Robert DeMaine knows something about the “king of all cello concertos” since he possesses the Stradivarius made in 1684 that was used for the composition’s premier performance two centuries later.
DeMaine, principal cellist of the L.A. Philharmonic, is scheduled to be featured in performances of Antonín Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with the Juneau Symphony on Saturday and Sunday at the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé auditorium. In an interview Wednesday, DeMaine said an alluring trait of one of the best-known cello concertos among performers is it involves a series of duets with the other sections of the orchestra.
“You always hear the cello front and center, but at the same times it’s such a Technicolor score,” he said.
It was the final solo concerto composed by Dvořák and premiered in London 1896 with English cellist Leo Stern playing the featured instrument on a Stradivarius named the “General Kyd.” It’s now owned by the L.A. Philharmonic which has entrusted it DeMaine, although he won’t be bringing it to Alaska.
“The General Kyd is kind of a tired old battle axe,” he said. “It wants to play bass lines. It’s enormous and it’s hard to handle.”
Instead, DeMaine is bringing a cello crafted by Jean Baptiste Vuillaume in 1841, which DeMaine described as an exceptionally versatile sonic marvel that carries solidly in the unamplified arrangements he prefers.
DeMaine, 53, who’s been performing since the age of 12 and the principal cellist for the L.A. orchestra since 2012, has played extensively with ensembles globally, including every U.S. state except Alaska and Hawaii. He will make his Hawaii debut later this year and said his inaugural visit to Alaska occurred when Christopher Koch, a long-ago classmate at the Eastman School of Music in New York, became music director of the Juneau Symphony last year.
“Christopher called me out of the blue, and just wanted to chit-chat and had an idea to run by me,” DeMaine said.
Koch said he hadn’t seen DeMaine for more than 30 years, but getting him to come to Juneau was an easy pitch.
“When I came to Juneau last summer I thought would be really great to have a spectacular guest artist this season,” Koch said. “He was very happy to come to Juneau and play. He’s really just a wonderful, personable and generous person.”
DeMaine, in addition to composing many works, has had several other cello concertos written specifically for him by modern composers. Performing the Dvořák composition — whose full title is “Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104, B. 191” — was Koch’s idea based on the widespread familiarity and appeal of the piece.
“For our audience here in Juneau the Dvořák Cello Concerto is truly a complete and cathartic journey,” Koch said. “It’s just one of those journeys that gives you every possible musical delight you can imagine.”
DeMaine, scheduled to arrive in Juneau late Wednesday night and spend two days rehearsing with the Juneau Symphony, said collaborating on a performance such as the concertos written for him would require more time rehearsing with the local ensemble. He also noted he’ll have a packed schedule during his visit, since he’s also scheduled to perform solo during a private event for symphony board members and other guests, plus participate in a workshop with local students.
The three-movement concerto that’s about 40 minutes in duration is scheduled to be the second half of a concert that will begin with excepts from Edward Elgar’s Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 36 (commonly known simply as “Variations”), followed by Paul Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber (“Symphonic Metamorphosis”). Koch said the latter is among the most-performed compositions of the 20th century.
“It’s not that long, but it gives everyone a good workout,” he said. “It’s a high-intensity workout.”
The performances are scheduled at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday, with a pre-concert talk by DeMaine and other participants starting one hour before each show. Tickets are available from the Juneau Symphony’s website.
• Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at firstname.lastname@example.org