Greetings from Chicago! Our own Maestro De Waart is in town filling in for Riccardo Muti who is ill, so I decided to come down for a few days. It works out well for me as I prepare for my own monstrous week ahead. Sometimes, a change of scenery and the removal of daily distractions can give new life to study and preparation. And I have plenty of preparing to do as I make my subscription week debut with the MSO next week. But if that wasn’t enough, I have an entirely different gala program with Itzhak Perlman inserted into the middle of the week.
As you can imagine, it was great to take my mind off things for a while and enjoy watching De Waart rehearse with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and prepare an all-Beethoven program with two incredibly difficult works: Leonore Overture No. 3 and the Eroica Symphony. But I think one of the most exciting things for De Waart is reconnecting with the piano soloist this week: Radu Lupu. It has been many years since the two great musicians worked together. But there was a time when they performed constantly together throughout Europe and you can still buy their fantastic recording of Brahms’ First Piano Concerto. All these years later, there is clearly a strong mutual admiration between them and watching them rehearse together is almost like watching children playing. With a standard work like Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto, they still seem to wonder and marvel at each little turn, effortlessly phrasing together, and smiling (or laughing out loud) when one of them playfully brings out a countermelody or takes a bit of time at the end of a phrase.
It made me think about the relationship between soloist and conductor – and the many forms it takes. You can have any combination of experience and youth on either side. For instance, this week we have a conductor and a soloist both with a lifetime of experience in music. In this case, it works very well since both men respect each other and have complementary musical tastes. But that isn’t always the case – the most infamous example is the Karajan/Richter/Rostropovich/Oistrakh recording of the Beethoven Triple Concerto. The names themselves should put us in heaven, but instead they were quite open about being miserable working together.
In many ways, I love the combination of having youth on one side of the relationship. Youth brings a certain energy and freedom, while the experienced musician can bring more pacing and finesse. An example of this relationship is when De Waart works with Joyce Yang – and much of the success they have had in the Rachmaninoff cycle in Milwaukee is due to their differing personalities, but mutual respect and understanding. And I will experience the flip side next week when I work with Itzhak Perlman.
And last but not least, you can have youth on both sides and that’s usually a recipe for some extra excitement and edge in performance. And I will get to experience that when I connect with a friend of mine, Stephen Beus, for my subscription week. Stephen is an amazing pianist and when we studied together for a summer at the Academy of the West seven years ago, I remember listening to him in awe. And for our first collaboration, we have the perfect piece to pour our energy and passion into – Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.
One of the best things that you don’t experience when studying conducting is the conductor-soloist relationship. You are so focused on your own technique, your relationship with the orchestra, and the symphonic repertoire you need to learn, you can easily forget that being a professional conductor means you get to enjoy the company and work with some of the greatest musicians in the world… and build lifelong relationships like Edo de Waart and Radu Lupu. It is impossible to describe just how excited I am not only for my concerts next week, but to collaborate with two wonderful artists for whom I have the greatest respect and admiration.