Over his 20 years as Rockport Music Artistic Director, David Deveau has raised the chamber music festival from a beloved but provincial 4-week summer tenant to one of the best known festivals anywhere, operating 12 months in a new temple of culture, the Shalin Liu Performance Center. He has brought artists of international stature to Rockport, and presided with a vision that has inspired audiences, volunteers and generous trustees.
He plans to step down from his role following the summer festival of 2017. With his recent, highly acclaimed CD release of Siegfried Idyll on the Steinway label and his recording with longtime collaborator violinist Andrés Cárdenes (scheduled for release Spring 2016), he has decided to focus more on recordings and performances in the coming years.
FLE: When you announced in 2013 that you would be giving up management of the winter classical activities at Rockport, did you already know that you would be transitioning out of the summer festival two years later?
DD: No, I didn’t. But I’ve always tried to be very honest with myself—and others—about my career choices. I continue to love every minute of my work for Rockport Music, and the honeymoon I’ve enjoyed with our superb board of trustees is now in its 21st year. But my intuition tells me it will be time for Rockport Music to identify a successor and have that individual in place by the end of the 2017 Rockport Chamber Music Festival. I never overstay my welcome if I can help it. I’ve had a nagging sense of needing to spend more time at the piano, and this change of focus will allow that.
Did the Board resist your departure with sufficient force?
‘Force’ isn’t the word I’d use. I’d say it was sadness. At the meeting this past fall when I announced my plans to step down, one of the trustees—after a long silence—said “This is a solemn occasion.” I would say there was a general sentiment that my departure will signal the end of a long era, and one that has seen the transformation of a local summer festival to a nationally recognized presenting organization that is now a destination for great and rising performers alike.
Was it 30 years ago that you broke your arm in a climbing accident and told me that it was the best thing that had happened in a long timer for you? It would force you to focus on something other than practicing for a few months. Now it seems like you are looking forward to giving up your presenter’s cap for more hours at the keyboard.
You have an uncannily accurate memory. (I had to do the math myself.) Yes, almost 30 years ago I was hiking in the Tyrol region, and slipped on the trail and fell a hundred feet or more. I broke my right arm, and although the surgery done to fix the fracture in Austria was fine, I got back to the US and found the site of the surgery had been infected. This required two further operations at MGH to get rid of the infection and redo the surgery. I lost almost a year of performing. But, I did use the time wonderfully—to learn and listen to endless music I might otherwise never have had the opportunity to study. It was a feast of listening. I think I may have grown more as a musician during that hiatus than in most years I’ve been practicing and playing.
Over your 20 years at the Rockport helm, you have hardly given up your performing roles both there and elsewhere. But I sense that you want to concentrate on solo recitals more than you have been since your youth. Is this some restlessness? I assure you that many of us are glad for this resolution.
Thank you, Lee. I have dedicated a great part of my performing career to chamber music. As I peer ahead into my twilight years, I’d like to finally tackle many of the great piano works I’ve not yet studied. And even if nobody wants to hear me play them, I know I’ll be able to go to my grave feeling more satisfied and fulfilled.
Prescient BMInt readers may have guessed something about your intentions to record Wagner from the original dispatches you sent us from Bayreuth [here, here, here]. Other than Wagner on the piano (Siegfried Idyll on the Steinway label) what do you intend to bring to your adoring public?
I don’t know yet. I need to go through a lot of repertoire that is new (to me), and then decide what fits. Most artists have comfort zones. One of my goals is to get far out of my own and venture into repertoire that I’ve never felt comfortable performing in public. Like Bach. Not that I’ll forego Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann and Brahms. Or Liszt. But Bach remains a Tyrolean mountain I hope to scale successfully, with no broken bones. Whether or not I end up playing that music in public, or recording it, I want to challenge myself with it.
I gather that your longstanding collaborations with the likes of Andres Cardenes and Richard Stoltzman will continue. Tell us what’s already booked for this season and next and whose phone calls you are awaiting.
I never await phone calls. I play with artists I love and respect, and hope to continue doing so, if asked.
You gave some memorable concerts with mezzo-soprano D’Anna Fortunato in years past. Are you working with any singers now?
No. I’m not really a vocal accompanist. D’Anna set the bar so high with her incredible musicianship and uniquely beautiful voice that I feel immensely fortunato (!) to have performed often with her over the decades. And I’d love to find a great baritone to do Schubert and Brahms lieder with someday.
Solo recitals are really a lot of work. Are you sure you want to do this?
Hard work has never been scary for me. Part of the fun of having made programs for Rockport all these years is the ‘menu’ aspect- finding works that complement but also challenge each other within a program. Now I can do this for my own solo programs. I love thinking about what pairs with what.
