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Rhodes Less Traveled

Lates HSO Director Candidate Virtually Home-Grown, Coming From Springfield

By JEFFREY JOHNSON

October 10, 2010

Among the seven finalists for music director of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Kevin Rhodes has the home-field advantage: He is music director of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra.

"Its fantastic for me," joked Rhodes. "I'm the only candidate who is going to be able to go home after each rehearsal and each performance and sleep in his own bed!"

Not to mention nearly a dozen HSO musicians also play with the Springfield orchestra, "so there has been a lot of cross-pollination."

But Rhodes the first of the remaining three finalists to be heard this season is not a homebody by any stretch. He has maintained an impressive schedule as a guest conductor and works regularly with some of the major opera houses of Europe, including the Paris Opera, La Scala and the Vienna State Opera.

This season marks his debut with the Dutch National Ballet, and he will play 50 performances as conductor of the Paris Ballet.

Rhodes described his conducting style as being strongly influenced by the theater. He spent his formative years doing community theater before moving into opera and ballet. His relationship to symphonic music carries the imprint of these influences.

"You're creating a dramatic situation with the orchestra," he says, "and that informs everything I do musically."

An orchestral musician recently told Rhodes, "You know, you actually act the whole drama for us!"

"In a way, it is what it's all about," Rhodes says. "What we are doing as conductors is acting out the drama that we see in the music so the orchestra can produce the actual sounds in dramatic fashion."

Rhodes will have plenty of opportunity to reveal his dramatic side Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, where he directs a program that includes the Brahms Academic Festival Overture, Beethoven's Emperor Concerto and the Shostakovich Fifth Symphony.

"I am extraordinarily thrilled to be doing this particular program," he says.

Asked about the symphony by the Russian Shostakovich, Rhodes says, "My God, what a drama! This incredible musician needed to promote the state line though music. The culture and history of a people collided with the history of an artist creating a unique work."

Most of the piece expresses "an unbelievable sadness," says Rhodes. But there is an infamous moment, near the conclusion of the work, when the music breaks from minor into a bright major. Is it a triumph over oppression, or is it sarcastic?

"This is such a fascinating problem," says Rhodes. "The end of this symphony if you just listen to it, seems uplifting; it seems triumphant. But Shostakovich wrote later that it was forced happiness.

"There is also a very famous misprint in the music," Rhodes says, "right at this same moment."

The idea of the misprint comes from many sources, including Shostakovich's son, Maxim. The printed tempo marking is quarter-note equals 188, which is the blinding quick tempo common to recordings prior to the middle 1970s. The tempo, according to the misprint theory, was supposed to be eighth-note equals 188, which would make the music sound twice as slow as the printed marking.

"The twice-as-fast version," says Rhodes, "is so up! Oh, my God!"

The slower tempo is "still a powerful moment, but the sheer jubilance is taken away from it, and it becomes more scary. The slowness of the main theme is then slower: beyond noble, slower beyond important, slower than grand. It becomes slow to the point of pompous."

The first half of the program will center on Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5. Rhodes inherited this work but was asked to choose the soloist. He chose Jeffrey Biegel, who most recently appeared with the HSO in the fall of 2007, when he played the Lowell Liebermann Piano Concerto No. 3 to great acclaim.

Rhodes has worked with Biegel often, and they have collaborated on a diverse repertoire.

He and Biegel first met at an informal session to go over ideas before working with the orchestra, Rhodes recalled. "I walked in, and he was playing, and I thought, 'Man, I can really relate to the way he plays.' I was immediately taken with his musicality."

The opening piece of the Bushnell program, Brahms' Academic Festival Overture, was the only part Rhodes was able to choose for himself.

"The transition from the real world into the concert hall world is accomplished by the opening work on the program," he says. "There are some works that make that transition elegantly and others that don't. Rather than the standard Rossini or Verdi overtures, [I thought] that something a little more serious would be in order."

This overture has an exhilarating mix of serious and fun. It is scored for the biggest orchestra in Brahms, "by a long shot," says Rhodes. The percussion and auxilliary woodwinds that were available because of the Shostakovich made this work by Brahms seem perfect.

The HSO's new music director is scheduled to be named in January.

>>KEVIN RHODES conducts the Hartford Symphony Orchestra Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. in the Belding Theater at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. Pianist Jeffrey Biegel is the featured soloist. Tickets are $33.50 to $65.50. Information: 860-244-2999 or http://www.hartfordsymphony.org.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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