Dallas brings Watts, Beethoven’s Ninth
Dallas Symphony Orchestra conductor Andrew Litton did not have your average debut with the baton.
“My subscription series debut was in an orchestra back in 1983. It was with the National Symphony,” Litton said. “My boss got sick. So, I had to conduct.”
The piece was MacDowell’s “Concerto No. 2 in D Minor for Piano and Orchestra.”
Some guy named Andre Watts.
Litton and Watts have become fast friends during the last 20-plus years, a relationship which brought Watts to Vail for Bravo! 2002 to play Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, one of the festival’s most memorable performances in recent years.
Two years later, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Litton and Watts are back ” and they will be performing the same MacDowell piece on July 7 that they did 21 years ago. On the same night, both Watts and Litton will also play Poulenc’s “Concerto in D Minor for Two Pianos and Orchestra.”
“I just think he’s getting better and better, just like a great Bordeaux wine,” Litton said. “He’s just an extraordinary artist. I never get tired of hearing him play, the energy in his music making or the joy of music making. I think they are palpable and really something irresistible to an audience. When you also count him as a friend, he’s so much fun to hang out with after. So, this is a win-win situation.”
So begins Dallas’ sixth season with the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival. Litton and company look forward to their residency each year. The orchestra members make the most of their time in the High Country, golfing, rafting, hiking and camping.
“I just say, ‘Just watch out for the bears and come back and play when it’s time,'” Litton joked.
And, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra has another fantastic lineup of concerts for 2004.
After Andre Watts makes his appearance, the DSO will present an evening of Mozart (“Overture to the Marriage of Figaro”), Beethoven (“Concerto in D for Violin and Orchestra”) and Prokofiev (Suites Nos. 1 and 2 from “Romeo and Juliet”)
The violinist for the Beethoven is James Ehnes, with whom Litton also has a special rapport.
“He’s a terrific young artist. I met him for the first time in Vail a couple of years ago and really enjoyed working with him,” Litton said.
“(Bravo! Artistic Director Eugenia Zukerman) and I discussed it and thought that it would be a wonderful idea to get him to play the Beethoven. Even though he tells terrible conductor jokes, I won’t hold it against him.”
While we do wonder how many conductors it takes to screw in a light bulb, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra hits the stage again July 16 with a program highlighted by Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini for Piano and Orchestra” and Shostakovich’s First Symphony.
Tackling the Paganini on the piano will be Jon Kimura Parker.
“What makes this particularly challenging for the pianist is that it’s a late piece for Rachmaninoff,” Litton said. “As a result, the textures are very lean. They’re very clean. You can hear every note. You can’t hide behind a huge orchestral talent. But for somebody like Jackie (Parker), this is like tying your shoes.”
After intermission, “We go to this piece written by a brash 19-year-old in Shostakovich’s First Symphony,” Litton joked.
While the piece does not have the pathos and angst of Shostakovich’s later works, the composer’s first foray into symphonic work does show flashes of things to come.
“It’s got all the ingredients that Shostakovich would grow up to develop,” Litton said. “It’s got its share of circus music as well as beautiful romantic themes and you get already the sense of orchestral color that he was going to develop. You can see his early love affairs with certain instruments like the cello and the piano and, in fact, the trumpet. There are big solo moments for all of these. It’s just a super piece.”
The phrase “super piece” would apply to the grandest of them all ” Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony ” which Dallas performs in its finale July 17. The Colorado Symphony Orchestra Chorus as well as soloists will join the orchestra for the “Ode to Joy” fourth movement.
“It’s one of the most scary and most challenging and most wonderful things you can do as a director,” Litton said. “It’s a daunting responsibility because of the extent of what a masterpiece it is. It doesn’t get greater than this. The challenge of making a 65-minute piece like this come to life with soloists who I just meet for the first time when I get to Vail, with a chorus that I work with for the first time when I get to Vail, that’s going to make it a very interesting night from a podium perspective.
“But, the piece itself, enough books have been written about it that you don’t need me to wax lyrical about it. All I can say is that it’s as moving to conduct and to perform as it is to listen to.”
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