Photo © Niko Rodamel


April, 2014    

Probably about six of you are wondering where I have been for the past several weeks. Well, it seems that I have gotten a bit behind on my web postings, mostly due to an extremely busy work schedule. But here is the recap of those times past.

It all started with a DSO trip to Florida. We had not been to the Sunshine State for four years, and at that time, we made some great new friends. Sadly, various elements conspired to keep us away until now, but we more than made up for the lost time with six extraordinary concerts.

One plus was that most of our visit was concentrated in the West Palm Beach area, so that meant there was not a lot of moving from hotel to hotel for the orchestra. Being based in one city for five days gave us all the chance to be at our best for each performance.

Repertoire was drawn from works we had played during the season, including music by Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Gould, Copland and Ravel. New for the tour was Olga Kern in the 1st Prokofiev Concerto and the Rachmaninov Rhapsody. She was a delight on this trip and had the audience mesmerized throughout. For the final concert in Naples, Hilary Hahn joined us for the Brahms Concerto.

The weather cooperated, and I know that everyone appreciated the time away from what appeared to be a Norwegian winter. Connections old and new were made. Hopefully our next visit will be sooner rather than later.

Some of you may have heard that we tried something a bit unusual at these concerts. Prior to the encore, I asked the audience to turn on their cell phones and take pictures of the orchestra as a memento of the concert. This caused a flurry of activity on the net, and the response was mostly favorable, although a few thought that it disrupted the concert experience. You really had to be there to understand how moving it turned out to be.

I would be remiss if I did not thank the General Motors Foundation for its incredible support of this tour. In addition, there were several other individuals who made it all possible. We have learned that it is critical to have the monies in place before undertaking any big projects, and we will continue to stick by this policy.

Upon the return to Detroit, we had a special concert as part of our ongoing Classical Roots series, which is devoted to celebrating African-American culture in the classical work place. This year Kathleen Battle joined us in a program that featured the spiritual. Kathy and I have worked together many times, but not so much recently. She remains one of the wonders of the vocal world. The second she opens her mouth and that sound comes out, you know precisely who is singing. After so many years, the voice really has not changed much, and there were moments when we were all moved to tears.

There was a reading of some new compositions by young black composers. This initiative, called “Earshot,” seems like a good idea. The four composers selected each need to find their own voices, but they are talented and deserve encouragement. The two-day session included seminars, feedback from the orchestra members, and advice from mentors. It fit perfectly into the whole week.

Next it was off to Pittsburgh. I was particularly excited by this trip, as I had the opportunity to introduce Michel Camilo to the audiences. Not surprisingly, he totally engaged both orchestra and public with his Second Piano Concerto as well as some brilliant encores. We will do this again in Chicago this summer.

The rest of the program was French, mostly Ravel. On one evening, we did a kind of play-and-talk concert, where I tried to make connections between Ravel and his interest in matters Spanish. With several pieces by him as well as others, it seemed like a concert I might try to refine and do again. The orchestra, as usual, was wonderful, and I will miss seeing them next season, as various calendars did not synchronize.

Back in Detroit, it was time for a nice three-week stint. All the programs were difficult, with a lot of new music to be learned. We were also busy auditioning several new members for the orchestra, and that meant that much time needed to be spent listening intently for just the right musicians.

Jean-Yves Thibaudet was the first soloist, giving the DSO premiere of the Third Concerto by Sir James MacMillan. We had played this piece together in Lyon, and it was nice to have that under my belt before doing it in Detroit. Colorful and stylistically engaging, the piece might indeed attract the attention of other pianists.

The orchestra was in great shape and gave absolutely fantastic performances of the Mother Goose Suite and Scheherazade. With all the solos involved, as well as the melding of orchestral sonorities, I thought we had all grown a notch with these performances. This week also brought the new robotic cameras to our webcasts. It made sense. Robocams in the city that brought you Robocop.

Every year, I like to do a program that puts the spotlight on individuals in the orchestra appearing front and center as soloists. We had eight of them this time around. David Buck and Dennis Nulty played, continuing with our performances and recordings of the concerti of John Williams, the Flute and Tuba Concerti, respectively. You could not ask for more difference in compositional style, and the composer most of you know is almost unrecognizable in the earlier piece.

With other contributions for trombone, harp, and four violins, it was quite an adventure. We threw in the Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra just for fun. There was also a premiere of a work by the young Chinese composer Wang Jie. Her Second Symphony was part of the ongoing Lebenbom competition, which rewards female composers with a commission for winning the prize.

In the middle of all of this, the hockey season was getting into the final stages for playoff positioning. The Red Wings seem to have ratcheted it up a notch and even with some veterans sidelined with injuries, they are looking pretty good. Baseball season opened, and I had the pleasure of going to the first game, which was somewhat of a nail biter. The Tigers once again look like playoff contenders.

The last week of this stay was a very demanding program with three big works. First came the world premiere of Bright Sheng’s Zodiac Tales. As is typical of this composer, he draws on his Chinese heritage but merges styles and in many respects, creates a new world. The piece is colorful and difficult.

What a pleasure to be reunited with Leon Fleisher! All of you know of his distinguished career but for me, he represented a very special school of American pianists. His generation included Byron Janis, Van Cliburn, Gary Graffman, John Browning and so many other fine musicians. Playing what is now a signature piece, the Ravel Left Hand Concerto, Leon reminded all of us of why he is a legend.

The Tenth Symphony of Shostakovich rounded out the full program. In looking back over some notes, I discovered that I actually performed this piece in Detroit in 1977! Hopefully I do the piece better now. It is virtually a concerto for orchestra with solos for all the principal woodwinds and horn. Although the symphony is said to be a portrait of Joseph Stalin, I really do not think about this during rehearsal or performance. One can ascertain from the score itself whatever meaning one wants to put into the piece.

During this stay, Cindy was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor. Fortunately, it is located in an area that is not so difficult to reach, and she will have it removed at the end of this month. My schedule allows me to be with her during the entire period of recovery. Between the two of us, we may be getting close to having seen every medical specialist in the Detroit area.

Meanwhile, spring decided to finally show up. Temperatures soared into the fifties almost overnight, and most of us thought that Mother Nature was playing an April fool’s prank on Michigan. Hopefully the good weather stays in place for the rest of the month’s travels. Off to good, familiar places.

See you next month,

Leonard

 


Conducting Business is available on Amazon.

To read my notes from previous months, click here.


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