Have you given Rockport any advice on whether your successor needs to be a performer?
No. I am not on the search committee, nor would that be appropriate. But I’m available to the committee as a resource whenever they need my input. The one thing all are agreed about is that the classical programming at Rockport Music, both for the Festival and during the winter season, should be done by an artist, whether performer or composer. An artist who can walk the walk, and perform or compose at a very high level and serve as the artistic “face” of the operation. One of our accomplishments has been our strong record of commissioning new chamber music from such Boston luminaries as Schuller, Harbison, and Ruehr, as well as from Wuorinen, Lerdahl and others. I hope my successor will continue this practice.
Your tenure there has been an enormous success. What challenges exist for your successor? Will Tony Beadle continue in his important role?
Thank you. I am proud of our achievements. My successor will bring his or her own personality, taste, judgment and new ideas to the table. That will be an infusion of new lifeblood for Rockport, and I am very eager to see what the next artistic director changes, transforms, molds, and invents. It will be a blast to look on from a distance and see all the new concepts and ideas that I never thought of!
Tony Beadle has managed the immense growth of Rockport Music’s operations, its budget, its non-classical programming, and the oversight of the Shalin Liu Performance Center with great skill, creativity and savvy. He is a terrific executive director who brings a lifetime of experience to bear every day on the job. Tony will be an integral part of the search for my successor, and as a musician himself, he knows what to look for. I’ve enjoyed working with him very much.
No interview with you should skip the leap you made in building the Shalin Liu Performance Center.
I think of my tenure at Rockport as being in three parts: pre-SLPC; runup to the opening of the Shalin Liu; and our current iteration in the Shalin Liu.
For my first ten years, we performed in rented space at the historic Rockport Art Association. But one of my early goals was to create a permanent home for Rockport Music, one that would allow us to present more varied programs by larger chamber ensembles. A home that could be a signature concert hall for New England, and a destination for music-lovers from all over. I was extremely fortunate that, on our board, were both venture capitalists and serial entrepreneurs who understood that great risk is often required for great reward. I believe this is the most important aspect of our ultimate success: people who knew that to think big is to risk big. And that we were able to succeed in the worst economy since the great Depression speaks volumes to the vision and tenacity of those big thinkers. Without their generosity, counsel, wisdom and chutzpah, we’d still be renting our concert space, and never be completely secure. Thanks to these leaders, and our superb architects, Epstein-Joslin, the Shalin Liu Performance Center stands as a musical beacon by the ocean.
Even though your responsibilities for the winter programming at Rockport have ended, you might want to plug next week’s recital by pianist Vadym Kholodenko. What should we know?
Kholodenko won the gold medal at the XIV Van Cliburn Competition, and has already firmly established himself as a pianist of phenomenal attainment. He is also venturing far afield from the predictable competition-circuit repertoire, and programming such works as the Messiaen Vingt Regards. His program for Rockport comprises lesser known pieces by Schumann and Scriabin; it should be a must-hear for pianophiles.
Will you be spending any more or less time at MIT?
My role at MIT will remain the same—teaching piano to gifted students, coaching chamber music, and doing a weekly seminar for our best advanced performers of any type—string, voice, winds and brass and of course, piano.
The biggest change for me will be having many more available hours to confront the big, black Steinway that looks at me every day in my living room. Soon I’ll be able to say to it: “No hurry. Now let’s see what we can cook up today.”
THE ROCKPORT CHAMBER MUSIC FESTIVAL
Founded in 1981 by Lila Deis, David Alpher, and Paul Sylva, the Rockport Chamber Music Festival began as a two-week festival. Under David Deveau’s artistic leadership of 20 years, the Festival has grown from a 16-concert, four-week event to 24 concerts in June and July, with additional family concerts, masterclasses, open rehearsals, and lectures. The Festival has commissioned several chamber works from today’s most significant composers, including John Harbison, Elena Ruehr, Charles Wuorinen, and the late Gunther Schuller—to be premiered at the Festival. Additionally, the Festival hosted some of the world’s most important performers, including the Emerson and Juilliard quartets; pianists Garrick Ohlsson, Peter Serkin, and Jeremy Denk; violinists Christian Tetzlaff and Midori; as well as cellist Yo-Yo Ma. The Festival has a long history of presenting many of Boston’s most remarkable artists, including chamber orchestra A Far Cry, the Boston Trio, 85 year-old pianist Russell Sherman, and the Borromeo and Parker string quartets. Under Deveau’s leadership, the Festival introduced the Rising Star series featuring young artists and recent competition winners on the verge of major careers. The Rockport Chamber Music Festival is now a nationally recognized destination for performers and audiences alike.