Time to indulge in some Mozart, Dvorak, at the symphony

This weekend, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra puts the spotlight on the compositions of Mozart and Dvorak this week as it welcomes guest conductor and pianist William Eddins.
Eddins, music director of the Edmonton Symphony,will take the stage with the orchestra for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70, B. 141.
The Observer caught up with Eddins via email to talk to him about the series of concerts from Dec. 4 to 7.
Observer: First of all, you’re coming in as a guest conductor for the Hartford Symphony. To my mind, it’s kind of like getting in and driving another person’s car. The basic skills are the same, but it is a different machine than the one you may be used to. What’s the challenge of coming in as a guest conductor and getting to know this new ensemble?
Eddins: Yes, welcome to the life of a guest conductor. It helps tremendously if two things can happen: 1) you have a very, very clear idea of what you want musically out of piece, as well as a good conducting technique; and 2) you listen well. The first one will help the musicians to quickly understand what you want from them and how you would like the piece to go. We all have our tendencies, of course, and by this time my orchestra is pretty darn sure about how I like my Mozart. That makes things easier for me and them. With a new orchestra that can be a bit of a crapshoot. The second thing, I mentioned helps you adapt to the orchestra. Each orchestra is different, certain sections are better, or they have certain tendencies, or whatever. Also, halls are different, and orchestras adapt to their own halls as well. Plus, I love it when orchestras really have a sense of individuality in their music making. It makes things more exciting.

O: On the flip side, like driving a car different from what you’re used to can be fun. It’s something new that offers features you might not have had a chance to use before. What are the joys of coming in and working with a new set of musicians for a night?
E: I am one of those conductors who likes to hear different things, to experiment with music depending on… well, a whole host of factors. The last thing I want is for a piece of music to sound the same from one day to the next. I think that is unconscionably boring. So, when confronted with a new set of musicians I look forward to hearing things differently than what I’m used to. Who knows? I might like how the oboe plays that particular line right there. By adapting, I am allowing them a certain amount of artistic freedom, which is always a good thing.

O: I’ve asked other pianists this before. Your particular instrument in many ways is an orchestra of its own because of its range and flexibility, which is why it works so well as a solo instrument. What are the challenges of melding the pianist and symphony in a single performance? What makes it a joy?
E: The piano is one of the most immediate instruments in existence. By that I mean, it can produce a sound much more quickly than most other instruments. Just slap your hand down and there you go. A woodwind player needs to take a breath, get their lips in the right position, blow correctly, have the proper fingering, etc., etc., etc. That takes time. Because the piano is so immediate, we pianists have a tendency of playing very early in the beat, where many orchestras naturally play on the back end of the beat. When you put the two together there has to be an accommodation by both parties, otherwise it’s not together. As for the actually sound of the instrument – I admit that I’ve played a lot of piano in orchestras, something which is ridiculously fun, so I’m used to the piano/orchestra combination. It pleases me, but perhaps I’m biased.

O: The evening will include a piece by Mozart and a piece by Dvorak. They are definitely composers with different approaches because they rose to prominence in two separate eras. First of all, for you as a musician where does the power and joy lie in Mozart in general, and this particular piece specifically? Secondly, let’s approach the same question in terms of the Dvorak piece… where does the power and joy of Dvorak lie in general, and more specifically for this piece?
E: Actually the answer is the same for both composers. These pieces came along at critical moments in their development when they were really searching for their mature sound. For Mozart, these piano concerti (14 – 25) are the only pieces he wrote for himself, to show of himself, to put him in the spotlight, all written within a few years of moving to the big city, Vienna. He was composer, soloist, and conductor all rolled into one.
For Dvorak, it’s the same. He was in a compositional rut, and it was his friend Brahms who broke him out of it. Dvorak was inspired by Brahms’ great 3rd symphony (he was at the premiere), and Dvorak poured his heart and soul into symphony #7 in D minor. It really shows – this is the most powerful of all the symphonies, and for my money the best piece he ever wrote. He really channeled his love of his Czech homeland through this symphony. It’s a much better piece than “New World.”

O: As a musician, I am sure you have taken the time to listen to these pieces as performed for others. For the audiences, who may be unfamiliar pieces, as the compositions unfold, what should they be listening for and why do you think they will fall in love with the pieces?
E: Actually, I’ve never heard anyone else play either of these pieces. I don’t listen to classical music. There’s way too much going on in my head already. That having been said – for the Mozart, this is concerto writing 101. It’s astounding how Mozart can take a G major scale and turn it into music. The sheer joy and interplay between soloist and orchestra is at the very heart of this fabulous piece.
For the Dvorak – this is lush, middle period romanticism at its finest. If you love Brahms, you will love this piece. I’m not sure I can say much more about it.
Hartford Symphony Orchestra will present its Masterworks Series: Mozart and Dvorak Thursday through Sunday, Dec. 4 to 7 at the Belding Theater at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday.
A pre-concert talk by William Eddins will take place one hour prior to each performance.
Tickets range in price from $38.50-$67.50. Student tickets are $10. On Saturday, Dec. 6, $25 tickets are available for patrons age 40 and under. To buy tickets or for more information, contact HSO ticket services at (860) 987-5900 or visit www.hartfordsymphony.org

William Eddins, music director of the Edmonton Symphony, will take up the baton this weekend as a guest conductor for the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.

William Eddins, music director of the Edmonton Symphony, will take up the baton this weekend as a guest conductor for the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.