The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Conductor John DeMain discusses Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony and Barber’s Violin Concerto he will perform this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra | March 24, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

It has been a hectic few weeks for the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s music director John DeMain, who this spring will wind up his 16th season with the MSO.

He has interviews to conduct for the Madison Opera, where he is artistic director; he had to do planning and help the MSO launch its new season (posted here on Tuesday); he conducted some very complex and difficult pieces for the high school concerto competition concert, The Final Forte; and he had to prepare for the three concerts this weekend that will feature Beethoven’s mammoth Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” plus Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto with soloist Robert McDuffie (below); and Dvorak’s sprightly “Carnaval” Overture.

Performances in Overture Hall are on Friday at 7:30 p.m.; on Saturday at 8 p.m.; and on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $15-$75. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-414.

Nonetheless, DeMain (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) took timeout to share with The Ear some observations about his wonderfully well planned and exquisitely balanced program:

This is the second time you have programmed the “Eroica” here in Madison. How has your interpretation changed, if it has? What would you like people to know about the work and the performance?

This is a transformative work in the history of the symphony, a huge, contrasting canvass, wonderfully dramatic, and, of course, heroic.

As always, the search for tempo giusto is foremost in my mind. The Beethoven metronome markings were done on an inaccurate metronome (below), so those markings are totally unreliable, and if you try to do them, there is no breadth to the music.

But there is also the other extreme of lugubrious tempi that can bog down this masterpiece. So we’ll see. It’s been too long to know how my interpretation has changed, and I don’t want to listen to the archival tape of what I did the last time. I want to approach it fresh.

Samuel Barber (below) is considered conservative as a modern composer. But he has had a revival, and his Violin Concerto is right up there. How do you thing posterity will treat the Violin Concerto and Barber in general? What makes his works appeal so to the public?

Barber is able to combine great beauty and lyricism in his writing along with the use of other modernist techniques. I think it is the lyrical beauty of his music that will make him and this violin concerto, in particular, last. We seem to be performing this work more than ever these days, and that’s a good thing.

How does the “Carnival” Overture by Antonin Dvorak (below) set up the program and why did you include it? Do you intend to make another recording of Overtures in Overture Hall?

While we have no specific plans to do another CD, having shorter works available for such a project is valuable. But I programmed the Dvorak to hopefully wildly contrast the Barber concerto that follows.

The first movement of the Barber is so pastoral like and romantic in character, so a wild ride at the carnival should provide us the perfect foil to the concerto.

Also, it has been years since we have played this Dvorak and shows off the virtuosity of the string section, and has that beautiful contrasting slow part.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Alongside McDuffie’s expertise with the Barber concerto, which he recorded some years back, any foray into a Beethoven symphony is an integral and important part of our music-making experience.

The craft and the sound that Beethoven (below) possessed, for me, doesn’t fade with time, rather only grows in estimation of this unique human, who for a short time graced this planet, and left us with these unsurpassed aural treasures.

I hope we serve him well.

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Posted in Classical music

1 Comment »

  1. […] Classical music: Conductor John DeMain discusses Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony and… […]

    Pingback by Ticket to Orchestra or Opera Theatre Performance - Deals2Inbox — March 24, 2011 @ 4:08 am


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