4 MSO Musicians Weigh in on Edo de Waart’s Final Show

Colleagues pay tribute to the departing MSO conductor.

Photo by Max Thomsen

By almost universal consensus, Edo de Waart’s no-nonsense devotion to craft and detail, his exacting work ethic and musical insight have brought the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra to new heights of excellence. But when I spoke to him in 2009, shortly after his appointment as the orchestra’s new music director, he was characteristically reserved and realistic about the future. “I don’t go in with a mandate or wanting a certain thing,” he said. “We work for a year and see how that goes. But I’m extremely optimistic.”

This month, as de Waart conducts his final concerts as the MSO’s music director, it’s clear that his optimism was well-founded. Known as an orchestra builder, de Waart has made his mark on the MSO, even as the organization, like so many American orchestras, has faced financial challenges. We asked some prominent MSO musicians and associates what the de Waart years have meant to them and to their orchestra.

“The past eight seasons with Edo have been the most rewarding period of my professional life as an orchestral musician. We’ve done Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony twice with Edo. Most conductors make lots of cuts and it still feels too long. Edo makes none, but his determination to linger over lush moments where Rachmaninoff says to slow down gave the performances tremendous flow and momentum. That’s not the absence of interpretation, because Edo is still doing a lot of shaping and balancing and pacing. But it puts the music ahead of the performers – which is where the music belongs.” Robert Levine, principal violist

“Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, [de Waart] sticks with the straightforward and selfless approach that the great composers knew what they were doing. With his incredible ear and sharp baton technique, he helps us to convey the music and lets the music shine instead of using it as some sort of tool to draw attention to the podium.” Megumi Kanda, principal trombonist

“Out of countless profound musical experiences with Edo, our Carnegie Hall concert in 2012 lingers for me. On one of the most famous stages in the world (with a packed house), there was the MSO with unique and inspired programming combined with an orchestra playing at the top of its game, and a conductor who invited and allowed them to do so.” Frank Almond,concertmaster

“Every conversation I had with Edo was about doing it right and doing it well. That didn’t always mean doing it big and doing it fancy. It just meant being true to your artistic soul and making sure you were uncompromised in your pursuit of excellence. In many ways that was perfect for our time.” Mark Niehauspresident and executive director (also a former principal trumpet) ◆

Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra at the Marcus Center

Beethoven, Elgar and Mozart, May 12 & 13

Bruckner and Bloch, May 19 & 20

Mahler’s Third Symphony, May 26-28

‘Adieu, Edo!’ appears in the May 2017 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning May 1, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.

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Paul Kosidowski is a freelance writer and critic who contributes regularly to Milwaukee Magazine, WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio and national arts magazines. He writes weekly reviews and previews for the Culture Club column. He was literary director of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater from 1999-2006. In 2007, he was a fellow with the NEA Theater and Musical Theater Criticism Institute at the University of Southern California. His writing has also appeared in American Theatre magazine, Backstage, The Boston Globe, Theatre Topics, and Isthmus (Madison, Wis.). He has taught theater history, arts criticism and magazine writing at Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.