Conductor  Paul  Freeman

Three Conversations with Bruce Duffie


Paul Douglas Freeman (January 2, 1936 – July 21, 2015) was a conductor, composer, and founder of the Chicago Sinfonietta. Freeman earned bachelor, master, and doctoral degrees from the Eastman School of Music. A Fulbright Scholarship enabled him to study for two years at the Hochshule für Musik (University for Music) in Berlin, Germany with Ewald Lindemann. He later studied conducting with Pierre Monteux at the American Symphony Orchestra.

While pursuing graduate studies at Eastman, Freeman began his conducting career as the music director of the Opera Theatre of Rochester for six years. He then held posts as associate conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra from 1968-1970 and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra from 1970-1979. These were followed by a stint as principal guest conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic. From 1979 to 1988, he served as music director of the Victoria Symphony in Canada.

In 1987, he founded the Chicago Sinfonietta of which he remained the Musical Director until his retirement in 2011. Concurrently to his time with the Chicago Sinfonietta, he held the post of music director and chief conductor of the Czech National Symphony Orchestra in Prague since 1996. Following his retirement from the Chicago Sinfonietta in 2011, he was named Emeritus Music Director of the orchestra.

During his career, he conducted over one hundred orchestras in twenty-eight countries, and made over two hundred recordings.

[To read a more detailed biography, click HERE.]

freeman It was my great privilege to interview Paul Freeman on three occasions, in 1986, 1988, and 1995.  Within the topic of Classical Music, the discussions ranged far and wide, and included his insights on the situation faced by black performers and composers.  He also spoke of specific programs which were coming up, and while they, of course, are now part of history, it goes to show how he regarded certain styles, and built programs that were interesting and yet not off-putting.

Our first discussion was held in July of 1986, when he was conducting at Grant Park, the annual free outdoor summer festival on Chicago
s lakefront . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   Tell me about the differences between conducting an outdoor concert and one in a normal concert hall.

Paul Freeman:   I’m sure that many conductors have told you about that.  Suffice to say this that I am one for trying to look at the positive side of things.  It’s commendable that Chicago is one of the few cities where there’s this kind of involvement on the part of the people and the government in sponsoring symphony concerts in the outdoors like this.  These are full-fledged symphony concerts.  It’s a remarkable thing.  We had our first rehearsal today, and it was raining very hard.  Since the wind was blowing, we had to stop for ten or fifteen minutes until the rain stopped because it would affect the string instruments that are very close to the apron of the stage.  But I was at Grant Park in the early
70s when you had the old shell, and this is very much improved.  [To see photos of both these facilities, as well as the third one dating from 2004, click HERE.]

BD:   There
s much more protection for the performers.

Freeman:   That’s right.

BD:   Are there any musical considerations, or is it just the physical limitations of the heat, and humidity, and rain?

Freeman:   The heat is a big factor, and the humidity is a bigger factor.

BD:   Does it make you a more lethargic conductor when it’s hot and humid?

Freeman:   I have tried to do the opposite.  As a matter of fact, I try to take slightly faster tempi in certain things to balance this.  In studying with Pierre Monteux, he said, “The right tempo is in the air.  One must find it.”  His theory was that of course the tempi relate to so many physical concerns, not the least of which is playing outdoors with the weather, also the size of the orchestra under those circumstances, and the music that you’re playing.

BD:   The ability of the orchestra, too?

Freeman:   Oh yes, ability.  The Grant Park Orchestra is a very fine orchestra.  They play very quickly, and by that I mean they read music very fast.  The fact that there are only two rehearsals for the concert means that we have to move along sprightly.

BD:   Does all of the work of a conductor, or at least most of the work, take place in the rehearsal rather than in the concert?

Freeman:   It’s a combination.  Certainly, the greater part of the total package takes place in the rehearsal.  It means that one tries to deal with the technical aspects in the rehearsal, and establish certain knowns, such as tempi, transitions, balances, and all of those sorts of things.  When you don’t work with a given orchestra very often, it
s more difficult.  With your own orchestra, they know you, and you know them.  But when you’re coming in new, you have to try to establish the contact with the orchestra so that they understand your beating pattern, and when they have to respond to what you do.  So, one has to do that rather quickly.  At the same time, in the concert there is still very much work, because now the technical things have been placed into becoming the non-technical, the abstract, the spiritual, the on-the-spot things.

BD:   How many of these details are left for that particular spark of the evening?

Freeman:   It’s always difficult to say.  You to try to work out as much as you can technically.  When you have limited rehearsals, of course, you do the best you can.  Then there’s yet another stage that the orchestra goes to for, which is the concert, because it’s yet another time playing through the music.

BD:   [With mock horror]  You don’t consider the first concert of a series to be a final rehearsal, do you???

Freeman:   [Laughs]  Well, I hope not.  If that
s the case, then we haven’t finished preparing yet.  It’s difficult to say.

BD:   Is there ever a time when music that is played often can get over rehearsed?

freeman Freeman:   Well, I suppose that’s possible.

BD:   You don’t run into that, though?

Freeman:   No.  In Victoria, with my orchestra for the Masterworks Concerts, we have four or five rehearsals.  For Eighteenth-century programs we have three or four, and Twentieth-century programs, depending upon the difficulty of music, get four or five.  It depends.  I’m conducting frequently orchestras in London where things really move fast, and where there are only one or two rehearsals for most of the concerts.  They have the Barbican and the Royal Festival Hall, so it depends upon the quality of the orchestra and how fast they read.  All those recording orchestras make 120 records a year, so they’re reading very quickly.  But I’ve never run into a situation myself where I could say that something is over-rehearsed, or that I have too much rehearsal time.  Regardless of how much I have, I try to pace it, and use it in relationship to what there is to be done.  Maybe you can work at a slightly slower pace, but then there’s much more to deal with technically.  Also, one sets the program in relationship to the number of rehearsals that one has.

BD:   If you know you’re not going to have many rehearsals...

Freeman:   ...then you have to watch very carefully with the program.

BD:   Don’t do something that would require extra rehearsal time?

Freeman:   That’s right.

BD:   This brings up the whole question of the choice of repertoire.  You are the Music Director in Victoria, and you have been elsewhere also?

Freeman:   Yes.  Before Victoria, I was for several years Associate Conductor in Detroit (1970-79).

BD:   With Antal Dorati?

Freeman:   Yes, that’s right.  When Dorati came to Detroit (1977-81), I worked with him for two years, and then I went to Victoria.  Prior to that were Aldo Ceccato (1973-77), and Sixten Ehrling (1963-73).  I had been there nine years with three different Music Directors.  During a part of my stay in Detroit, I was Music Director of the Saginaw [Michigan], Symphony.  I have also been Music Director of the Little Symphony of San Francisco, and I’ve had community orchestras and opera groups, including the Rochester New York Opera Theater.  I was Music Director there for six years.

BD:   Getting back to choice of repertoire, how do you decide which pieces you will play?

Freeman:   In the case of Grant Park, let’s start there.  Steven Ovitsky is the General Director, and Zdenek Macal is the Principal Conductor.  But in this case, because there is no person with the title of Music Director, then Mr. Ovitsky looks into the assemblage of repertoire and guest conductors.  There were discussions, and in this instance he asked me if I would do the Afro-American Symphony of William Grant Still, which I’d recorded as part of the Columbia Series.  I really haven’t performed that work very much.  It’s not a work that many people ask to perform, but I was happy to do it.  Then I had to try to program around it.  Ovitsky had already selected the soloist, and she was playing the Saint-Saëns Second Piano Concerto.  So, we had to select an overture and the closing work.  For outdoors, I thought the Pines of Rome would be ideal.  They hadn’t done it in two or three seasons, so that worked.  Then we selected an overture of Ulysses Kay, which is a program-opener.

BD:   Because you’re a black conductor, do orchestras specifically always want you to bring music of black composers?

Freeman:   A point of fact is that I do very few programs in which I’m requested to do music of black composers, though we often  talk about the Columbia Black Composer series that I did in the early to mid-
70s, with several orchestras (London orchestras, American orchestras).  Preparing the nine recordings tracing the history of composers of black heritage from the time of Mozart to the present was a fascinating experience.

BD:   Hearing music of Saint-Georges on your recording was a revelation to me.

Freeman:   It really was.  He was born in 1739.  His father was French, and his mother was African.  So, we traced the history of those composers to the present Afro-American composers.  We had symposia with four or five major orchestras in the States, with composers present to play the music, and select the works to be recorded.  Because I had done that, on occasion, an orchestra will ask me if I will play a work of a black composer.  In the case of the Kansas City Philharmonic last January, we did a program to open the Martin Luther King celebration.  But I would say only about five to ten percent of the concerts that I conduct actually include the music of black composers.

BD:   Then I assume you’re pushing for more music of black composers on your programs?

Freeman:   Yes, that’s right.  In Canada it’s quite a different situation.  There, we have what is called
Canadian Content.  Because there is something between thirty and thirty-five percent of the total budget underwritten by the municipal and provincial governments of Canada for the respective orchestras, they require that each program has a minimum of 10% of the music by Canadian composers.  Now I’m going into my eighth season as the only American music director of a Canadian Professional Orchestra, and it was therefore mandatory that I become familiar with the important composers and the important music of Canada.  I used to do 12-14% of works of Canadian composers, and because most of the Canadian composers are Twentieth century composers, then it makes it difficult to fill in with American works if we’re doing another Twentieth century piece.  Often, it’s a master composer, such as Prokofiev or Shostakovich or Stravinsky, or a composer of that stature.  Therefore, I’ve performed very little music of black composers in Canada.  I think I’ve done works of Hale Smith, Saint-Georges, and maybe one work of George Walker in my eight years there.

BD:   That’s not very much.  Should American orchestras, maybe not required, but be encouraged to perform 10% American music?

