The speculation about the new concertmaster for the Dallas Symphony has been broiling ever since Emanuel Borok retired from that position last August. The DSO has brought in a parade of players to sit in the chair, but the audience never really knew if they were candidates or placeholders. As it turns out, two of them will be returning on a permanent basis. Alexander Kerr will be the primary holder of the position and the 24-year-old Nathan Olson will take over when Kerr is elsewhere.
You can read the DSO's press release about Kerr's appointment here. Kerr and Olson will begin their new jobs here on Sept. 1, 2011, when the DSO begins its 2011-'12 season.
I caught up with Kerr for a telephone interview.
TheaterJones: Welcome to Dallas. How did this all happen?
Kerr: At first, I was invited to be a guest concertmaster to help fill in while the search was going on. I really liked the orchestra and the players were so welcoming. Many I already knew and some, like Greg Raden (Principal Clarinet) were classmates of mine. Of course, [DSO Music Director] Jaap [van Zweden] and I go way back.
Didn’t you follow Jaap van Zweden as concertmaster of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam when he left to start conducting?
Sure did. I was very young then. While I was the concertmaster there, I shared the job with another violinist.
Two concertmasters? Is that why the idea to share the chair in the DSO first came up?
It is common in Europe. Jaap had a co-concertmaster while he sat in the chair. It’s a better model to follow. Some orchestras have more than two concertmasters; I think that the Berlin Philharmonic actually has four. You need a break to do this job and keep it fresh and energized.
What causes all the stress?
Well, there is a lot more to it than just playing the violin part, although you have to start with playing that very well indeed. The concertmaster is there to facilitate. You are a go-between. You are a conduit between the orchestra and the conductor and between the separate parts of the orchestra as well. Besides, there are a lot of expectations coming at you from all directions.
That’s important, and seems like a lot of responsibility.
It’s not as bad as it used to be in Mozart’s time. The concertmaster carried a sword to work in those days [big laugh].
Of course, the concertmaster was also the conductor back then, too.
Correct. But when music began to get more and more complicated and the orchestra bigger, it became clear that someone needed to concentrate on keeping things together and not be playing at the same time. So, the conductor was invented and concertmaster because the leader of the orchestra. It is still a big job. We no longer need to be armed, but a mentor of mine told me, early on in my career, that you never sit in this chair and remain unscathed.
How do you take a leadership role while playing?
My body language is there for anyone who wants to watch. Things can always go wrong and there have been many times a concertmaster has helped successfully steer the ship back to port!
Will you still continue to teach at Indiana University?
Yes, I will. I love teaching there. It is a wonderful school. That is when Nathan will take over for me here.
How long will that be?
I will be in Dallas for 12 weeks next season and for 16 weeks after that. It will mostly coincide with when Jaap is conducting.
What did the dean of the music school at IU say when you went in to tell him?
He asked me if he should be sitting down (laugh). Actually, he really took it quite well. His name is Gwyn Richards and he is a first class amazing dean. Without his support, my decision to join the orchestra would have been a very difficult one to make. IU has had a long history of performing professors: Gingold, Starker, Pressler, for example. But Gwyn's understanding of my situation meant a lot to me. Besides, IU has always had professors that are still performing and are away for periods of time.
Doesn’t the concertmaster usually do the bowings [deciding when the bow will go up and down]? Will you do them here?
Yes and I enjoy that part of the job. I have a great collection of bowed parts from when I played in the Concertgebouw. In fact, I have copies of violin parts of some of the Mahler symphonies with Mahler’s own bowings on them. There are even some handwritten comments that Mahler wrote down for the concertmaster at the premiere. Talk about authentic bowings!
This is quite a year of change for the DSO. What do you think about its direction?
I always was blessed with great bosses. Now I have four of them that are really outstanding and forward-thinking. There’s Dean Richards at IU, and three here. Of course, Jaap is the one with whom I will be working the closest, but Paul Stewart [interim President of the DSO] is just as remarkable. When Paul and I sat down to talk about the possibility of me coming to Dallas, I was just astounded by his vision and energy. That interview was really the turning point in my decision-making process. And now that the DSO has added Bill Lively as the CEO, the trajectory of the Dallas Symphony is going to make history. I am incredibly excited to have the opportunity to perform with my new maestro. I will do my very best to help him realize his artistic vision for the DSO and look forward to our first collaboration next week.
What about a concerto? Everyone in Dallas will want to hear you play one.
As you know, programming is done years in advance, so much of the next two years is already set, but I hope there will an opportunity to play something with the orchestra.
What would you like to play?
Something by an American composer; perhaps the Barber or the Korngold. Maybe Bernstein’s Serenade.
I vote for all three.