Celebrated pianist Terrence Wilson will perform Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto Friday and Saturday, part of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's Classical Roots celebration that will also include the world premiere of "Black Bottom," a new work by Nkeiru Okoye. 

Wilson stepped in at the last minute to take the place of André Watts, who had to cancel because of tendinitis in one of his hands. 

The Detroit News caught up with Wilson, who lives just outside New York City, to discuss Beethoven v. Bach, practicing 10 hours a day, and what he loves about the "Emperor."

How much time did you have to prepare when asked to substitute for André Watts?

Terrence Wilson: "I got the call Tuesday evening, a week ago. They said there was an escalating possibility that André  might cancel, and if I were available -- and could get the "Emperor" Concerto back in my fingers in time -- that I should be on alert. And that same evening they confirmed."

Watts had to cancel because of tendonitis. Is that an occupational hazard for classical pianists?

"Yes, it absolutely is. You know, Leon Fleisher is another example of someone with a huge touring career early in his life, and then developed tendinitis in his left hand, where his pinky would curl up. Pianists have to be very careful with the issue. But I wouldn’t imagine improper technique would be a contributing issue with either of those two giants."

You really practice 10 hours a day?

"At least 10 hours a day, but I’m a bit of a practice-nut. Even if this were not a last-minute call, I probably would still be practicing 10 hours a day."

Do you favor the morning or evening?

"I practice at different times, but usually in the evening -- even as late as 3 a.m., depending on whether I can sleep in the next day."

What do you like about the "Emperor?"

"What’s not to like? It has everything -- drama, stirring lyricism, and great character and spirit. It’s almost operatic, like a drama in three acts."

What's your take on Beethoven?

"He's the New Testament. And Bach is the Old. For me, Beethoven is – there’s no other way to describe it -- like religion. The whole direction of Western art music as we know it is owed to the contributions of Beethoven and his oeuvre."

Where did you study music?

"At Juilliard. My touring schedule then was so red hot that I had to get special permission from dean to spread the curriculum over seven years, instead of the regular four. But a career-oriented school loves when they can get free publicity by having someone out there representing the school on the circuit."

Where were you born?

"In the north Bronx."

Have you been to Detroit before? 

"Yes. I performed at least twice with (DSO music director emeritus) Neeme Järvi, but it's been years."

You know, we've had a bit of a comeback. We're sexy again.

"Oh, Detroit has always been sexy."

(313) 222-6021

Twitter: @mhodgesartguy

'Classical Roots: Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto'

With Terrence Wilson 

10:45 a.m. Fri., Mar. 6; 8 p.m. Sat., Mar. 7 

Detroit Symphony Orchestra, 3711 Woodward, Detroit 

Johnson - "Lift Every Voice and Sing"

Nkeiru Okoye - "Voices Shouting Out" and "Black Bottom"

Beethoven - Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Opus 73, "Emperor"

Tickets: $15-$105 

(313) 576-5111 

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