Freeman:   I’m sorry, but I can’t be a spokesman and say they should.  But I would go the other way around, and I would say that it is important for every country to promote and foster its native talent.  Remember, that many people are not too happy in Canada about it.  Most of the audiences are not much interested in contemporary music.

freeman BD:   They would rather hear Beethoven, Haydn, and Brahms?

Freeman:   That’s right.  But at the same time, we have tried to intersperse those composers.  Since the national government does support the various orchestras in this country, they may have given thought to some kind of requirements or some kind of encouragement.  But on the other hand, the percentage of support is far less in America than in Canada.  When you’re talking about a total of 35% of the total budget from Canadian governmental agencies, then you can understand why there’s greater government demands.

BD:   Should there be more government involvement and/or interference in the musical world in America, or are we actually blessed that they stay away as much as they do?

Freeman:   I suppose you can blessed and cursed.  When there’s more money, then fine.  But most orchestras are getting maybe 5% support from the government... maybe 10% if they’re lucky.  With that kind of support, how can one make demands?  The Music Director makes the decisions in Canada.  There are certain guidelines, but the government doesn’t say you cannot play this work, or you must play this work.  What they say is to develop creative talent by fostering creativity.  So, one of the requirements is that you do at least 10%.  They’re not even requiring 10% by time, but only by numbers of works.  So, often we perform shorter Canadian works, and it still fulfills the requirement.  So, there are several ways of looking at it.

BD:   Who is the final judge whether a piece is a great work, or an in-between work, or even a mediocre work?  Is it the public?  Is it the musicians?  Is it the Music Director?  Is it the critics?

Freeman:   I think ultimately it is the test of time.  That encompasses everybody who was involved
the performer, the audience, the press, everyone.  Total involvement is what I mean by the test of time.  The few works which have surfaced as being truly significant by contemporary composers who are not giants are relatively limited.  When they are performed over and over again by various orchestras, it’s generally because they appeal to the audience because they have good form and structure, and they mean something.  They have something to say.  So, it’s difficult to say who determines that.  There are several entities which help make that determination, but somehow the better works have a way of getting heard.  That’s the curiosity about it.

BD:   In your opinion, are there enough works by black composers that are getting heard, and are coming to the surface, and are being performed with any regularity?

Freeman:   Naturally, I would want to encourage more performance of music by black composers.  There are some people, including some black composers, who are not particularly keen on the idea of what is known as
ghetto-izing the arts.  We went through the activist years of the 60s, and the 70s were years of affirmative action.  The 80s are a spinoff from that.  Ill give you an example of what I mean.  This is a parallel with the political activism, as well and many other things in the society.  When we were doing the Black Composers series, we were intensely seeking works and performing them.  When I started the series in the 70s, Dr. DeLerma was one of the chief consultants that worked with several other musicologists from various countries.  He and I made a survey of the Schwann Catalog, and we discovered that at that time, there had been sixteen complete recordings of the Beethoven Nine Symphonies.  At the same time, in the entire Schwann Catalog there were fewer than sixteen records of black classical composers.  So, this was a cause for us to get to work, and try to do something about the imbalance.  There are so many fine works, and there are so many fine composers, but the thing that’s interesting to me is the fact that as a result of our series, many conductors and others who are responsible for programming became more interested in those particular composers.  Zubin Mehta, for instance, commissioned George Walker to write two works for the New York Philharmonic, one of which was performed for PBS.  Lorin Maazel commissioned Walker to do a work for the Cleveland Orchestra.  Seiji Ozawa commissioned Olly Wilson to do work for the Boston Symphony, and Gunther Schuller commissioned Wilson to do something for Tanglewood.  Also, before he died, Calvin Simmons had commissioned Wilson to do something in Oakland.  So, there have been a number of commissions.

Calvin Eugene Simmons (April 27, 1950 – August 21, 1982) was an American symphony orchestra conductor.

simmons Simmons was born in San Francisco, California. At the age of 9, he entered the Bay Area's musical scene and began living his dream of becoming a world-class musician. He had been taught the piano from an early age by his mother, Matty. By age 11, he was conducting the San Francisco Boys Chorus, started by Madi Bacon, of which he had been a member. Bacon gave him the early artistic freedom to assist with the chorus that would serve him and others for years. He was assistant conductor with the San Francisco Opera from 1972 to 1975, winning the Kurt Herbert Adler Award.

After working as assistant conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta, Simmons became Music Director of the Oakland Symphony Orchestra at age 28. He led the orchestra for four years, and continued to conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic, both at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and at the Hollywood Bowl. He would support Carmen McRae singing jazz one night, then conduct William Walton or Holst's The Planets a night or two later. He was the first African-American to be named conductor of a major U.S. symphony orchestra, and was a frequent guest conductor with some of the nation's major opera companies and orchestras (such as the Philadelphia Orchestra). He was the Music Director at the Ojai Music Festival in 1978.

He made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera on 20 December 1978, aged 28, conducting Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel. He returned the following season for the same opera, of which he conducted a total of 18 performances. He was on the musical staff at Glyndebourne from 1974 to 1978, and conducted the Glyndebourne Touring Opera, including Così fan tutte in 1975. He collaborated with the British director Jonathan Miller on a celebrated production of Mozart's Così fan tutte at the Opera Theater of St. Louis (USA) shortly before his death.

He remained active at the San Francisco Opera for all his adult life, first as a repetiteur and then as a member of the conducting staff. He made his formal debut conducting Giacomo Puccini's La Bohème with Ileana Cotrubas. His later work on a production of Dmitri Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District drew national attention. In 1979 he conducted the premiere of Menotti's La Loca at San Diego.

His final concerts were three performances of the Requiem of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in the summer of 1982 with the Masterworks Chorale and the Midsummer Mozart Festival Orchestra.

Simmons died in a canoeing accident at age 32 near Lake Placid in New York. After a large public funeral at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral, he was buried in Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma, California.

The Oakland Symphony Orchestra was reorganized in July 1988 as the Oakland East Bay Symphony Orchestra, and Simmons was honored by the naming of the Calvin Simmons Theatre at the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center in Oakland, California. The Calvin Simmons Middle School in Oakland was named for him, but has since changed its name to United For Success Academy. Simmons is also the namesake of the grand ballroom of the Oakland Marriott Hotel.

His death inspired Lou Harrison to compose Elegy, To The Memory Of Calvin Simmons; Michael Tippett to compose The Blue Guitar, a sonata for solo guitar; and Robert Hughes to compose Sop'o muerte se cande, for high tenor and orchestra (1983, 2013). John Harbison wrote Exequien for Calvin Simmons. (Simmons conducted Harbison's Violin Concerto shortly before his death.)

BD:   There’s more awareness.

Freeman:   Oh, yes, more awareness.  So, I was pleased that we had some role in that, because while those records are not available for general sale now, they are in the libraries of conservatories and music schools throughout the country.

BD:   Presumably they could be reissued at any time [as indeed they were!  The CD box-back is shown at right, with the ten original LP covers illustrated.]

Freeman:   That’s right.  It’s a financial consideration.  So, there has been more attention given to the black composer as a result of so-called ghetto-izing, but at the same time, whatever we do, we can always do more.  It is the same as for black American performers, and American composers in general.

BD:   Leaving aside all the political considerations, are you pleased with the recordings that you have made of these works musically?

Freeman:   [Gently but sternly]  What do you mean by,
“Leaving aside political considerations”?

BD:   Aside from the fact that you’re glad they have been recorded, are you pleased with them musically?

Freeman:   Yes, but you see, we had a vast reservoir of music from which to select.  So, the works that we have selected were very strong.  While we had to try to emphasize the three periods (classical, romantic, and contemporary), at the same time we felt that we selected from those black composers the very strongest works that are out there.  Some of them are extraordinarily strong.  For instance, the Roque Cordero Violin Concerto on the fourth record is a startling work.  He’s Afro-Panamanian, and we performed that with the New York Philharmonic.  We also performed a work by the Afro-Cuban composer, José White, who lived and studied in Paris.  That work sounds very much like Paganini.  There are a variety of things.  There’s a work of Hale Smith called Ritual and Incantation that the music director of the Detroit Symphony programmed this year in the Masterwork Series.  He picked it right off the recording, so I feel delighted.  As a matter of fact, as I go back and listen to some of the recordings, I’m kind of astonished that we did so much in such a short period of time.

BD:   It is good that there was enough push.

Freeman:   Yes.  Obviously, there are some works that are stronger than others, but that will be the case with any series.

BD:   Do you feel that there is enough opportunity for the young black composer coming along?

Freeman:   [Thinks a moment]  There is probably as much opportunity for the young black composer that’s talented as there is for the American non-black composer.  The question they get is are there opportunities for American composers black or non-black?

BD:   Are we finally getting to the point where we can drop the label
black’, and say that he or she’s an American composer?

Freeman:   It’s happening with conductors, and this certainly is happening in other countries.  There, I seldom see the label
‘black’ in front of my name, as a black conductor.

BD:   Is this what you like?

Freeman:   It doesn’t matter to me.  I’m quite different from some people.  Some people are concerned one way or the other.  I say that if a person feels there is an advantage to point out the fact that I’m a black conductor because there are relatively few in the world, that’s fine.  On the other hand, they may feel that this is not significant in spotlighting the word up front.  An example is where I’m in Victoria, a city of a quarter of a million.  There are fewer than one hundred black families that live there, so when I was appointed to the post, certainly it wasn’t because there was a large black population, or that I was a black conductor.


BD:   It was because you were a fine and efficient musician!

Freeman:   [Smiles]  I was one of ten conductors being considered, and Canada has a law which says that if there are two applicants for a given job, all things being equal, the Canadian must be given the job.  So they had to have a public vote, the audience voted and the orchestra voted.  The president had to participate, so that they could convince Canada Manpower that they could bring in a foreigner for the job.

