A conversation with CityMusic Cleveland Conductor Ryan McAdams
Mike Telin, clevelandclassical.com October 11, 2011
When speaking to conductor Ryan McAdams you know right
away that you are talking to someone who loves what he does
and is truly thankful for the good fortune that has come his way.
“It’s been a really lucky and successful two years,” McAdams
told us by telephone from his home in New York. But luck will
only take any performer so far and eventually one needs to come
up with the goods. McAdams is obviously doing just that. “In
the last few years New York has just been so good to me. It’s let
me have my hands in all of the different pies in the pie shop. I
mean I’ve gotten to work at City Opera, City Ballet and I've
doing the vast symphonic works with my orchestra (the New
York Youth Symphony) at Carnegie Hall: so I’ve been like a kid
in a candy store and I feel totally blessed.”
This week Ryan McAdams makes his Cleveland debut when he
leads CityMusic Cleveland in a series of ﬁve concerts that feature Beethoven’s Leonore
Overture #3, Ligeti‘s Concert Romanesc, and Dvořák's Cello Concerto with Jan Vogler as
Mike Telin: This is your City Music Cleveland debut.
Ryan McAdams: It is and I’m very excited. I hope the friendship will come very easily
and I will be returning later this season, so hopefully we will carve out a collaborative
MT: Well, you will also have the challenge of performing some very vibrant music in
some very vibrant spaces.
RM: It’s interesting you say that because all three of the works on this program deal with
spatial relationships: both the Beethoven and the Ligeti have off-stage brass. I am really
looking forward to coming, doing a sound check and trying to ﬁgure out how distant the
bugle call is going to be and from what perch on the Alp the horns are going to be, and
whether they will be coming from right over us or from a neighboring town. Then there's
the relationship between the soloist and the orchestra in these different spaces. I think
we’re going to have fun ﬁguring things out in all the different spaces.
MT: It’s a great program. How did you decide on these pieces?
RM: As usual, you start with the concerto, and once that’s set the question becomes how
do you build a program around it. The Dvořák concerto is a difﬁcult piece to program
around because when it is performed exquisitely, you become completely saturated by it.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been to concerts and heard this concerto on the
ﬁrst half of a program and then had absolutely no interest in hearing anything else: really,
when I hear great cellists play it I feel like I am ﬁlled with music for the rest of the day.
So the ﬁrst decision I made was to not burden the program with anything after the
concerto because I wanted the showcase to be Jan and his extraordinary musicianship. So
I thought if we could ﬁll the ﬁrst half with colorful music that speaks to the Dvořák in a
speciﬁc way, it would make people feel like they can feast on it as a main course.
The ﬁrst thing I though of was the Ligeti Concert Romanesc (Romanian Concerto). It’s
such a wild and vibrant work, and it has those sort of ﬁctional folk tune roots in the same
way the Dvořák does. As I was putting the program together I was also attracted to, as I
said before, these spatial relationships: the Beethoven has the offstage trumpet that means
a very speciﬁc thing, and even if you don’t know the story behind the work, you know
immediately what the bugle is doing — you know that it is interrupting a moment of
crisis. And at the end of the Ligeti you have these almost mystical off-stage horns. Also
Beethoven did not want a clarion trumpet, he wanted the sound of a bugle. In the Ligeti it
is the same, he wants the player to not use valves so that certain notes in the overtones
will be slightly out of tune the way the Alp Horns are. So in a sense, the players have to
slightly alter their sound in a somewhat unsophisticated way in order to achieve the
meaning. I get excited about how we are going to make this work in the different spaces,
and whether the audience is going to be aware the of the different musical meanings of
both offstage brass instruments without having to say a word about it.
It also occurred to me that in some way all of these three works are related to liberation.
The Beethoven is directly related because the opera (Fidelio) is about a political prisoner.
And Ligeti called the Concert Romanesc his last compromise. It was written while he
was at the Bucharest Institute, and it’s a work to please the sensors, even though it didn’t,
but it is a work that feels incredibly Hungarian. I am so amazed by this piece because he
was so young when he wrote it. He had already lost almost all of his family in Auschwitz,
and he had already gone through one divorce and yet he wrote this marvelously happy,
colorful work without any of the sarcasms and the pushing of musical boundaries of his
later works. The score was destroyed, but was reconstructed after the parts were found,
and it actually had its premier in Evanston, Illinois. So it literally went from Hungary to
Evanston. I think it’s a very honest piece and a piece that he had a lot of affection for.
MT: Have you worked with Jan Vogler before?
RM: No, this will be our ﬁrst time, but we have so many friends in common. He did a
tour with the Knights (chamber orchestra), and I have many close friends in that
orchestra, and their stories of working with him are so heartfelt, so I think we’re going to
get into great shape. I’m looking forward to doing it with a smaller sized orchestra: I am
excited to see how the piece changes.
MT: It’s great that so many people in different neighborhoods will get to hear this music.
RM: Absolutely! And the opportunity to repeat the concert six or seven times: you never
get that. Then to do it in different spaces with different audiences who have their own
relationship to concert going: to get them to feel comfortable and to understand that there
are no wrong reactions. And the fact that the concerts are free, and we will come to you.
And even if people have not been to an orchestra concert before or have heard this music
before, there is some awareness that they can come and have a visceral experience. So I
am terribly excited about what CityMusic Cleveland does.