Edo de Waart returns to the Twin Cities

Edo de Waart
Edo de Waart, former director of the Minnesota Orchestra, is returning to the Twin Cities as one of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra's artistic partners in 2010.
Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Orchestra

Edo de Waart's long, distinguished career has included conducting orchestras in his homeland the Netherlands; Sydney, Australia, and Hong Kong.

But now he's 66 and growing tired of so much traveling. He says he wants to spend more time with his young family.

"If you have a six year old daughter who has 220,000 frequent flyer miles there is something wrong. You've been in the air too much," he says.

St. Paul Chamber Orchestra
The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra has been working with artistic partners since 2004. The artistic partners for the 2007-08 season are Roberto Abbado, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Douglas Boyd, Nicholas McGegan and Dawn Upshaw
Photo by Ann Marsden, courtesy of SPCO

Last year de Waart moved his family to his wife's hometown, Middleton, Wisconsin, near Madison. They had been living in Hong Kong, where de Waart is music director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic, but he was concerned about the city's severe air pollution's effect on his kids.

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De Waart will continue leading Hong Kong's orchestra and guest conducting symphonies around the world. But now he's centering his career in the United States.

Next season he becomes principal conductor of the Sante Fe Opera and in 2009 will succeed former Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra music director Andreas Delfs at the helm of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

Edo de Waart's decision to accept a position as one of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra's artistic partners was partially based on geography, but also on a desire to return to chamber music. One of his earliest conducting positions was leading the Netherlands Wind Ensemble and with the SPCO he says his career will come full circle.

"I have been mostly involved the last 25 years with mega-undertakings like enormous operas by Wagner, Strauss, Prokofiev and others. So it's a really nice and wonderful thing to look forward to and go back to the fine filigree work I started with."

"I just want to do good work and make good music with people I like."

Edo de Waart's position as Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra artistic partner begins with the 2010-2011 season. Unlike most orchestras, which have a single music director at the helm, since 2004 the SPCO has been working in collaboration with a collection of artistic partners, each with different strengths and interests.

De Waart is still discussing concert ideas with the orchestra. He's sure he'll program some opera, just nothing on the Wagnerian scale.

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's Vice President for Artistic Planning John Mangum says de Waart is a natural fit for the group. He points to the maestro's wide ranging repertoire from the great classical composers to contemporary works.

"There's his work with John Adams when he was conducting the San Francisco Symphony," Mangum says. "He's also a great champion of Qigang Chen who's the composer-in-residence for the Beijing Olympics and has done his music in Hong Kong."

John Mangum
John Mangum is the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra's vice president for artistic planning. He says Edo de Waart is a perfect fit as one of the orchestra's artistic partners.
MPR Photo/Karl Gehrke

No stranger to Twin Cities' audiences, Edo de Waart led the Minnesota Orchestra from 1986 to 1995. With a reputation as an orchestra builder, de Waart was first brought to Minneapolis to improve and transform the ensemble.

Many of the musicians he hired, including concertmaster Jorja Fleezanis, are still here. His personality in those years has been described as "brusque."

De Waart says he's probably a little less serious nowadays.

"A bit of the loosening up started when I was conducting the Sydney Symphony. That helped me a lot being there 10 years. Australians have a tremendous sense of humor and don't take themselves terribly seriously. I think that rubbed off to a certain extent."

After a four decade long conducting career that has taken him around the world, Edo de Waart's absolute priority now is his children - a seven year old daughter and five year old son. He says he's reached a point where he doesn't have to do anything he doesn't want to do.

"I just want to do good work and make good music with people I like." he says. "And if I don't like them and they don't like me, I'm not coming back." Laughing he adds, "Ever."

Edo de Waart's appointment with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra is for four years. He'll conduct about three concert programs annually. And unlike the last time he took a job with a Twin Cities orchestra, he says he won't have to undertake any difficult rebuilding.

"Hallelujah," de Waart says. "I just come in and make music."