Eckart Preu - In the vanguard of a new generation

25. Oct. 2010 – Recently, I had the pleasure of a conversation with Maestro Eckart Preu, conductor of the Stamford Symphony since 2005, Maestro Preu is one of a new generation of expressive conductors, one which believes in presenting a wide variety of musical style and periods, and who believe that outreach and audience development and support from all directions are all factors essential to the preservation of classical music. In our present society, this is sorely lacking. Our children are not exposed to classical music, and neither are many of the parents. Just as points of information, the Stamford Symphony is one of four symphony orchestras within a small radius of perhaps ten miles, and the Sunday afternoon concerts offer free admission to children. (I assume they must be accompanied by an adult.)

Eckhart Preu was born in Erfurt, Germany. His parents were musicians, though not professional, his father largely self-taught as a pianist and conductor. As a boy soprano,Preu was a member of the historic Dresdener Kreuzchor, which was founded in the 16th century, and of which the composer Heinrich Schuetz was an early director.

Much of Preu's early conducting career was in Europe, but he now is responsible for the Spokane Symphony as well as Stamford. The weekend prior to his opening concerts in Stamford, he conducted that body in a program of Bach, Prokofiev and Strawinsky. The Stamford audience will be treated to a program featuring the towering Fifth Symphony of Beethoven and Brahms' Double Concerto for Violin and Cello, with the orchestra's excellent concertmaster, violinist Erika Kiesewetter and cellist Edward Arron.

A winner of several conducting competitions, and the Kark Boehm scholarship, among other studies, he did graduate work at Hartt School of Music, and earned a master's degree in conducting at the Hochschule fuer Musik in Weimar. He also spoke of preparing and presenting Mozart's "Don Giovanni" with a cast composed of non-professional, basically untrained singers! He spoke of this as being a remarkable and rewarding success, thanks to a tear's worth of work.

The Stamford Symphony's final concert was a program composed of the music of John Williams, which Preu emphatically noted was far and above the designation of "movie music," even though we were treated some fun with the Star Wars" excerpts. Williams, also a former conductor of the Boston Pops, is an important American composer, and the orchestra and Preu celebrated him as exactly that.

Preu also spoke of the importance of programmed for a given audience, knowing through several sources, what people would like to hear, and mentioned also the importance of having both an executive director and a musical director, so that each of them can be fully attentive to their work. He prefers the way things are done here, rather than the more rigid "German" system, because artistic decision are not limited in anyway.

We touched on the problem of music education. Preu believes it is not a good thing, but a reality that the arts are the first things cut from school budgets, leaving children and young people without the chance to learn more about music in school.

He himself believes in an early start, and members of the symphony present short concerts at the Stamford Nature Center for very young children through the fourth grade' These concerts are interactive between the children and the musicians, but he laso said that such exposure must involve the cooperation and encouragement of the parents and broad support. Children hearing classical music can have fun with it, and learn to love it early. Financial and logistical problems also have to be considered. He said that teen-agers are often lost for a while though that desire to be "cool," but they can be won back.

(He is absolutely right. I chatted with several teen-age gentlemen at the Williams concert last Spring, and all of them were enthusiastic and said it was a "blast" and cool besides.)

Preu hopes to be able to offer his pre-concert talks for young people again this year.

His dream, he said, is always to have full houses and broad support, both audience and financial. He loves to feel the appreciation of the audience for his music-making, and he can't help but have fun when that happens. That definitely includes a tangible, warm sense of joy that flows between him, the orchestra and his audience, which, I can attest, certainly has been the case each time I have been to a Stamford Symphony concert.

Speaking with Maestro Preu, a valuable asset to the artistic life of our area, this writer was deeply impressed by his talent, his knowledge and dedication, his obvious love for music and his work, and not least, his sense of humor!

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