BD:   So, you actually had to be better than all the others?

Freeman:   Well, at least things had to click in that situation.  I don’t want to be overly verbose about it, but at least things had to click to make it happen.  I was just stressing the point again that in some places in the world, we have come to the point, or people have come to the realization that a person can be judged, as Martin Luther King said, by the content of his character and not only by the color of his skin.  This is rewarding.  As a matter of fact, when I was appointed, first thing I thought was this is what it was all about.

BD:   Solti was talking about this at a press conference a couple of years ago.  He said the only consideration for him is talent.

Freeman:   Yes, but I’m not saying anything against the Maestro.  We all know that the Chicago Symphony is one of the world’s greatest orchestras, and he is certainly a great maestro, but at the same time, I have to at least make the fact known that the Chicago Symphony is the only one of the major orchestras in America where there has never been a regular black musician in the orchestra on a regular basis.  This is interesting, and is important.  
I’m not making a judgment, I’m just making a statement.  However you want to look at it, you can take it for what it’s worth.  [Not long after this interview, Solti named Michael Morgan Assistant Conductor of the Chicago Symphony.  Also, though his name is not mentioned in any of our conversations, James De Preist guest-conducted the Chicago Symphony in 1990, 1992, 1994, and 1995.  To see a list of black musicians who have been my interview guests, click HERE.]

morgan Michael Morgan was born September 17, 1957 and raised in Washington, D.C. where he attended public schools. He attended McKinley Tech High School in Washington D.C. and was affiliated with the D.C. Youth Orchestra Program but began conducting at the age of 12. While a student at Oberlin College Conservatory of Music (studying composition) he spent a summer at Tanglewood. There he was a student of Gunther Schuller and Seiji Ozawa and it was at that time that he first worked with Leonard Bernstein. During his final year at Oberlin he was also the Apprentice Conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic under Julius Rudel.

In 1980, he won first prize in the Hans Swarovsky International Conductors Competition in Vienna, Austria and became Assistant Conductor of the St Louis Symphony Orchestra under Leonard Slatkin. His operatic debut was in 1982 at the Vienna State Opera in Mozart’s “The Abduction from the Seraglio”. In 1986, Sir Georg Solti chose him to become the Assistant Conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra a position he held for five years under both Georg Solti and Daniel Barenboim. He became music director of the Oakland East Bay Symphony in 1990. Maestro Morgan serves as artistic director of the Oakland Youth Orchestra, and was the music director of the Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra (and the Sacramento Opera) from 1999-2015 and artistic director of Festival Opera in Walnut Creek, California for more than 10 seasons.  He teaches the graduate conducting course at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and is Music Director at the Bear Valley Music Festival in California.   In 2002 and 2003 he taught conducting at the Tanglewood Music Center and has led conducting workshops around the country.

As Stage Director he has led productions of the Bernstein Mass at the Oakland East Bay Symphony and a modern staging of Mozart’s Don Giovanni at Festival Opera, where he has also staged Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Gounod’s Faust.  As a chamber musician (piano) he has appeared on the Chamber Music Alive series in Sacramento as well as the occasional appearance in the Bay Area. As a guest conductor he has appeared with most of America’s major orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, National Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony, Alabama Symphony, Houston Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Seattle Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, Detroit Symphony, Vancouver Symphony, Winnipeg Symphony, Edmonton Symphony and Omaha Symphony. He was Music Advisor to the Peoria during their most recent conductor search. As conductor of opera he has performed with St. Louis Opera Theater, New York City Opera (in New York and on tour), and the Staatsoper in Berlin. Abroad he has conducted orchestras in Europe, South America, the Middle East (Israel and Egypt) and even the Kimbaguiste Symphony Orchestra in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.

In 2005 he was honored by the San Francisco Chapter of The Recording Academy with the 2005 Governor’s Award for Community Service. On the opposite coast, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) chose Morgan as one of its five 2005 Concert Music Award recipients. ASCAP further honored Oakland East Bay Symphony in 2006 with its Award for Adventurous Programming. The San Francisco Foundation honored him with one of its Community Leadership Awards and he received an Honorary Doctorate from Holy Names University in Oakland,CA. In 2014 he gave a TEDx Talk and was featured by Musical America as one of their Profiles of Courage”.

He has served on the boards of the League of American Orchestras and the International House at the University of California, Berkeley, and the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts. Currently he is on the boards of the Purple Silk Music Education Foundation, the Oaktown Jazz Workshops, and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute.

==  Biography above is from the John Gingrich Management website.  
==  The item below is from Georgia Voice, March 15, 2013.  
==  The last item is from various obituaries.  

Morgan is homosexual. He has said that "Being a classical musician, being a conductor, being black, being gay – all of these things put you on the outside, and each one puts you a little further out than the last one" and that "you get accustomed to constructing your own world because there are not a lot of clear paths to follow and not a lot of people that are just like you".

For the last seven years of his life Morgan was on daily kidney dialysis. He received a kidney transplant in May 2021, but contracted an infection, and died on August 20, 2021 at the age of 63.

The fact is the Philadelphia Orchestra, which is also in the class of the Chicago Symphony, had three or four regular black musicians for years during the time of Ormandy.  It is the same with Zubin Mehta.  So, while Maestro Solti speaks about talent in this way, I have also to tell you that there is a parallel way of viewing the advancement of native creative talent, which is similar to the Canadian approach, and that is to look at it and say we must promote our own, and not necessarily exclude all other because I’m there as an example.  At the same time, we must give strong consideration to native talent, and blacks in America are native talent.  What I’m saying in this instance is that we all know it’s very difficult with labor regulations and orchestral demands for auditions and all the rest.  We know that it’s particularly difficult in an era in which we use a screened-audition process.  Some orchestras do it fully fair, and some don’t.  I know this is a fact even with the screen.  In Canada, we try in my orchestra.  I don’t even know who is back there.  I don’t even ask the person or manager anything about it.

freeman BD:   You just hear the sound they produce?

Freeman:   I hear it.  Then for the final round, we take away the screen.  So, that’s a kind of prejudicial process right there, because we are taking the personality into account for the finals.  There are some orchestras that actually will do the finals behind the screen.  I don’t know how it’s done in Chicago.

BD:   I do know that in addition to the screen, they also ask them to take their shoes off, so they don’t hear the click of high heels.

Freeman:   Another thing that Zubin Mehta did, which is very clever, was to have apprentice players, so there’s a minority program.  Some of the other orchestras have this too, by the way.  Players are accepted into the orchestra as apprentices to play certain concerts (with union permission after they have passed stringent demands).  Then, as they develop playing with their colleagues, and get into the orchestral repertoire, even if they don’t get into the New York Philharmonic, because of this tremendous experience, they get a double orchestra.  It would be wonderful for the Chicago Symphony to have a kind of apprenticeship program.  There are ways of dealing with the development of native talent, and this is my only point.  I don’t have an axe to grind.  I’m only speaking about facts and figures.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Do you approach the music of American composers, black or white, differently from the music of European composers?

Freeman:   Actually, I don’t.  This morning in the first rehearsal, we worked on the Respighi Pines of Rome.  After that, we worked on William Grant Still’s Afro-American Symphony.  I said to the orchestra, “Now, we’re going to transform ourselves from Rome to New Orleans.”  This transformation in itself means a difference in concept, a difference in approach, a difference in sound, experience, style, and all the rest.  Most of them adapted very quickly and very well, but this is the difference in the approach in terms of preparing the music.  Most musicians use the basic approach in all their facility in preparing the music in basically the same way.

BD:   Is there any difference at all in your approach to the music of black American composers?

Freeman:   There is no one idiom in which all black composers write.  A composer like George Walker, for instance, is as avant-garde as any non-black American that you would want to name
except maybe some of the Stockhausen school, because Georges music is more structured.  Sometimes you have African rhythmic connotations in works by Olly Wilson, though he is quite avant-garde.  But what I’m saying is when you hear the music of George Walker or Ulysses Kay, and several other composers, there is virtually no element brought into it from the so-called black experience.  This may have to do with the fact that Ulysses Kay studied for the most part at Yale with Hindemith, and George Walker studied with Boulanger in Paris.  It’s an international school, so to speak.  So, when you do the music, there’s no label.  Now, when you do music of William Grant Still, as an example, it is similar to the music of Gershwin, with its highly American flavor that comes from the black American heritage, and the black experience.  You know that for the most part there are going to be elements of jazz, and blues, but fewer black symphonic composers write in that milieu than in the more international style.  So, if you put them side by side without knowing who wrote the music, you hardly would be able to say which is the music of a black composer.

BD:   But will someone like that handle the black experience differently than, say, Stravinsky in the Ebony Concerto?

Igor Stravinsky wrote the Ebony Concerto in 1945 (finishing the score on December 1) for the Woody Herman band known as the First Herd. It is one in a series of compositions commissioned by the bandleader/clarinetist featuring solo clarinet, and the score is dedicated to him. It was first performed on March 25, 1946 in Carnegie Hall in New York City, by Woody Herman's Band, conducted by Walter Hendl.

Stravinsky's engagement with jazz dates back to the closing years of the First World War, the major jazz-inspired works of that period being L'histoire du soldat, the Ragtime for eleven instruments, and the Piano-Rag-Music. Although traces of jazz elements, especially blues and boogie-woogie, can be found in his music throughout the 1920s and 1930s, it was only with the Ebony Concerto that Stravinsky once again incorporated features of jazz into a composition on a far-reaching scale. The title was originally suggested to Stravinsky by Aaron Goldmark, of Leeds Music Corporation, who had negotiated the commission and suggested the form it should take. The composer explained that his title does not refer to the clarinet, as might be supposed, but rather to Africa, because "the jazz performers I most admired at that time were Art Tatum, Charlie Parker, and the guitarist Charles Christian. And blues meant African culture to me."

