanent self-assessment and subject to immediate reactions, positive or not.
Where does your passion for music come from?
It undoubtedly comes from family. My father, a mathematician by profession, is an amateur musician, my mother is a pianist, and there has always been music at home. When I was an assistant at the Paris Opera I was called to replace the conductor at short notice. I was 24 years old, that's how it all started. Today, I conduct 80 musicians and I am musical director of La Monnaie opera house in Brussels, which has 1,200 employees. My decisions have an impact on all of them, whether they are musicians or in charge of lighting. To win the teams over involves being able to impose oneself through legitimacy. Especially since, where we come from, in case of tension or conflict, there is no time to call human resources. Everything is managed in the moment.
What value system do you base your leadership on?
In our industry more than in any another field, being a leader is not just about giving orders. During rehearsals and concerts, I give musicians signs that are esoteric and, to be properly interpreted and followed, require a strong relationship with each member of the orchestra. For this, I consider that the essential values on which to rely are honesty and respect, in the relationship with others and in the interpretation of the scores. It is very easy to appropriate an oeuvre. In order to serve the music, and not be served by it, it is essential to maintain a healthy modesty towards the creations of others.
Would you say that passion is necessary in this approach?
I would say that it is indispensable. Contrary to what one might think, the work of conductor and musicians can quickly become routine, but this first emotion that binds us, this passion for music that we share, creates an essential engine for our common endeavor. Something very individual that will lead to a collective success.
What message would you like to share with today's leaders?
I would tell them to never forget who they work with. Once again, being a true leader cannot be reduced to being a giver of orders. It involves identifying and getting the best out of individual talents and allowing to develop them individually before being create synergy with others.