By the end of May, it appeared that Stravinsky might have had the last laugh after all. 100 years after the premiere of The Rite of Spring, the actual season of spring decided not to show up around much of the U.S. and Europe. Unseasonably cool and sometimes cold temperatures prevailed and all the flowers were confused.
The weather was much better inside the concert halls, although in Lyon, we had a different venue to contend with. Our Auditorium is closed for the next several months, as repairs are being made to the heating and air conditioning systems, as well as a restoration and general cleaning of the organ pipes. This meant that we had to find a place to play.
The Bourse du Travail is only a few blocks from the Auditorium, but acoustically it is miles away. Clearly this theater was intended for dramatics and spoken word, possibly musicals, but for music it is a pretty dry affair. Heavy curtains are certainly responsible for part of the problem, however there are some positives. Our home is a cavernous space and sometimes it is difficult for the musicians to hear one another. In the Bourse, everything is very clear and it actually helps a great deal in making some ensemble adjustments.
During one rehearsal I went out into the audience to listen and the sound was not as bad as supposed. The program was an all-French one, with a first half of Ravel. These were all pieces we had recorded recently so there was not much difficulty bringing this music back.
The second part began with one of my favorite scores, La Peri, by Paul Dukas. If people know this work at all, it is usually just for the Fanfare, which was written separately, and has no relationship to the rest of the piece. The short ballet is a marvel of color, delicacy and invention. The ONL had not played it for some time and the arid acoustic did not help at first. But as we adjusted our ears to the sound, the piece came together and with the audience in place, things improved.
Surprisingly, I had not conducted one note of Debussy with the orchestra until this concert. My predecessor, Jun Markl, recorded virtually all the orchestral music by this composer and of course, a great deal of this repertoire is in their blood. La Mer, remains one of the iconic scores and we gave excellent performances.
I had not seen the DSO since the Carnegie adventure, so returning home was a special occasion. It also marked an important debut on the stage. Our new concertmaster, Yoonshin Song, was making her first solo appearance, playing the Brahms Concerto. This was the piece she played at her audition and at that time her performance totally captivated the orchestra. Originally, before we appointed her, the DSO was supposed to perform the same composer’s Third Symphony, but it seemed appropriate to introduce Yoonshin instead.
To say that this was a triumph for her would be an understatement. Usually concerti such as this one are reserved for soloists from outside the orchestra. This is not because of the difficulty but rather that it is a vehicle for virtually every great violinist. Typically the concertmaster plays a concerto that is a bit lesser known. Yoonshin delivered an interpretation that could stand up to many of the masters. Poised, dramatic, singing and thoughtful throughout, she won over everyone.
Also on the program was a performance by our incredible principal hornist, Karl Pituch. He had been promised a new concerto and after much discussion he selected a fellow horn player and composer, Kerry Turner, to write the piece. The work shows off the instrument and had a very warm reception by the audience. How nice to have a veteran and a rookie on the same program.
The opening work was the third suite of Ancient Airs and Dances by Respighi. It is easy to dismiss this composer as bombastic in his large orchestral works, but in this piece, his total command of the string section is apparent in every bar. The members of the orchestra really enjoyed working on this and I suspect that we will start doing a bit more of the string repertoire in the future.
In between the two weeks spent in Detroit, I had the opportunity to go to a couple sporting events. After almost two months, I finally got to a baseball game. The Tigers pitcher, Anibal Sanchez, came two outs away from throwing a no-hitter. A couple days later, Cindy and I went to a Stanley Cup playoff game, where it was possible for the Red Wings to move into the semi-final round. They did not win, but a couple of octopi were thrown on to the ice, making the visit worthwhile.
This is the time of year when most orchestras are winding down their regular season. Our final set of concerts contained a premiere, a somewhat forgotten concerto and a repertoire staple. Every year a competition is held in memory of composer Elaine Lebenbom. The winner is asked to write a piece for the orchestra and this time around it went to Missy Mazzoli. Her work, River Rouge Transfiguration, is a mostly tonal reflection on both the revival of the Ford automobile industry as well as the city of Detroit. I enjoyed getting to know her music.
It was a pleasure to welcome pianist André Watts to the Orchestra Hall stage. He remains a paragon of virtuosity coupled with good taste and his performance of the MacDowell 2nd Concerto was thrilling. In some ways, it was a bit of a reminder of the 1st Ives Symphony that we had performed a few weeks earlier. There are a few hints of Americanisms as it is mostly a nod to European composers, including Wagner, Franck and Grieg.
The season came to an end with the Tchaikovsky Fourth Symphony. It was clear from the start that the orchestra was going to have a great time with this. After five years, there are still several works from the standard canon that we have not done together, so establishing parameters becomes important. In this piece, my view has changed quite a bit from when I first did the symphony. There is a larger view of the architecture and tempo relationships. It is also more dramatically charged. The DSO really got into it and there was much subtle playing as well as powerful outbursts when needed.
It has been a long and satisfying season in Detroit. Even though the city still has many problems to solve, as does the orchestra, we seem to be on the right track. Contributions, ticket sales and community interest are moving ahead at record paces. The new musicians who have entered the orchestra are outstanding. There is a vitality that is energizing to everyone connected with the organization. Even though I will see the DSO for a couple of summer presentations, I look forward to a resumption of our subscription season in late September.
Now I head off to Fort Worth, where I am conducting the finals of the Van Cliburn Competition. It is also a homecoming of sorts for Cindy, who taught in Denton for almost 30 years. Perhaps I will write something at the conclusion of the event, as it is my first time doing anything like this.