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Jader returns to DSO for Strauss, Beethoven

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News

Detroit Symphony Orchestra Music Director Jader Bignamini returns from Italy to conduct a program on Friday that will highlight works by Jessie Montgomery and Richard Strauss, and feature Beethoven's Third Symphony, the celebrated "Eroica."

The Detroit News caught up with Bignamini via Zoom to chat COVID-19 restrictions, having to travel without his family, and why the "Eroica" is a turning point in musical history.

You've been back home in Italy since September. When did you return to Detroit?

Jader Bignamini: "I arrived back here two weeks ago."

Italian conductor Jader Bignamini takes the stage during a rehearsal after being named The Detroit Symphony Orchestra's new music director in January  2020.

Did you have to quarantine?

"Yes. It was probably my fourth or fifth quarantine. I spent my two weeks in the apartment here studying, cooking and eating. It’s OK. It’s life now, and it's very important for the orchestra that I follow the rules like them."

Is your family back in Italy all well?

"Yes, fortunately, we are all safe and following the rules. It was a little easier in the last couple of months in Italy, but now we have another COVID wave."

How long are you in Detroit?

"I stay here just this week now, and after my second concert on Friday I will leave -- because I’m here alone. My family is home in Cremona without me, and Christmas will arrive and I’d like to spend time together. The original plan was to come to Detroit with all my family, but now it’s impossible for them to travel to the USA without quarantining."

For yourself, do you worry about flying?

"It’s OK. It’s strange, because I was used to get to the airport an hour or so before the flight. But now in the COVID times, it’s like a flight to Mars. You have to arrive at least two or three hours before. It’s a little crazy."

DSO Music Director Jader Bignamini conducting the socially-distanced orchestra in September. On Friday, he will conduct Beethoven's Third Symphony, the "Eroica."

Initially plans for Friday's concert were to perform Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, not the Third. Why the switch?

"I suggested the Third because I think it’s perfect for this time. It’s a strong piece with a lot of power, and the light inside this piece communicates freedom and love for life. It’s a symphony full of very positive energy, and I think we need this."

Is the Third, the "Eroica," your favorite Beethoven symphony?

"I usually say that I love the score I’m studying at the moment. It's politically correct." (He laughed.) "But the Beethoven Third is one of my favorites. And we have to point out that it was Beethoven’s favorite symphony."

The Third is known as a turning point in musical history. Why?

"Before Beethoven's Third, the function of music was just entertainment, usually for small, aristocratic audiences and blah, blah, blah. But with the Third that changes. This symphony's music wasn't entertainment but communication for large audiences. Beethoven, I think, with this symphony started a new musical language, one with a lot of innovation in the orchestration."

The Third, composed in 1803, is considered one of the first Romantic pieces of music. What does that mean?

"Romantic music touches us in a deep way, and tries to communicate something beyond musical emotion so that the music works in our soul."

The Third was originally going to be named "Bonaparte," in honor of Napoleon. But after he crowned himself emperor in 1804, Beethoven changed the name to the "Eroica." Why?

"Beethoven admired Napoleon, but when he became emperor, he soured on him because Beethoven liked the idea of a republic and the power for the people."

Italian conductor Jader Bignamini addresses members of The Detroit Symphony Orchestra after the announcement of being named the new music director, succeeding Leonard Slatkin during a ceremony held at the Max M. Fisher Music Center in Detroit in January 2020.

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Jader Bignamini conducts the Detroit Symphony Orchestra

A live-streamed event featuring music by Jessie Montgomery, R. Strauss and Beethoven

8 p.m. Friday

$12 - single ticket

Call: (313) 576-5111