The Ebony Concerto is scored for solo clarinet in B and a jazz band consisting of two alto saxophones in E, two tenor saxophones in B, baritone saxophone in E, three clarinets in B (doubled by first and second alto and first tenor saxophone players), bass clarinet in B (doubled by second tenor saxophone), horn in F, five trumpets in B, three trombones, piano, harp, guitar, double bass, and drum set. The horn and harp were additions to the normal make-up of the Herman band. Stravinsky's original plan was to include an oboe as well, but this instrument did not survive into the final version of the score. A typical performance lasts about eleven minutes.

The score of the first two movements was delivered to Herman on November 22, 1945, and the finale followed on December 10. In February 1946 the composer chose Walter Hendl, assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic, to conduct the premiere at Carnegie Hall the following month, but Stravinsky himself first rehearsed the band backstage at New York's Paramount Theatre, where they were appearing at the time [as seen in the photo below].


Freeman:   Every person writes from his own experience from within, from without.  It is his own experience, and it depends upon who the composer is, how they’re brought up, where they live, and what experiences they’ve had in life.  If you’ve been in a predominantly black environment, this is almost bound to surface at some point, like in the music of David Baker and Hale Smith.  But if you’ve been living in a predominantly white worldand I don’t just mean what’s immediately surrounding you, but what’s in a smaller reference surrounding you, meaning how you think and how your family thinks, where you’ve studied and with whom you’ve studied, and all these thingsthat makes a different picture.  But if there’s an element which is almost common to the composers of black heritage whose works I’ve performed, the good works have a rhythmic vitality, even if it’s not a continuous ostinato pattern. There is something about the rhythmic vitality that somehow seems to exist even in the music of Adolphus Hailstork, where you know you’re not always expecting the rhythmic element to be significant.  It doesn’t mean it’s always fast, but there’s something about the rhythmic flow.  I don’t know if this is truly an ethnic trait, because at one time there was talk about the black person being extremely rhythmic.  This certainly could hardly be inherited in terms of being genetic, but there may be some environmental circumstances which influence this situation with blacks.  I’m not sure.  I really am not sure.

BD:   It’s a human condition rather than a black condition?

Freeman:   Yes, that’s right.  That’s the idea.

BD:   Is Porgy and Bess a good representation of the black situation?  Did Gershwin miss it, or did he and the librettist hit it right on the head?

Freeman:   Some people do not, in the truest sense, consider Porgy and Bess to be an opera.  This is a big discussion.  The fact that James Levine presented it at the Met certainly helped to give it credence as such, but there are many elements in it which are so different from the contemporary opera format.  Some people question whether or not it should be considered opera, operetta, or glorified Broadway musical.  But that notwithstanding, it is a great work.  That we know for sure.  It happens to be about black people, and in that sense, you can say it is a black opera, but you can say the same thing about an opera that’s written by a black composer.

BD:   Such as Treemonisha?

Freeman:   Yes.  Mind you, that’s also about black people, but there are black composers who write operas about non-black subjects.  So, it
s back to labels again.

BD:   Should we get to the point where we can eliminate all the labels?

Freeman:   It would be helpful, but then some politicians would like that, too.  They didn’t want to be called conservatives, or liberal, or ultraliberals, or moderates.  Some of them don’t mind, but others mind.  They are politicians.

BD:   You conducted opera earlier in your career.  Why don’t you conduct more opera now?

Freeman:   I do on occasion, but the work in the opera, as glorifying as it is and as exciting as it is, requires many more rehearsals and much more time in the locale than going in as a guest conductor with a symphony.  This is somewhat of a problem because with my own orchestra and so much guest conducting, it’s difficult to take a chunk of three or four weeks to be in one place to prepare an opera and do it.  I have done it, and depending upon what comes along, I would probably do it again, but it has to be fitted properly so that not too many other things are thrown out of kilter.  I was six years the Music Director of the Opera Theater of Rochester, so I got to do quite a bit of repertoire, and I’ve conducted with several other opera companies since that time, including one in Victoria.  We have an opera company, and the Victoria Symphony does the pit work.  On occasion, I will do an opera.

BD:   Do you feel that opera works on television?

Freeman:   I’ve done The Medium of Menotti.  It’s fascinating to talk about media.  With the Victoria Symphony I have done six national television productions in the last three years for CBC National.  We did a variety of programs.  One dealt with the music of British composers, because of the nature of Victoria and British Columbia.  Then we had another dealing with national anthems.  We used the chorus of the University of Victoria to perform Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture for chorus and orchestra, with the old Tsar’s Anthem in it.  We also did Finlandia, and the Willcocks arrangement of God Save the Queen.  By the way, our orchestra is one of the few in the world that opens all of its Masterwork Concerts with two anthems.  We always play the Canadian National Anthem, and God Save the Queen.

BD:   Even since the
patriation [full Canadian sovereignty as an independent country away from the United Kingdom in 1982]?

Freeman:   Oh, yes.  When I first went to Victoria, I tried to delete both of them, because I thought anthems are archaic.  After my second concert as Music Director, I opened with the Canadian National Anthem, then I walked off the stage.  I wasn’t going to play the God Save the Queen.  I thought I was going to gradually break the audience, but we had a near riot in the house!  Some people got up and said,
God Save the Queen, God Save the Queen! and they started singing, God save our gracious Queen, even though we weren’t playing.  It was such a mess that I had to come back and apologize to the audience.  I said, “If you feel so strongly, please write our board,” and we were swamped with letters.  On the front page of the paper the next day it read, “Symphony Deletes the Queen!  [Laughs]  So, we had to keep it on our program.

BD:   [With mock haughtiness]  Humpf... an American conductor trying to leave off our anthem!

Freeman:   [Laughing]  That’s right.  Now I kind of like it, because we can do the two anthems, and, if we wish, we can play a concerto or a symphony right after that.

BD:   You can use that as the overture of the concert?

Freeman:   Yes, and everybody gets into the mood.  The audience stands and sings, and many people enjoy that.  It’s fascinating.  [Returning to the topic of the media]  So, we’ve done a lot of things for television with the Victoria Symphony, and right now I’m doing a series of three experimental television programs on the CBC with Victoria Symphony, the Quebec Orchestra, and the Calgary Philharmonic.  This year, we have a special grant from one of the large banks in Canada, Continental Bank, to do it.  We’re filming this outside of the concert hall, so it will not be with an audience.  It may take place on the stage, but there will not be an audience.  We’re going to have a young soloist with the orchestra for each of the three programs, and there will be a humanistic setting for everything, with a storyline to go along with the concerto.  That soloist will be transformed into another character in life.  It will be more theatrical, but using standard concerti.


BD:   Coming back to opera, should operas on television be filmed in the opera house, or should they be like the Zeffirelli productions that are done in real settings and in real places?

Freeman:   For television, one is able to get the great advantage of not filming an opera performance, but having the opera filmed like a movie, like cinema.  You can do more with it because you don’t have to worry about the formal setting for the audience.  You’re dealing just with the visual.  On the other hand, that can be very costly.  The Met has done a marvelous job with some of its live performances, so there’s place for both.

BD:   Should opera be done in translation?

Freeman:   With the visual, they have subtitles on the screen.  I think that’s a good compromise.

BD:   What about in the theater?  Have you experienced these supertitles (as they were called in Chicago)?  [John Leberg developed the Surtitle system for the Canadian Opera Company when he was the company's director of operations.  Lotfi Mansouri, then general director of the company, first used the system in the January 1983.]

Freeman:   Oh, yes.  We do that in Victoria as well.  We use the titles going right along across the top.  It’s enormously helpful because it makes many people more comfortable.  It permits you to use the original language, which is wed to the music, and at the same time, those people who don’t know the language can occasionally follow the script if they wish.  It’s a good compromise.  If you notice, even if an opera is translated from French or German into English, the singers are dealing with phrases which are not well-suited for that musical line.  So, you are often thrown off track.  Plus, you don’t always hear the words.  Most of the music that’s performed in the American music theater
Broadway musicalsis using American music written by American composers, written in the English language, and that language is beautifully wed to the music.  That makes it very easy to articulate.  You have to hear the words of the musical if you’re going to appreciate it.  By the same token, because most of the standard operas were not written in English, even the very best translations lose a great deal.  So, to have the subtitles is really the best of two worlds.

*     *     *     *     *
BD:   Who are the black American composers that are rising to the forefront?

Freeman:   William Grant Still was the so-called Dean, but he has passed away.  Ulysses Kay is perhaps the oldest now.  Then you have George Walker who is in his early 60s, and is a very well-established composer.  [He would be the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1996.]  Hale Smith is almost as old as George, and then you have Olly Wilson.  Coming to slightly younger ones, you have Primous Fountain.  He is very talented, though quite undisciplined in a sense, but becoming more structured.  He is extremely talented.  He worked with Arthur Mitchell and the Harlem Dance Theater doing works for them.  Quincy Jones has also taken an interest in them.  I’ve done some things from his early years.  Anything that Quincy has done generally is for the lighter side.  Primous is a heavy, heavy Stravinsky type, really heavy symphonic.
BD:   Should there be a division between the lighter and the heavier music?

Freeman:   It depends.  Now there are interesting crossover things being done.  For instance, I’ve signed a contract to do ten more recordings with Columbia, but there will be a variety of things.  One thing that we’ve just done is upbeat Christmas music with the Royal Philharmonic and the Chicago Synthesizer Ensemble.  That’s not an established ensemble, but freelance musicians from Chicago.  It’s going to be called Turned On Christmas [shown at left].  Merging these two ensembles for upbeat Christmas music was really fascinating.  There are attempts by many performers today doing so-called crossover music.  Wynton Marsalis is one, as are Rampal and André Previn.  

