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Traveling man: Edo de Waart returns to familiar turf

Edo de Waart
Courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic
Edo de Waart

Conductor Edo de Waart’s career is like a global game of musical chairs, spanning continents, famed orchestras and celebrated performances of classical music. In his latest move, the former conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra has announced his return to the Twin Cities, this time as an artistic partner with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.

The 66-year-old de Waart says his return to the Twin Cities is prompted in part by a desire to reduce the amount of travel his young children have to endure.

De Waart is to join SPCO for its 2010-11 season, conducting three pieces per season for four years. He was conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra from 1986 to 1995, before leaving to conduct the Sydney Orchestra for a decade.

Moving, moving, moving
De Waart is a travel agent’s dream come true. Last year, he and his sixth wife, Rebecca, moved their young family to her hometown of Middleton, Wis., near Madison. He commutes from there to his job with the Hong Kong Orchestra, where he has been chief conductor since 2004. Last year, he also took the baton at the Santa Fe Opera.

The children, 7 and 5 years old, have been logging too many frequent-flier miles, he says, though in recent months they’ve been staying mostly in Wisconsin. The nearly 8,000-mile trip to Hong Kong from Middleton takes more than 21 hours to complete, though de Waart says it wasn’t entirely clear to him just how far his eldest child had flown until he saw a statement from an airline indicating she’d racked up more than 200,000 miles.

“I didn’t ever really realize how much it was until I looked at that statement and thought, ‘Oh, my god, this is ridiculous,'” he says.

De Waart’s work will be more Midwest-centered after he takes over the reins at the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra next year. He’s succeeding former SPCO music director Andreas Delfs there.

Sonority matters
If Delfs and de Waart sit down to compare notes about Milwaukee and St. Paul, they might also discuss the philosophical and practical differences between conducting full and chamber orchestras. (Full orchestras have around 100 players; SPCO has 32.)

“Obviously, I have not conducted chamber orchestras a lot in my life, so I’m not that much aware,” says de Waart, a native of the Netherlands. “You work differently because nobody can hide, nothing basically gets lost. No voices get lost. Everything is audible and important. So you have to work with balances.”

He says he listened carefully while attending a recent SPCO performance of Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, thinking about those differences in orchestra sizes and sounds.

“Obviously, trombones, trumpets and [other] horns, they have a certain sonority,” he says. “When you suddenly drop a third of your string section, the [horns] cannot totally drop [out].”

Speaking of sonority and horns, check out de Waart conducting the Radio Filharmonisch Orkest Holland in “The Ride of the Valkyries” below.

De Waart says he looks forward to the challenge of downsizing. A chamber orchestra, he says, “is quite close to what Beethoven had himself.”

Taking it easy
Perhaps the greatest challenge de Waart — or anyone else — can undertake is the rearing of children. He says parenthood forces him to view his life in music differently than he has in the past.

“I have to say, it’s incredible in your life when suddenly it’s not all about you,” he says. “It’s something that, when you’re lucky enough to have children in the very good circumstances we are in, that you get to see a lot of each other.”

He says the kids have changed not only his perspective, but his behavior as well. The famed conductor is famously demanding, but has become somewhat less so, he says.

“The mellowing, I think it’s part of getting a little bit wiser, I hope. You know, as the years go on. I’m 66 now and that has partly to do with it. But obviously, that gets sped up a lot by your kids. They don’t look at me like the maestro or anything. They look at me like the dad who says no to something they want.”

Just say no

Minnesota Orchestra principal oboe Basil Reeve played nine years for de Waart when he led the group. He says the conductor “would not take ‘no’ for an answer” from musicians.

“He was all business and serious,” Reeve says. “He could be a little bit short with people occasionally.”

However, he says de Waart “changed this orchestra dramatically” and that the group’s transformation into a “top-notch orchestra” began under de Waart’s leadership.

Reeve, who has been with the orchestra 37 years, says, “I’ve been around awhile and have played with many conductors. The ones that do have the skills to back up [their demands of musicians] are not as plentiful as one might think.”

Does he count de Waart among them?


Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra musicians look forward to de Waart’s arrival, says longtime SPCO flutist Julia Bogorad-Kogan.

“The people that I’ve talked to are extremely pleased to have someone of his stature; to have a really important conductor added to our roster,” she says.

She worked with de Waart for a few weeks back in 1988, while she was subbing on principal flute for the Minnesota Orchestra.

“His rehearsal technique is extremely focused,” she says.

She says that while there’s not a great need at SPCO for de Waart’s orchestra-building skills and discipline, she looks forward to the sound she expects him to bring to the ensemble.

“Musically, he has a sense of spaciousness,” she says. “He lets the music breathe.

“I mean, this is a guy who’s been all over the world. He’s been everywhere. He will key into the various areas of specialization we have very nicely.”

Michael Metzger is a former editor of Goldmine, CD Review and Stereophile Guide to Home Theater as well as a former arts editor of Downtown Journal and Southwest Journal. He can be reached at mmetzger [at] minnpost [dot] com. 

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