Poet and musician James DePreist will conduct the BSO

December 12, 1990|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,Evening Sun Staff

James DePreist is a top-flight conductor known for directing orchestras from here to Mars and back but he also writes earth-bound poetry as clear as an oboe's piercing line:




set of books.


Death is the tunnel at the end of our light.

Poetry for DePreist is a passion that seems to compete almost as mightily for his creative soul as Tchaikovsky and Ravel. The 54-year-old musician has written two books of poetry, "The Precipice Garden" and "Distant Siren." Their hallmark is economy -- there are few words -- clear meaning and principles for everyone.

He admits to writing poetry better than music.

"I once wrote the music for three ballets for the Philadelphia Dance Academy but I never felt about writing music as I feel about writing poetry. I know how to write poetry. I want to control the smallest of ambiguities, so that the reader doesn't require physically being there to be where I am."

It will be the poetry of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's music under his direction that Baltimoreans will hear at 8:15 p.m. tomorrow and Friday when he leads the BSO in a concert with Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire.

The BSO will play the Danish composer Carl Nielsen's "Symphony No. 5," Ravel's "Mother Goose Suite" and Robert Schumann's "Piano Concerto in A Minor" with soloist Freire. Tickets are $11-$37. For information, call 783-8000. Limited reservations for an open rehearsal tomorrow morning were closed yesterday.

DePreist is music director of the Oregon Symphony Orchestra in Portland, where he has developed a rich romantic sound in long singing lines. After 10 years he signed a new contract last year that will extend until 1995-96. In addition to the 25 annual weeks with Oregon, he is booked in the United States and Europe until 1993-94. He becomes principal conductor of the Malmo Symphony in Sweden in 1991.

The former percussionist is accompanied on his travels by his Quebec-raised wife Ginette, whom he met while he led the Quebec Symphony Orchestra.

"She gives me the important concert-goer's reaction. I might be deeply immersed in something so expressive and I ask her if she felt the same way. She might say, 'Not exactly ... I had the temptation to go out and check the pressure on the tires,' she was so bored."

Back in Baltimore for his third guest spot leading the BSO, DePreist said, "It's a wonderful orchestra, capable of doing anything with its first-rate players and ensemble. Good, wonderfully flexible, wonderful to work with. David [Zinman, the music director] is building his own sound here."

The concert with DePreist, who is black, is the first in the BSO's new five-concert series, "A Taste of Something New," to attract more African-Americans to Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. Thus far, the BSO has sold 298 series subscriptions but it's not known how many were bought by African-Americans or other minorities. nTC The recent All-Baltimore concert was heard by far more African-Americans and Asian-Americans than usual.

DePreist said he favored programs that bring more people and musicians, whatever color, to symphony halls but in the appropriate context:

* "We can see blacks aren't in the symphony hall but we can't tell how many whites from the same socio-economic groups as those blacks are also not coming."

* "A music director has to select the music in an absolutely color-blind atmosphere. I like some music by African-Americans but some I don't like. The same for music by whites."

* "Black classical musicians are coming out of the training pipeline in the same ratio they are in the pipeline. So make sure more get into the pipeline. Women, too. About 99 per cent of people who audition for orchestra jobs don't make it. Once blacks get on orchestras, they do spectacularly. It would demean blacks to alter the standards."

* "Orchestras here should pay more attention and hire talented conductors, American or not, when they are young. American musicians are among the best, phenomenal talents."

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