BD:   Even someone such as Benny Goodman.  The idea was that he played mostly jazz, yet he could play the Mozart Concerto.

Freeman:   The Copland Concerto was written for him.  That’s a perfect example, but he was never great as a classical artist.  He was fantastic as a jazz artist.  Wynton is an enigma because he plays both equally well.  I played with him three years ago with New Orleans Philharmonic.  He did the Hummel Concerto on the first half, and then a work that his father wrote for jazz ensemble and orchestra in the second half.  But Wynton is doing mainly jazz these days.  He doesn’t do crossover as much as he had formerly.  He might come back to that, but Maurice André said that Wynton Marsalis could well be the most outstanding living trumpet player.  He has incredible facility which you don’t find in many composers.  It’s safe to say that equal facility is almost nonexistent.  As talented as Hale Smith is, he probably won’t emerge as a giant in classical music, but he is a fantastic arranger of lighter things in that style for orchestra, whereas Ulysses Kay couldn’t touch anything light.  Neither could George Walker.  George tried to include spirituals in a work of his, and you couldn’t tell the tune.  He couldn’t deal with it.  So, I don’t know if there will ever be a real fusion, though there have been many attempts at it.  

BD:   Where is music going today?

Freeman:   [Ponders a moment]  Perhaps I should ask you that!  [Both laugh]  It’s fascinating to me that just as in painting or politics, the philosophical and sociological concepts, during the
60s and early 70s exploded to the far left.  Now, the pendulum is swinging some place around left-center, and getting over into the right.  Its the same with music.  The post-Webernesque School was pushed to the extreme by Stockhausen, Cage, and Boulez, where they got away from structural music in every sense of the word.  Now, the composers are with Rochberg.  His Violin Concerto, which was written in the 70s, is one of the pivotal works, which seem to have begun to swing the pendulum.  Rochberg was very avant-garde, but started back to the left-center with more traditional harmonic and melodic contour.  I had a very interesting experience in Belgium with the National Orchestra in 1981.  I premiered a Violin Concerto by Ladislav Kupkovič (1936-2016), the Czech composer who was a student of Stockhausen.  He wrote the most avant-garde music, and then suddenly he thought, “I can’t get the audiences to respond to this.  What am I doing?”  The Violin Concerto was written in the style of Mozart and Beethoven, combined with Twentieth-century progression.  It had that kind of classical sound.  [There is more about this Kupkovič work in the second interview below.]  There are many works like that which are performed in Europe, and there are some other composers that are using this, but they’re using mainly the basic concepts of classicism and romanticism, and bringing it into a Twentieth-century setting.  Where music is going eventually I don’t know, but right now, it is some place left- or right-center, going more to the right than to the left.  In classic music, nowadays these styles are coming back, so Bernstein and Howard Hanson were ahead of their time.

BD:   Because of this, are you optimistic about the future of music?

Freeman:   I don’t know.  I am a kind of person that believes in making the best out of whatever the situation is.  In other words, I don’t think it’s particularly bad that we come from extreme left to left-center.  I don’t think it’s bad that we went to extreme-left.  It’s something that we accept as we go along.  As performers, we are basically creators only to the extent that we bring to life what is already created for us.  We act as the middleman to the retailer from the wholesale, so to speak, and as a middle man, we sell the product that’s there.  I have had to immerse myself in extremely avant-garde works and extremely conservative works.  Now, because we have in Victoria an Eighteenth-century series, I’ve had to immerse myself in much of the music of Mozart and Vivaldi, and I enjoy it.  I enjoy whatever I am working with.  So, I don’t have strong feelings that music should go in this direction or that direction.  Those things happen.  As far as I’m concerned, I observe and partake, and then try to present to the public on that basis.

BD:   Is conducting fun?

Freeman:   Oh, very much so.  As musicians, we are very lucky indeed to be able to do what we do.  The vast majority of musicians enjoy their work, while at times it’s very demanding
especially with the traveling if you are, in fact, a jet-age conductor.  I could tell you some hair-raising schedules that I’ve had on occasion.  One is coming up in October.  It starts with a special Chicago program on the 15th.  The next night, I will be rehearsing in Victoria with my orchestra for a concert out of town on the 18th, and on the 19th we are back in town.  Then I will have a police escort to the airport to get to a plane to London to perform two days later.  One day after arrival I have a rehearsal with the London Philharmonic, and the next day is a recording.  [Laughs]  Now, I don’t schedule things like this all the time, but you get into some situations where you know you must take this engagement or that engagement.  I seldom turn down engagements, but the point is that I find it’s re-invigorating to travel around and conduct.  But sometimes it makes you very tired.  When I went to Israel in May, I was there for two and a half weeks, but to get from Victoria to Tel Aviv was twenty-six hours, aboard five flights.  I started rehearsing the next day, and I had five concerts all within two weeks.  You find pockets where you catch up, and if you don’t, you don’t survive.  You have to find a week here, three days there, or two weeks to rejuvenate.  Then, other than the demands placed upon you, there are times when things are quite frustrating because there are many non-musical political things in conducting too.  When running orchestras, you are working with boards, and dealing with communities, and dealing with the labor problems. There are many non-musical aspects that are quite frustrating, but they are part of the work, and having the joy of the high, which one normally has during the concert, makes everything else worthwhile.

BD:   Thank you for being a conductor.

Freeman:   Oh, it’s my pleasure, and thank you for having me on your program.  It
s so nice to meet you.  Chicago is a great city, and I enjoy it very much.

A little more than two years later, in September of 1988, we met for our second conversation

BD:   Tell me about the specific joys and sorrows of starting your second season with the Chicago Sinfonietta.

Freeman:   I have to tell you that I like to look at things in a very positive way.  So, some things that might appear to be sorrows often turn out to be joys.  I’m looking forward very much to starting the new season.  In many ways, the first season far surpassed our expectations both in terms of the artistic growth of the orchestra and the response on the part of the community.  So, we’re really delighted.

BD:   Will you be conducting most of the concerts on the series?

Freeman:   Yes, all except for the Vienna Choir Boys.  They’re performing alone, but I’m actually conducting all the other concerts.  Last year we had a guest conductor, Paul Wiens, who conducted the performances of the Brahms Requiem, and maybe for 1989-90 we might have a guest conductor.  We’ll see how that works.

BD:   Are you able to put your own stamp on this orchestra by being virtually the sole conductor of the ensemble throughout the season?

Freeman:   I hope that this is happening.  Sometimes, when one continues to work on various interpretive matters and the development of certain kinds of sounds, I suppose one can consider this one’s own stamp.  One seeks to make good music, and also develop a sense of ensemble and sheen.  But at the same time, this is what one would normally do with an orchestra.

BD:   Does the specific ability of the players in your ensemble help to dictate program selections?

Freeman:   I have to tell you that Chicago is blessed indeed to have a variety of musicians, and so many first-rate musicians.  We’re able to draw on some of the talent from the Lyric Opera, and about ten of our musicians played at Grant Park for the summer.  In addition, what is fascinating is the fact that we lost our principal cellist to the Chicago Symphony!  He will be there for a year and maybe beyond, because he’s replacing another cellist for the year.  Then, the young lady who is succeeding him in the Sinfonietta also subs regularly for the Chicago Symphony.  We have about three or four who are regular subs in the orchestra.  So, we can call on that level of talent.

BD:   Is there anything that you would want to do with the group that you find you can’t?

Freeman:   The restrictions have to do more with size than with quality or quantity.  We designed it to do repertoire for a small group, or a middle-sized orchestra.

BD:   So, it’s bigger than a chamber orchestra?

Freeman:   If one wants to define chamber orchestra in that way.  We are using between thirty-two and forty-five musicians for each concert.  As you know, many chamber orchestras will use as few as seventeen or twenty-two musicians, depending upon the demands of the music.  But generally, we would like to consider ourselves as being something between a chamber orchestra and a full-size symphony.  In that regard, I think it was Robert Marsh [long-time music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times] who coined a very appropriate expression when he said, “The Sinfonietta is a four-cylinder symphony.”

BD:   You will do a lot of Haydn and Mozart?

Freeman:   Yes, but we do seek variety.  For the first concerts at Rosary College and Orchestra Hall this weekend, we’re opening the program with the Mozart Symphony No. 29 in A Major.  That’s a lovely, beautiful thing [sings the first theme].  I am looking forward to performing that.  We shall also perform two works from contemporary American composers.  Samuel Barber
s Knoxville: Summer of 1915, featuring the distinguished Afro-Puerto Rican soprano Martina Arroyo from the Metropolitan Opera.  She will also sing the aria Pace, pace mio Dio from Verdis La forza del destino.  The second work of an American composer will be Antifonys for chamber orchestra by George Walker, the distinguished black composer.  This will be a Chicago premiere.  To close the program, we shall play the Suite No. 1 from The Three-Cornered Hat of de Falla.

BD:   It’s a well-balanced program.

Freeman:   With quite a variety, from the Eighteenth-century through the Twentieth-century, with Spanish, Austrian, American, and Italian works.  So, we have quite a mixture.

BD:   Is this an ideal program
one that has a few things from different centuries and different genres?

Freeman:   Yes, for our type of audience, because we are trying to bring in many people who are not regularly attending symphony orchestra concerts.  Certainly, we also have a number of patrons who have attended concerts on a regular basis.  We are making an attempt to try to service all, to please everyone.  We have generally varied programs, unlike many European orchestras and even the American orchestras, where the intent is to be a bit more homogeneous.  I like to mix all programs.  An exception will be the November programs in which we shall feature the five piano concerti of Beethoven in two evenings.  Of course, that’s a mixture of Beethoven, but it’s all Beethoven.

