Why did the Portland Symphony Orchestra choose Eckart Preu to be its musical director? In part, it was because of the strong relationships he forged with other Symphonies around the country. Take a look below to find out more about his musical journey that eventually led him here to Portland Maine.
Spokane Symphony – the tenure that almost didn’t happen
Before he came here to Portland, Maine Earhart was music director of the Spokane Symphony. According to an article in the Spokseman-Review no one thought he would get the position… most of all Eckart Preu.
To begin with, Preu, 34 at the time, hadn’t even applied for the position of music director himself. His then-manager put his name in the hat and only clued Preu in when he was named one of the finalists to replace Fabio Mechetti.
“I felt like ‘I don’t stand the slightest chance, given the circumstances, with my being a fairly inexperienced conductor, with a program I had never conducted before, with an orchestra I didn’t know,” Preu said. “Which then, of course, opened me up, I think, to be really relaxed about it and I said ‘I don’t have to prove anything to anybody.’ ”
“We said ‘Poor Eckart, he’s going to jump through all these hoops and there’s not a snowball’s chance that he’s going to make it,’ ” said Annie Matlow, the Spokane Symphony’s marketing and public relations director. “He came in on Monday and in 24 hours, it had totally changed.”
“All of the music director finalists established themselves as highly capable, but Eckart Preu was a standout from the orchestra’s point of view,” said William Simer, the symphony’s then-board president, in a 2004 Spokesman-Review article. “He made a connection with the players that was extraordinary. The orchestra sounded luxurious, and the listeners went crazy. We liked him as a person and he liked Spokane.”
Stamford Symphony Orchestra – doing the hard work…and finding the joy.
When the Connecticut Post wrote a feature on Eckart’s 12 years at the Stamford Symphony Orchestra it mentioned his strong repertoire and considerable skills required to stay on top of, “rehearsals, scheduling, administrative and programming duties, pre-concert talk research, fundraising, researching contemporary composers, meeting with community groups and, oh yes, conducting”. However the articles focus was on the sheer joy that he brought to the Symphony.
“What I am trying to do is make sure that people have fun. I want them to come out more elated than when they came in,” says Preu, who finds levity an integral part of any art. “I just want the musicians to have fun, the audience to have fun and to bring them together with music and to do something memorable. That is kind of it, and anything bigger than that is so pretentious to me. If it happens, great. It’s just not my personality.”
The article also mentions him doing a “quick, oompah-like two-step” with the concertmaster during rehearsal. Alas, we don’t have any video so you’ll just have to imagine that!
Long Beach Symphony – Making the music accessible
In a review from the Long Beach Grunion Gazette Eckart was praised for the way he introduced a potentially unfamiliar piece of music.
His remarks were not only engaging but insightful, giving his near-capacity audience solid musical and biographical information, talking about an unfamiliar piece of music by an unknown composer as if it were the most natural thing in the world, and basically getting folks ready to hear the piece with open ears. The performance itself was remarkable. In an interview earlier this year Preu told me he likes a big, juicy Romantic sound from his orchestra, and that’s what he got. I have not ever heard this group play with such a variety of colors and articulations, and with such unanimity. Preu was in command throughout…keeping his now-rapt audience spellbound.
And for the future… want to find out what happens here with the Portland Symphony Orchestra here in Maine at Merrill Auditorium? You can find out more about performances here and find out more about lectures and other events here.