Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Zach De Pue begins a new phase as he starts 10th season with ISO

Zach De Pue is at a crossroads with bright prospects.
Zach De Pue is about to celebrate a round-number anniversary as concertmaster of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, and the start of his 10th season here is a milestone also opening up a new path for him.

He announced a change of direction about a year ago, when he began a phased departure from Time for Three, the string trio he founded with fellow students at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.  "A classically trained garage band" is among the more enduring phrases that describe the ensemble he launched with Nick Kendall, violin, and Ranaan Meyer, double bass. The repertoire is rich in classical-pop mash-ups, and the stylistic range is immense, from baroque to bluegrass.

Continuing in residency with the ISO this season, Time for Three Thursday will introduce to the Happy Hour at the Symphony audience its second successor to DePue: Charles Yang. The first, Nikki Choi, put in a season with the group before winning the concertmaster chair in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.

I asked De Pue if he misses Tf3 yet. He quickly replied, "I'll always miss it. It was a fantastic, storied chapter of my life."

Besides the exposure to a different type of audience in many places here and abroad, Time for Three benefited De Pue artistically: "One of the biggest things I take away from that experience is the natural ability to groove with two other human beings." But he realized his duties as ISO concertmaster were getting in the way of full commitment to Time for Three, including composing and arranging for the group. "I was reliant on the guys to create parts for me, and I hated to see that part of the event go for me."

As that particular scene recedes into DePue's past, he will be heard with renewed focus on his classical side. He's particularly looking forward to being the ISO's soloist in Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, op. 99, at two concerts in January. Next Monday, he is a featured soloist in the annual "Gala Opening Concert,"  conducted by Raymond Leppard, in the University of Indianapolis' Faculty Artist Series. With UIndy faculty violinist Austin Hartman, De Pue will be heard in "the Bach Double," as J.S. Bach's Concerto in D minor for Two Violins and Orchestra is commonly known.

As first violinist in a new string quartet (as yet unnamed), De Pue and his colleagues will present concerts at UIndy in November and March. Other members are Hartman, ISO principal cellist Austin Huntington, and former ISO principal violist Michael Strauss. Pianist Orly Shaham will be the special guest Nov. 7, joining the quartet in a performance of Brahms' expansive Piano Quintet in F minor, op. 34.

De Pue's week of galas will be capped by another annual showcase: the ISO's Gala Concert on Sept. 24 at Hilbert Circle Theatre. De Pue will join nationally known guests Megan Hilty of Broadway fame, Thomas Lauderdale of Pink Martini, operatic soprano Angela Brown, and actor George Takei under the baton of ISO pops maestro Jack Everly, who is conducting an ISO gala opening concert for the first time. "It's a versatile program, and I'm excited about it," said De Pue, who will play Saint-Saens' Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso with the orchestra.

"It's Jack's first gala, and he's taking full advantage of the opportunity," he continued. "This concert will make a statement to the community"  about Everly's value to the organization. De Pue predicts the Classical Series audience will love Everly as much as the pops audience that knows him well.

De Pue came to Indianapolis from the Philadelphia Orchestra in 2007. He developed a close relationship with then-music director Mario Venzago. He worked with Leppard, Venzago's predecessor (subsequently named "conductor laureate"), in the annual Classical Christmas concerts presented at Scottish Rite Cathedral, a series that ended last December. For the past several seasons, he's been the right-hand man to Krzysztof Urbanski, the ISO's music director since 2011.

He makes this thumbnail comparison of Urbanski and Leppard, two men significantly separated by nationality, age, experience, and temperament. "Krzysz is thoroughly listening to the orchestra in rehearsal,"  De Pue said,  "trying to fix 15 things at once. He's got an incredible set of ears. I try to keep up with his speed and facilitate things: He gets exasperated easily, and I want to deliver for him at the highest level of playing. He has matured, after finding his ground, and knows how to work with the ensemble."

Turning to the 89-year-old Leppard, De Pue said: "Raymond is an incredible artist. Every performance I've been part of with him has been special. I would always think by the end that I understood completely how we did. He always knew what it would take (because of) his incredible experience with the ECO [English Chamber Orchestra], building it from the ground up."

Still a young man at 36, De Pue is now in the position of elder to many in the orchestra, and not just because he occupies the concertmaster chair.  Many new ISO members are in their 20s. "It's a huge relief to have a nice core group of young players who can make incredible music at a high level," De Pue said with typical enthusiasm. "It's cool for me to talk to those guys who are coming to us."

He gives some credit to ISO management (headed since 2013 by Gary Ginstling) for attracting good young players, in light of the fact that contract concessions the musicians made several years ago set the ISO's compensation back among the nation's year-round orchestras.

 "Players coming in have a lot of hope and a lot of opportunity," De Pue said. "One of the major concerns in 2012, '13, and '14 was that we would not be able to get good players. They are bringing a telltale sign that the orchestra is heading in the right direction. Once again it's a really wonderful place to make music as artists — and stay here."

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