BD:   Why did you decide to do all five, rather than a couple of concerti and a symphony?

Freeman:   We wanted to feature Anton Kuerti in these works.  He’s recorded them with Andrew Davis and the Toronto Symphony.  We’ve performed them in the same way in Victoria, with the orchestra there in two consecutive evenings.  He does them extremely well, and he brings some of his own ideas and identity to the music of Beethoven.  I thought it would be a fun thing for people who like piano concerti, and for people who like the music of Beethoven.  In fact, it is an opportunity to hear this juxtaposition, because Brendel performed them with Levine and the Chicago Symphony a few years back.  They recorded them at that time.  So, it’s a nice thing to have from time to time.  [
Recorded live in 1983, Alfred Brendel's third go-round with these works drastically improves on his previous Beethoven concerto cycles.  He finds a calmer, more direct route to the Emperor Concerto... Levine provides sympathetic and alert support, yet is much more than a mere deferential accompanist. --Jed Distler, on Amazon-dot-com.]

*     *     *     *     *
BD:   You always have an eye to the future, and play music by living composers.

Freeman:   Yes.

BD:   Is it a special forte of yours?

Freeman:   I don’t know.  I think it is important that we acknowledge creativity, and I certainly have conducted music of composers of Nineteenth- and Eighteenth-century, whose works our audience may not have had an opportunity to hear.  This is extremely important.  For instance, on the January programs I’ll be performing two Chicago premieres.  One is a work of Ulysses Kay, another black American composer, called Western Paradise for narrator and orchestra.  William Warfield will narrate.  This work was written for the bicentennial celebration, and premiered at the Kennedy Center in
76.  Then we shall perform a work of Silvestre Revueltas, the Mexican composer.  It’s a fascinating work called Redes [concert version of music written for the 1934 film of the same name.  In a contemporary newspaper review, Aaron Copland commented that the music of Revueltas is "above all vibrant and colorful". He regarded this score to possess "many of the qualities characteristic of Revueltas's art"].  Then, along with those contemporary works, we have also chosen the well-known Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E Minor, featuring Kyoko Takezawa, the twenty-three-year-old Japanese violinist who won the Indianapolis International String Competition this past year.  She also will make her debut appearance with the New York Philharmonic and Zubin Mehta during this season.  We will also play a familiar orchestral work, Variations on a Theme of Haydn by Brahms.

BD:   So, this will be another of these interesting balanced concerts.

Freeman:   A mixed bag, so to speak.  Then, going further into the season, we have a special on February 22nd featuring the Vienna Choir Boys.  They are performing on their own without the accompaniment of the orchestra, but that should be one of the highlights of the season for many of our subscribers, especially those persons who live in the west suburbs, in the River Forest-Oak Park area.

BD:   Why is this part of the Chicago Sinfonietta season?

Freeman:   We had considered inviting them.  As a matter of fact, we wanted very much for them to perform with the orchestra, but because they’re on tour, there wasn’t time to prepare a joint performance.  Also, we feel that it is important for us, as a new organization, to have special features in the season which attract a certain amount of attention, and which will serve as an anchor for subscriptions.  We should be doing more of that in the future.

BD:   Good.

Freeman:   In March, we’re bringing Paul Badura-Skoda, the Austrian pianist, to perform the Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major of Mozart.  As you know, Badura-Skoda is particularly well-known for his performances of the music of Mozart, and he is a distinguished pianist, indeed.

BD:   Will he using a modern piano, or a forte piano?

Freeman:   He’s going to use a modern piano.  It is very fine to have the movement to use original instruments, but it has its advantages and disadvantages.

BD:   I would think especially with the Sinfonietta being around forty-five players that using the forte piano would be just the right balance.

freeman Freeman:   Personally, I feel with the original instruments that we’re going through a phase.  I may be wrong in this, and there may be other musicians who feel this way, as well as some who feel just the opposite.  The invention of the modern instruments is really something that I know many people are grateful for, because there are certain improvements.  We are, of course, accustomed to hearing certain things on modern instruments, and while there’s a certain authenticity with the old instruments, it’s still quite alien to many ears.  There are certain sacrifices and compromises of intonation that one has to make in order to achieve what one thinks is authentic.  But also in that program we shall feature four of our own musicians in the Haydn Sinfonia Concertante for violin, cello, oboe, and bassoon.  We are also performing the Schoenberg Chamber Symphony No. 2 to bring us into the Twentieth-century, and Ma Mère l’Oye [Mother Goose] of Ravel.  So, we have a varied program there.

BD:   In your distinguished career, you’ve done quite a bit of conducting of orchestral works, and also accompanying a soloist.  Do you prepare differently or similarly when you are the only musician running the orchestra, as opposed to when you have to share the ideas with the soloist?

Freeman:   I would like to speak about this in two ways.  First of all, we were speaking about my recordings.  I estimate now there are about fifty-eight released in different configurations.  Of those recordings, maybe as many as sixty to sixty-five percent are concertos or works featuring soloists.  Very frankly, this was a practical matter.  When I first started recording in the early
70s, I did some orchestral things, and then I did the massive Black Composer Series on the Columbia label.  Then we had a variety of things, most of them orchestral, but as a result of having made those recordings, I was approached by Musical Heritage Society to do a series of recordings which grew, and grew, and grew into twenty-some recordings.  Most of those were with soloists, and subsequently, recording companies have asked me to do that.  I’ve rather enjoyed it, because we have been able to do both standard repertoire and a few esoteric things, like the music of Cécile Chaminade (1857-1944).  We did her Concertstück for the Orion label a few years ago [LP jacket shown at right].  But you asked me about the sharing of the music-making.  In the vast majority of my programs with the symphony orchestra, one has a soloist.  This has come about because audiences generally like to hear a soloist with orchestra, and it’s a good thing for the box office as well.  It also provides an interesting variety in the programs, so the audience anticipates the star soloist coming and doing a work.  But in terms of preparing, for the most part, the job of the conductor is to accompany the soloist.  Therefore, one seeks to collaborate, unless the soloist is perhaps younger or less-experienced.  Those are instances in which one does have to lead, but by and large one seeks to accompany.  You’re trying to understand how the soloist interprets or expresses, and then you try to deal with that in whatever way is possible to bring about what you consider to be an acceptable result.

BD:   How do you know when you’ve got it to the level of acceptability?

Freeman:   It’s when the soloist feels very comfortable with the accompaniment, and you’re working together instead of against each other.  You do that in the collaboration process, and most soloists are really quite experienced and quite fine musicians, and have definite ideas that you can hear immediately and express.  You reveal this before the rehearsal process, then you hear it in the rehearsal, and finally you live it in the concert.  When one seeks to accompany, the soloist feels this, and feels quite comfortable in performing, and therefore is able to give more of himself or herself.

BD:   Is this something that you would recommend for young conductors
to get some experience not only leading symphonies, but also leading concerto repertoire?

Freeman:   Oh, yes.  In Europe it’s quite different, because most conductors have come up through the opera houses as coaches.  Even today, this is the practice.  Many conductors are pianists, as opposed to being orchestral players.  I’ve played in orchestras myself and I’ve studied piano, but I did have the pleasure of working for six years as Music Director of the Rochester Opera Theater.  So, I did have an opportunity in the
60s to do quite a bit of work with singers.  I worked also with choral ensembles in several churches, and performed many works for chorus and orchestra.  So, I did have the contact with voice as well.  I think that it’s an excellent training ground for a conductor, because often in accompanying, one is not able to conduct in a straightforward way.  In a symphonic setting, it may be your own interpretation, but by and large you’ll dictate, you’ll deal with the transitions, with the tempi, and so forth, whereas in accompanying, you have to listen more and you have to compromise more.  Often you’ll have to hold back, even when you didn’t hear it being held back in the rehearsal.  This is because of the human element.  You might rehearse a given passage, and then some soloists take quite a few liberties during performances, because there is an added dimension of inspiration, a dimension of spontaneity at the moment.  So, one finds oneself in the position of having to constantly listen and go with the person if you’re going to have a successful musical collaboration.  That, indeed, is very good training for a young conductor, but we all continue to learn and grow.

*     *     *     *     *

freeman BD:   As Music Director of the Sinfonietta, do you decide who you will invite to be soloists?

Freeman:   We have a Music Advisory Committee.  We meet twice a year and plan.  I listen to suggestions, and we receive quite a bit of information from artists, managers, and impresarios.  Then there are the artists I’ve worked with at other orchestras, and I know what would be a good opportunity for that person, or for us, to collaborate here in Chicago.  It’s fascinating to try to bring artists to the area which may not have appeared with the Chicago Symphony during previous seasons.  But that’s kind of difficult, because as you know, most people like to come to Chicago.  One of the tricks is to try to get some of the younger artists who are on their way up, like Takezawa as an example, and a person like Martina Arroyo who has appeared at the Lyric Opera and is well-known, but still hasn’t been here for a number of years.  That’s an opportunity.  Anton Kuerti performed with us the last season. But far more important, I was able to invite him because he had made his appearance in the Artist Series in Orchestral Hall the previous year to sold out audiences and to rave reviews.  So, he had established himself in Chicago.  This summer, when I guest conducted the orchestra at Grant Park, I had Sergiu Schwartz, the twenty-nine-year-old Israeli violinist.  We had recorded the Sibelius Violin Concerto with the London symphony earlier in the year [CD booklet-cover shown at left].  A
n interesting thing happened that week...  The London Symphony didnt want the Sibelius Concerto on the concert because it had been played during the same week by another violinist at the Barbican.  So, they asked Schwartz to perform the Bruch Concerto.  So, on one night, we performed the Bruch, and he had a two-day break while I was recording with another artist, and then he was recording the Sibelius.  In July, he performed at Grant Park, and it was an unqualified success and got very good reviews and response from the public.  Now, we’re able to bring him back because he established himself with Grant Park, and maybe in 1989-90 we’ll have an opportunity to welcome him with the Sinfonietta.  So, the selection of artists also can go into the interplay of working with them, as well as their exposure here whether or not they’ve come with other orchestras during that period of time.

