A Look Inside: Amadeus Orchestra Opens with Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky and Schubert
Conductor Discusses September 29th Program
With fall upon us and winter soon to follow, the Amadeus Orchestra will inject youth and vitality into the less-vibrant seasons of the year with the opening program of its 2013-14 season.
The Orchestra, under Artistic Director and Conductor A. Scott Wood, will move the calendar a few weeks back by starting the concert with Mendelssohn’s Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That will be followed by Tchaikovsky’s only concerto-like piece for cello and orchestra, Variations on a Rococo Theme, with National Symphony Orchestra cellist Steven Honigberg as soloist. The program concludes with Schubert’s energetic Symphony No. 2. Both the Mendelssohn Overture and the Schubert symphony were written when the composers were in their teens. The Tchaikovsky composition is known as one of the more strenuous pieces for cello, allowing the soloist almost no rest during its performance. For those hoping to slide easily into fall, the Amadeus Orchestra will have something to say about it.
To get our patrons ready for the concert, Amadeus Orchestra will be doing two new activities this season. At 3:15pm before each 4pm concert, Maestro Wood will discuss the day’s program with audience members. The session is free to those holding concert tickets. In addition, before each concert this Web site will feature a discussion with the Maestro, soloists and members of the orchestra about the upcoming program.
To begin this series, we spoke with Maestro Wood about several topics, including how he chooses programs and prepares himself and the orchestra. An edited transcript appears below.
Seth Arenstein: Scott, how do you decide your programs for the season? Do you like to stay in the same era or is there something else at work? Were you interested in a youthful program? For example, the Mendelssohn is thought to be the composer’s first piece, premiered when he was 17. The Schubert symphony also is a teenage piece.
A. Scott Wood: It’s a bit of a mystery how programs come together. Sometimes it’s just an idea that suggests one piece, and that piece suggests the next. And often you end up a long way from where you started. Here there is definitely that youthful connection, and the Rococo Variations is one of my all-time favorites. Luckily a soloist like Steven Honigberg has a large repertoire, and he was happy to play the Tchaikovsky.
SA: Let’s talk about preparing and rehearsing the orchestra. Typically, how many rehearsals does the Amadeus Orchestra do before a performance?
Wood: There are seldom more than a few rehearsals, and every moment is precious. Professionals of the caliber of the Amadeus Orchestra come to the first rehearsal with all the technique in place; we focus on creating a unified realization of the score. Pacing and balancing are also critical; the musicians are adjusting to what they hear from each other.
SA: Do you and the soloist, Steven in this case, meet before rehearsing with the orchestra and discuss the piece and your interpretations of it?
Wood: Yes, we have a play-through with just the two of us before working with the orchestra. Sometimes we talk about technical issues; for example, what tempos will we take. We clarify who takes the lead at different places in the music. One of the things I value most in a soloist is a sympathetic relationship in which we both feel we are working well together. When you focus on the composer’s vision, you can often avoid what might become a tendency to fight for control.
SA: How do you prepare to conduct a concert? How long does it take to learn a piece you’ve never played before? How long does it take to re-learn a piece you’ve done before?
Wood: In a sense, you’re never ready to conduct a piece; there is always more to learn—and that’s what keeps the music new. It’s not hard to take an orchestra through something successfully, but when I’ve really studied a piece well I perceive that most of the riddles in the music solve themselves. Paradoxically, the more I have internalized the piece, the more likely I am to hear something new in it. To get to this point, though, the piece must become part of your DNA.
SA: Let’s talk about the Mendelssohn Overture. Presumably you’ve conducted it, played it as a trumpeter and/or heard it many time. It’s been done so often it’s often labeled a warhorse. That said, it’s a marvelous stallion.
SA: OK, so to keep the music fresh do you try doing something with it that others haven’t?
Wood: I never try to do anything new for novelty’s sake. I also don’t often listen to recordings; that’s not because I won’t like someone else’s ideas or am afraid of being influenced. It’s just that doing that always feels one step removed from the composer. I try to let the score guide me. That tends to keep me honest, but also unlocks my creativity. And I keep my ears open to learn things from the orchestra.
SA: Thank you, Maestro.
[Note: The first pre-concert discussion will be held at 3pm, at Saint Luke Church, McLean, VA, on September 29.]