Sounds Of The City

A Classical Conductor Discovers Rhythm Around Every Corner
Kazushi Ono became music director of the Barcelona Symphony in 2015. Photo courtesy of Eiuske Miyoshi.
Kazushi Ono
Music Director, Barcelona Symphony Orchestra

As the conductor of orchestras from Tokyo to London, Kazushi Ono has stepped on to the podium in some of the world's most esteemed concert halls. But his debut as music director of the Barcelona Symphony in 2015 was unlike anything he had ever experienced.

His first concert leading the orchestra was held in the city's most famous monument, the Sagrada Familia, and it would be the first time a full orchestra had ever performed inside Antoni Gaudí's unfinished cathedral. The maestro knew it was a must to select a musical program that would match the intensity of the storied architectural gem.

Ono made his conducting debut as music director of the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra at Sagrada Familia in September of 2015. Photo courtesy of May Zircus.
To The Heavens
How A Conductor Fell In Love With Barcelona

"I thought it was a good idea to bring at least one Japanese piece," says Tokyo-born Ono. He chose Toru Takemitsu's magnificent fanfare for brass instruments, Signals from Heaven. "Brass instruments played and the sound climbed up to the heavens," he says.

Ono's first real connection with Barcelona began in 2003 at the Gran Teatre del Liceu opera house while on a stop as music director of Brussels' La Monnaie. "I was conducting this new work by Belgian composer, Philippe Boesmans. The number of people that came was astonishing. We played seven performances, each to a full house," he says.

Ono becomes immersed in the cultures and people of the cities where he conducts. Photo courtesy of Eiuske Miyoshi.
First Impressions
The Maestro's Kinship Continues

Twelve years later, he was offered a position with the Barcelona Symphony, and that first impression would remain. "Even on the simplest streets, people are breathing in the city."

The 57-year-old conductor immerses himself in cities where he is working with an orchestra. To that end, he speaks five languages, his native Japanese, as well as English, German, French, and Italian; and since beginning his work in Barcelona, he's trying to master Spanish. "My problem is that right now I'm completely mixing it with Italian," he jokes.

Ono has a reputation for his high-energy conducting style. Photo courtesy of Eiuske Miyoshi.
A Musical Beginning
And A Fascination With Beethoven

Ono, who also serves as music director of the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony, and as principal conductor of France's Opera National de Lyon, in addition to his Barcelona duties, recalls when his love of the classics began. He was four years old when his father, a computer engineer and classical music lover, played a recording of Beethoven's Third Symphony, Eroica.

Something stirred inside of him. "I remember only the first two chords. They remain in my ears even though the rest I have forgotten completely. My parents told me after that I used to dance to the music with chopsticks in my hands– conducting!"

Local Recommendations

Explore Barcelona With Conductor, Kazushi Ono

World traveler Kazushi Ono conducts orchestras around the world. Now, as he spends more and more time in the Catalan capital as the music director of the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra, Ono has fallen in love with the city’s rhythm—a thriving metropolis filled with different tempos, each neighborhood a symphony in itself.

To Market

As Interesting Outside As In

Barcelona is a city of markets, each with a special character. Mercat de la Boqueria (91 La Rambla; +34-933-182-584) is recognized as one of the best markets in the world, and the oldest in the city, dating back to 1217. In addition to offering everything from fruit stalls to fresh fish, it's also home to the Boqueria Food School offering culinary classes to the public, where amateur chefs can learn the secrets of Catalan cooking. The renovated Mercat Santa Caterina (16 Av. de Francesc Cambó; +34-933-195-740) gets as much attention for its undulating, colorful roof that resembles a magic carpet as it does for the more than 100 fish, seafood, poultry, and produce stalls spread across three levels. Mercat de Sants (6 Carrer de Sant Jordi; +34-933-15-83-59) is where the locals do their food shopping. Built in the Modernist style, the market in the Sants neighborhood is a protected heritage site, and still retains its flavor as a friendly, community gathering place.

Shining Sons

Picasso, Miró On The Walls

At the Museu Picasso (15-23 Carrer Montcada; +34-932-563-000), the breadth of the artist's prolific output shows in more than 4,000 works: from the doodles of a budding imagination to the famous cubist works that made Pablo Picasso a household name. The same goes for what's on display at Fundació Joan Miró (Parc de Montjuïc, +34-934-439-470), the foundation of the 20th century surrealist created to exhibit his own art. The all-white building is on the picturesque Montjuïc hill, overlooking the entire city. Other artists' works besides Miró's are exhibited, too. Don't miss Alexander Calder's "Fountain of Mercury," in which liquid mercury cascades instead of water. Created in 1937, it is known as one of the deadliest pieces of art ever created because of the toxic metal circulating through it. But don't worry, today "Fountain of Mercury" is housed behind a pane of glass to protect onlookers.

Hearing Is Believing

Classical Venues Revered For A Reason

One of classical music’s greatest appeals lies in the venues where it is performed, and L'Auditori (150 Carrer de Lepant; +34-932-479-300), , home of the Barcelona Symphony, is no exception. Designed by architect Rafael Moneo, much attention was given to creating the perfect acoustics for the symphony when it was created in 1999. Standing in stark contrast is the 1908, 2,000-seat Palau de la Música (4-6 Palau de la Música, +34-932-957-200), an architectural jewel. The masterpiece is noted for having all of the decorative arts in one place: sculpture, mosaic, stained glass, and ironwork. Inside, the concert hall is packed with more decoration, and a central skylight fills the auditorium with natural light.

Tapas Trail

On A Quest For Delicious Small Plates

After traveling or being away from the city for extended periods of time, Ono loves returning to Barcelona to indulge in his favorite seafood tapas and sangria. For real local flavor off the tourist map, it's La Esquinica (296 Passeig de Fabra i Puig; +34-933-582-519), which bills itself as the "Mecca of Tapas." Try the stuffed mussels, or tigres, where finely chopped mussels are mixed with onion, pepper, and tomato sauce, breaded and lightly fried, then put back in the mussel's shell. O'Retorno (168 Carrer del Comte d'Urgell; +34-934-531-104) is the place to try Galician pulpo con cachelos, one of the most famous Spanish tapas-style dishes, where grilled octopus is drizzled with olive oil, spicy paprika, and coarse salt, then placed on a bed of potatoes. For the tastiest sangria in town, Los Caracoles (14 Carrer dels Escudellers; +34-933-012-041) has solidified its reputation for delicious fruit-infused wine cocktails since the restaurant opened in 1835.

Hitting The High Notes

A Heavenly Mountainside Retreat

Montserrat, which means saw-shaped mountain in Catalan, is worth a day trip, and getting there is half the fun. The spectacular mountain retreat of Benedictine monks is only an hour north of the city. One of the best ways to travel from Barcelona to Montserrat is by train. Plan ahead with a ticket that includes your ride to the top of the mountain upon arrival, either by railway the cremallera funicular.

The railway is the most dependable and comfortable alternative. After a 15-minute ride in an air-conditioned car, with the extra added attraction of spectacular views through the train's wide windows, visitors are dropped off at the station in the middle of the monastery of Basilica of Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey (Muntanya de Montserrat; +34-938-777-777). Once on site, stay for a performance by the Escalonia de Montserrat boys choir, a chorus of 50 that performs Gregorian chants and other religious music twice daily.