BD:   You bring up another thing that I wanted to ask about, and that’s young artists.  What do you look for when a young artist comes and plays for you, or when you hear them in a concert?  What is it that you look for in their playing, or in their musicianship?

Freeman:   An easy answer to that question is that musicianship often is something that goes beyond the technical.  One listens for the ability of the performer to make music, but in serving as Music Director and Associate Conductor with various orchestras, we have to listen to so many musicians for openings in the orchestra.  What I have found that’s absolutely fascinating is that almost without exception you have to go on percentages.  The various orchestras sometimes have quite elaborate audition procedures, and it’s the same with Victoria.  We audition the musicians behind the screen for the first stage, and then we remove the screen for the finals.  But the audition committee is comprised of the various principals of the orchestra, particularly as it relates to that instrument, along with representation from other sections.  So, you have the musicians, you have an orchestral steward, you have a union representative present, and then there is the Music Director.  The Victoria Music Director has some veto power.  In some orchestras, the Music Director has maybe double number of votes on the committee, or of a given member.  It works in different ways.  In orchestras which are not so structured, they have a lot of the same prescriptions.  But my point is, if you’re asking me what to listen for, or what do we listen for with young artists or any artist, regardless to the constituency of a given committee, and regardless of the point system used in determining which musicians would play finals, almost without exception there’s unanimity in thought as to how those musicians come to the final stage.  It may be a little more difficult when you are deciding between two or three musicians, but when you are listening to a half dozen, or fifteen, or thirty, it’s interesting that in the weeding-out process there’s a great deal of unanimity in thought.

BD:   Once you get to the last three, presumably you could go with any of them and be happy?

Freeman:   Presumably, but one reason that most orchestras remove the screen at that final stage really has less to do with racial bias or sex bias.  It has to do with the personality of the individual, because as the person plays you can see many things about his music-making.  You can also detect certain habits that he may or may not have that will obstruct certain sections of the orchestra, or aid certain sections of the orchestra.  So, the visual things enter as well, and by and large, any one of those three finalists for a given position might work.  But again, more than likely, the opinion is unanimous even for that one.  There are certain intangible things that one doesn’t always write down, but you can say you listen for them.  This is all beyond just their tonal quality.  First of all, you listen for musicianship.  Performing music means not just performing notes.  One listens for a certain technical proficiency, which, while extremely important, in my mind is secondary to musical excellence in terms of the ability to make music.  One could say that one can’t really make music unless one can play the notes, and this is true, but there many people who can play the notes that really can’t make music.

BD:   Playing the notes really is just the beginning?

Freeman:   It’s the beginning, not the be-all and end-all.  What I found extremely fascinating in working with many, many solo artists is how a given artist can take the same work, the same war horse, and make out of it something very, very special.


BD:   What advice do you have for young performers coming along who want to have a career as a concert artist?

Freeman:   First of all, in terms of the selection process, or the determination process as to whether or not one will go into music as a profession, if a young performer asks my opinion if they should they go into music as a profession, if they are not sure, I immediately say,
Then don’t!  [Both laugh]  One must be absolutely convinced.  One must be so convinced that there is no question about it, because today the field is flooded with musicians.  That’s the first thing.  Then, after one is convinced, I would say that certainly it’s important to do all the things necessary to develop the technical proficiency on one’s instrument, or with the voice as the case might be.  But, at the same time, be as observant as possible in terms of absorbing or ascertaining those elements which would help one in interpretation, and phrasing, and all the lovely things that go into making music.  Part of this, of course, is the gift.  Another part of it is instinctive, and a part of this we don’t even understand.  Another part in terms of developmentand this is for conducting as wellis to continue to absorb like a sponge from every source possible.  This is not only music, but all those things that relate to music, hence the human experience.

BD:   When you’re absorbing, don’t you have to be discriminatory about what you should absorb, and what’s good to absorb, and what you really should let go?

Freeman:   That depends upon how one views the term
absorption’.  You can absorb on all levels, and then what you reproduce is as a result of the absorption.

BD:   Do you sort it all out before it comes in, or do you take it all in and then sort it to decide what to keep?

Freeman:   I think one can do both.  It’s difficult to know where does one start and the other end.  But I was thinking of some of my personal experiences, and the wonderful musicians with whom I’ve worked or with whom I’ve studied.  Pierre Monteux is an example.

monteux Pierre Benjamin Monteux (4 April 1875 – 1 July 1964) was a French (later American) conductor. After violin and viola studies, and a decade as an orchestral player and occasional conductor, he began to receive regular conducting engagements in 1907. He came to prominence when, for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes company between 1911 and 1914, he conducted the world premieres of Stravinsky's Le Sacre de Printemps (The Rite of Spring) and other prominent works including Petrushka, Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé, and Debussy's Jeux. Thereafter he directed orchestras around the world for more than half a century.

From 1917 to 1919 Monteux was the principal conductor of the French repertoire at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra (1919–24), Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra (1924–34), Orchestre Symphonique de Paris (1929–38) and San Francisco Symphony (1936–52). In 1961, aged eighty-six, he accepted the chief conductorship of the London Symphony Orchestra, a post which he held until his death three years later. Although known for his performances of the French repertoire, his chief love was the music of German composers, above all Brahms. He disliked recording, finding it incompatible with spontaneity, but he nevertheless made a substantial number of records.

Monteux was well known as a teacher. In 1932 he began a conducting class in Paris, which he developed into a summer school that was later moved to his summer home in Les Baux in the south of France. After moving permanently to the US in 1942, and taking American citizenship, he founded a school for conductors and orchestral musicians in Hancock, Maine (LÉcole Monteux). Among his students in France and America who went on to international fame were Lorin Maazel, Igor Markevitch, Neville Marriner, Seiji Ozawa, André Previn, and David Zinman. The school in Hancock has continued since Monteux's death.

freeman I was playing clarinet and cello in the orchestra of  L
École Monteux, where he would have the conducting students perform.  Most of them played orchestral instruments, and he would sit in the woodwind section of the orchestra, and often you would hear him make remarks, or sing a line, or make a motion.  Very little of what he said had to be put into words. So, in other words, you’re just trying to absorb all these little things, all the interesting things that he said about inner melodies or inner parts of a given work, much less major things.  One thing I shall never forget that he would say is, “The right tempo is in the air.  One must find it.  Now, that sounds like a nebulous statement, but what he’s saying is that so many things go into the makeup of a given tempo of a given work, of a given movement, of a given section.  Then, finding the right tempo also is a highly personalized matter.  As a result of experience and studying, one determines how one arrives at the tempo, but the important thing is after you have determined the tempo that you would like to take for a given movement or section, the trick is being able to present that in as convincing a way as possible.  I was just thinking of the Shostakovich Fifth Symphony, which Kurt Masur conducted with the Chicago Symphony during the month of June.  I was conducting that symphony with the Grant Park Orchestra during the month of July.  Now, I am not going to make a comparison between the two orchestras, but what I have to say is that in the finale of the work, more times than not the tempo is very driving [sings the melody very fast], whereas, Masur took a much slower tempo [sings the same melody more slowly].  He is convinced that Shostakovich wanted it that way.  I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting Shostakovich personally, and I don’t feel it that way.  It’s not written in the score that way, so if Shostakovich wanted it that way there’s nothing wrong with doing it that wayif you do it convincingly, as Masur did.

BD:   Is this what makes a piece of music great
that it can be presented both ways convincingly?

Freeman:   There is some music that can, and there’s some music that can’t, in terms of what Monteux said about the tempo being in the air.  Again, this is part professional judgment, part experience, and part of musicianship.  Music has to breathe.  Another interesting thing is in the Mozart Symphony No. 29 that we’re performing this weekend. Bernstein conducted that with the Vienna Philharmonic on tour, and they performed here last fall.  I had the pleasure of going to that performance in Orchestral Hall, and I sat in the third row.  It was the first time that I had sat that close to an orchestra, because now I don’t have a chance to go to many performances.  Usually, you get back farther so that you can see and hear what’s happening, but the concert was sold out and I was forced to sit there.  I’ve followed Bernstein
s activities over the years, and he’s one of our distinguished board members at the Sinfonietta.  But I was fascinated by his approach to Mozart.  It was really delightful.  At the end of the symphony, Mozart did not write a rallentando.  He wrote nothing.  He just wrote [sings the melody] right in tempo.  But the way that Bernstein developed and shaped the movement permitted him to have it as a surprise [sings the melody more slowly].  It was delightful the way that he chose to do that.  This was his imagination.  For many works, when I have time, I like to listen to three or four recordings by established conductors to see what different conductors are thinking.  Some I have experienced personally, and some I may have worked with as an Associate or Assistant.  But it’s fascinating to me, because you can take the same symphony and hear so many different things with different interpretations.  The Karajan recording of that symphony is quite fast in the first movement.  It is marked allegro moderato, and I was a bit surprised, because having studied in Berlin, I went to many Karajan performances for two years, and I remember hearing him perform this work.  Then another time, he brought the Berlin Philharmonic on tour in Carnegie Hall.  Leontyne Price was soloist, and I remember the ticket price was so much for that concert.  He opened with the Mozart 29th Symphony, and I remember at that time feeling, “Oh, the symphony is breathing.  It’s so nice.”  However, his recording with the Vienna Philharmonic is different.  In one space he’s doing one tempo, and in another space a different tempo.  So, the same creator within a period of time might choose to take different tempi of the same work.

