That was the question after a Detroit Symphony Orchestra Sunday afternoon concert. In the course of a lovely reading of the finale of Beethoven’s lyrical Fourth Piano Concerto, a single solo cellist sung out below pianist Anton Kuerti’s delicate arabesques and with just a handful of notes added a new, noble voice to the music. In his brief solo, the cellist’s tone was rich but penetrating, his intonation sure and steady, and his vibrato warm but focused, all characteristics he displayed while leading his section but which shone especially brilliantly in the solo.
A quick glance of the program provided his name, Robert deMaine, and a search of the Internet provided useful details–he’d been named DSO’s principal cellist in 2002 and been praised by the New York Times as “an artist who makes one hang on every note.” He will be playing a solo show at Ann Arbor’s own Kerrytown Concert House on Sunday, May 16. His program looks like a blast: suites by Bach and Gaspar Cassado, plus Hindemith’s Sonata for Solo Cello and selections from deMaine’s own Twelve Etudes-Caprices.
Bach’s solo cello suites cannot be beaten as tests for soul and stamina, nor can Cassado’s be topped for verve and virtuosity. And for those who know it, Hindemith’s sonata inspires both fear and awe. However, after hearing deMaine lead his section through the fearsome obstacles of Vaughan Williams’ bone-crushing Fourth Symphony, I had no doubt that deMaine was up for the technical challenges. But what the devil was he doing playing his own compositions, and more importantly, what were they like?
“Hmmmmmmmm,” deMaine replies in an email. “Accessible! But difficult to play!!! I’ll be playing 3 or 4 of my own Etudes-Caprices, which explore specific, pointed difficulties in cello [technique], while endeavoring to be entertaining showpieces.” Though deMaine has already decided on the Hindemith Sonata and Cassado’s Suite, it turns out he hasn’t quite made up his mind on the Bach: “I may play either the First or Third Bach Suite.” Tough choice: the First has a bouncing, bounding gigue, while the Third has a soulfully sonorous saraband. But of course, with Bach, whichever deMaine chooses, the audience wins.
If you’d like to check out deMaine before the show, he’s got a number of brief clips on his website, www.robertdemaine.com. “The DSO has generously allowed me up to, but not exceeding, three minutes of each concerto performance that has been broadcast,” deMaine explains with what one might call legalistic precision. But whether or not you check him out online, by all means, check out deMaine live at the concert house.