Adam Interviews RPO’s Music Director Andreas Delfs

Adam Interviews

The kind of music with which Delfs hopes to surprise audiences

Rochester, N.Y. (WROC) — Andreas Delfs wants people talking about the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.

As the RPO’s new music director, Delfs in incorporating music that he hopes will have people clambering for a seat at Kodak Hall.

Folks will fill those seats Thursday and Saturday night for Paremski + Rachmaninoff, a performance that will offer both traditional and modern offerings.

Wednesday, Delfs sat down with Adam Chodak to talk about his new role.


Adam Chodak: You’re not a stranger to Rochester. What is like to be in this role as music director?

Andreas Defls: Oh, it’s heaven. It’s something that I’ve been wanting for a long time. I’ve been coming here as a guest for over 20 years and always enjoyed my time partly because Rochester is such a great community. It has the big city feel with all the great arts and culture and restaurants, but the community is warm and close knit and friendly and the orchestra is one of the best orchestras I’ve ever conducted in my life, so every time when I came back I was in 7th Heaven and now I can do that almost every week. So it’s wonderful.

AC: What’s your vision for the orchestra?

AD: Well, as you know, we just came back from 18 months of doing very little because of the pandemic and first of all we’re so excited to be back in the hall and playing for a real audience. That means a lot to the musicians and to the audience as well, but on the other hand we are below capacity because of the seating arrangements due to COVID, but hopefully in a few weeks or few months that will be all a thing of the past and our big concern is that we will then have to rebuild the audiences as they were before the pandemic and we hope it will all just fall into place as we’re used to, but we don’t know because people have developed different habits and I’ve heard that from orchestras all over the world, people have gotten used to going out less, people have gotten used to streaming concerts and getting content on the internet.

So I think the orchestra performs at the absolute top level of their ball game and I think we have very exciting fun programs. The word of mouth has to spread again that there’s activity happening here and I hope over the next couple of months that just spreads through the community so that when the threat of all the seating arrangements and social distancing is less that people will want to come back and join it.

AC: You and the musicians thrive on audience response. What was it like opening night?

AD: It felt like closing a circuit again. Performing with an orchestra is like an electric circuit. The energy from the audience to the orchestra and back and forth and the conductor conducts the energy a little bit and you play in a studio for streaming or chamber music, that circuit doesn’t have the same kind of energy and that circuit closed again when we did our program three weeks ago and it was a wonderful feeling because I think people underestimate how much performers, not just musicians, all performers need the chemistry coming from the audience that tells them that they’re doing well and vice versa.

An orchestra or dance company or theater group can feel appreciated and that goes back and forth and that was missing during the last 18 months and we were just unbelievably happy to have it back.

AC: I can appreciate Baroque and Classical. At the same time, the Romantic and the later stuff to me is more accessible and from I’ve read that’s been your specialty. And I’m curious to know why you gravitated towards that…

AD: That’s very hard to say. It’s not always been the same in my life. I say a performer’s life changes over the years. I started with strictly Baroque music because I come from a very Lutheran north German town where it’s Bach, Bach, Bach morning to evening and I loved it. I played harpsichord, organ, piano and then something happened. I went as a 16 year old to the Wagner festival which was 14 days of Wagner from morning to evening, that changed my life.

It opened a bubble in my soul, I can’t explain it to you. And then the symphonic music of that period which would be Bruckner, Wagner, Strauss Brahms, Schumann, that became my most important part of my musical persona and it is to this very day. Why I cannot tell you. I discovered music I never liked 10 years ago and now I listen to medieval madrigals, it’s just because I never came across them in my life as a conductor and there is unbelievable, beautiful music to discover and the wonderful thing about being a performer is it takes more than lifetime to discover everything there is, but I react most strongly to music that is well-structured and has a wonderful architecture, but within that architecture transports emotion, message and meaning.

I like the symphonies of Mahler for example and that is for me the complete package in music right now. This week we play very heart-on-your-sleeve romantic pieces, the Rachmaninoff Paganini variations and the Spartacus Love Theme and when they hear it they know it because it’s been used in a million commercials and we have a very romantic and beautiful program this week.

AC: So audiences can expect the traditional, but also for you to push the boundary and bring in things that are more popular in pop culture…

AD: I like variety. I want people who come to the RPO to be surprised and hear something different than they heard the week before because the pepper and salt of life is variety. So, for example, we start the program with The Threepenny Opera with the famous Mac the Knife song which is 20s jazz with a little rinky dink band and then we go right to the Rachmaninoff Paganini variations because I like those contrasts.

AC: And obviously RPO like so many other orchestras have had to deal with financial obstacles over time. What’s your approach to that to make sure we here in Rochester – we don’t have the money that the Met has in NYC – that we survive and we can thrive?

AD: I think Rochester has a wonderful support system, it’s very deeply ingrained in the community here and the fact that in 2 years from now we have our 100th anniversary, that’s a great testament to the fact that this community has loved and supported this orchestra for a long time. Our job, my job is to make sure that for the next 200 years that it will still be there and I think the best way you can do that is continuously do great work, exciting work that people talk about.

There has to be buzz. People have to support the orchestra not only with their love and their free time, but also financially. Everybody loves to bet on a winning horse so when we make good stories and have good stories to tell and the word of mouth on the street is whenever you go to the RPO it’s exciting and fun and great I think the community support that we’ve enjoyed for 100 years will continue and maybe hopefully even grow.

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