BD:   Are you finding that your tempi have changed over the years?

Freeman:   Oh yes, in various works in many ways.  Often when I’m conducting, especially a standard work, I will write in the score with which orchestra I conducted it, and on which date.  It’s interesting to look back now.  I hate to admit this, but as I’m gaining a little bit in age, I look back ten or twelve or fifteen years ago, and see what I conducted with which orchestra.  Then I think about that performance, and sometimes hear a recording or a tape of the concert from a radio broadcast, and compare it.  Sometimes it’s a little faster, and sometimes it’s not as fast.  I can’t generalize, because it goes both ways.  I do know that for Mozart in general, and this Symphony No. 29 in particular, I tend to be more romantic in my approach than many conductors.  This is Mozart at his best with romanticism.  It’s wonderful music, and one must let it breathe.  This is my own opinion of it.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   [At this point we stopped for a moment so I could turn over the cassette.]  I hope this is an interesting discussion for you.  You’re giving me a wealth of great material.

freeman Freeman:   You are asking questions that an average commentator doesn’t ask, so it’s fascinating to me.

BD:   Then, let me give you the big question.  What is the purpose of music in society?

Freeman:   That is a big one.  I’ve never been asked that.  If we were to be quite philosophical, we would say, first of all, that music serves many purposes.  In terms of universality, music is really an international language.  It soothes the soul.  It tames the beast.  It does all these things, and in addition there have been many secondary things that have come to pass in music.  It has been good for the State.  It has been good for the advancement of the Country.  It has been good for the advancement of culture.  It has been good in music therapy.  It has been good in social situations.  It has been good in discipline situations.  Music is so multifaceted in itself, and so all-embracing that one could hardly conceive of living in the world without music.  We are not saying that only classical music is music, but one can hardly conceive of living in the world without classical music.

BD:   [With a bit of sadness]  Yet classical music represents such a small segment of the music that is consumed.

Freeman:   That’s right, a very small segment.  In Canada we say
commercial and non-commercial music.  The non-commercial music is symphonic music.  That’s an easy thumbnail definition.  So, when you go into non-commercial music, it is with the idea that it’s not commercially meant.  So, you have your sight set on smaller audiences, but at the same time making the kind of product that is very much pleasing to you.  In that regard, I have to say that I do have a particular interest in reaching out in terms of audience-development, and seeing new types of individuals coming to the concert hall.  Not only that, but in providing music for large numbers of people.  This is done with recordings, and now with television.  The Victoria Symphony has done six national television productions during my tenure as Music Director, and I am now in the process of negotiating a project in which we hope to have a cooperative between Canada and the United States.  The Sinfonietta will prepare three half-hour videos for television, and were negotiating with CBC Orchestra in Vancouver to do the other three.  Each of the half hour videos will feature a distinguished artist of a different national or ethnic group.  The video will be a cross between music-videos that you see on television, and the stylized, very slow-moving kinds of presentations.  The elements will lend themselves to visual presentation, and will have multicultural elements.  We have the source, and we have also the music itself, the composer, the nation in which it was written at that time, plus the Sinfonietta.  All these combined will make a fascinating video presentation.  After they’ve been presented on television in the States and in Canada, they’ll be packaged for educational consumption by the Music Educators National Conference in America, and by the Canadian Music Educators Association.  The two are working together to prepare instruction manuals, like the ones that I showed in English and French for the Canadian Recording Project, featuring Canadian soloists on cassette, which were devised for consumption in public schools throughout Canada.  I’m very much interested in the dissemination of classical music to as broad a public as possible, because with media today, we can reach out more.

BD:   All of this is fresh in today’s banner headlines, because the Congress passed the final version of the pact in which the big trade barriers between Canada and the United States will be completely gone in ten years.

Freeman:   That’s right.  This is really wonderful.  I don’t know if many Americans are as aware of the significance of this agreement as many Canadians, but I have to tell you that there are many Canadians who are somewhat skeptical, because Canada is, after all, the smaller of the two countries, and there is a certain concern that perhaps Canada will not benefit as much as the States from this.  I’m not thoroughly informed about the treaty, but in general, as a U.S. citizen but a Canadian resident, a landed immigrant, I commute back and forth from Victoria to Chicago.  But I would say from the little that I know about it, and from what I’ve observed, by and large it is a good thing for both countries.

BD:   I can’t imagine that the Canadians would get involved in something that would not be at least of some benefit.

Freeman:   Yes, but what could very easily happen is that certain segments of the population may not benefit as much as other segments.  It does lend itself in many ways to certain U.S. companies having more inroads to Canada, and maybe having greater benefits than the reverse with Canadian companies, simply because of the nature of the beast.  The agreement is quite comprehensive and somewhat complex, so these are just observations.  But, as I said, in the long run, I think it’s a good thing.

*     *     *     *     *
BD:   When you’re preparing a concert, is all your work done in rehearsal or do you purposely leave something for that night, and the imagination and the spark of spontaneity?

Freeman:   I remember Lorin Maazel saying to the orchestra “Gentlemen and ladies, I know that you cannot play two performances in one day, so let’s play the performance tonight.”  That is a general thing, and after a while, when you’ve done many concerts with orchestra, you’ll learn how much to anticipate in the dress rehearsal.  You’ll learn how to put certain technical things and general things into place, and then there is usually an added dimension in the performance.  You usually go to another level because of the presence of the audience, the concentration of the musicians, and the overall nature of performing, as opposed to stopping or correcting, and listening differently.  Once things are set in place
if one has adequate rehearsalsthen one can stand back and make music.  That’s the process.  When you start as a conductor, you may be uptight a little more than when you have gained experience.  You’re like, [nervously] “My God, if it just isn’t right in the dress rehearsal, it’s going to be terrible tonight.”  Eventually you know how much rehearsing you’ve done, and you know what you’ve asked for, and you know what they want.  So, you put those ingredients together, and then you step to the next dimension for the performance.

BD:   The performance is the logical next step after the dress rehearsal?

Freeman:   That’s right.  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at left, see my interviews with Elie Siegmeister, and JoAnn Falletta.]

BD:   Will you have made the same amount of progress from the previous rehearsal to the dress rehearsal?

Freeman:   Yes, if one wants to call it progress, because when you go from rehearsal to rehearsal, you take certain progressive steps, and there is a certain organic development or cohesiveness which comes about for rehearsal to rehearsal.  But even going from one rehearsal to another, it’s still a little different than from the dress rehearsal to the performance.

BD:   Are you getting enough rehearsal with the Sinfonietta?

Freeman:   One always would like more rehearsals, but one does have to take into consideration financial restrictions.  We generally have three or four orchestral rehearsals, and one string rehearsal, depending on the program.  Then we have a warmup in Orchestral Hall when we’re repeating the performance.  In Victoria, often for big programs we will have five rehearsals, but sometimes only four.  Often, one of these is a string rehearsal, because the strings generally have the most to play in the concert.  But we do try to provide adequate rehearsal time, and in planning the program, we try to take into account the rehearsal requirement.  But there’s always a margin for miscalculation.  This most often occurs when you’re doing a work for the first time, and especially premieres.  So, that’s another matter.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  I assume you don’t screw up too often...

Freeman:   [Laughs]  We seek not to.  There have been some very interesting things happen in performances, especially when one is performing with soloists, because for the most part a soloist will perform from memory.  So, if there’s a memory lapse, one has to deal with that in a variety of ways.  I had an experience during this past season with a soloist who was terribly ill, but she insisted on playing the performance.  In the rehearsal I knew that she was sick, so I didn’t push her because I thought, “Tonight it should be all right.”  But
tonight came, and in that performance, in the middle of a massive concerto, she had a total memory lapse.  It had to do with the brain-blockage from the illness.  At one time I would have maybe stopped and conferred with the woman, but I’ve learned that for the most part that it takes a calamity to stop a performance.  You keep going.  You don’t stop, and I didn’t stop.  But she looked at me in complete horror.  I could hear her say to herself, “God, please wait.  Stop.  Wait.  Let me catch up.  Please stop.”  When she saw that I wasn’t going to stop, she tried to refocus and readjust, and then she came in.  While the total period of time may have been not more than maybe a minute and a half, for us it appeared to be ten or even fifteen minutes.  Something like that can happen, and one has to learn how to deal with it.

BD:   Are you optimistic about the future of music?  [Though I asked this question in the previous interview, his response this time was a bit different, and led directly to other details.]

Freeman:   I’m impressed by the global perspective.  Now, when you say
music, are you referring to non-commercial music, such as concert music and symphonic music?  In general, the term music can mean all kinds.

BD:   That’s true, but for this discussion, let
s limit ourselves to the classical realm.

Freeman:   I am an eternal optimist.  I am seldom pessimistic, and even when I’m pessimistic by the standards of most people, I’m optimistic.  So, I can say only that there is a great future ahead for classical music.  It’s going in many directions with the advent of the synthesizer.  By the way, I did my master’s dissertation in the late
50s and early 60s on musique concrète, electronic music, and tape recorder music in three countriesGermany, France, and America.  I also composed music in the electronic genre.  Even at that time, I was very much interested in new directions, new instruments, and new sounds, but a lot of this was a phase in classical music.  Perhaps the greatest advance in terms of usage for electronic instruments has really been in commercial music, as opposed to non-commercial music.  That’s interesting, because as hard as some composers try to create in that genre, the symphony orchestra is considered by many as being a museum.  OK, but what a wonderful museum!

BD:   You help to make it a living museum.

Freeman:   A living museum, that’s right.  Not every museum only has fossils.  To that extent, music conservatories throughout America and throughout the world are grinding out more students and more performers.  It very well could be too many, but the overall level of playing, the standard of technical proficiency has risen considerably in the last twenty-five years, and there has been an awesome increase in technical proficiencies in the last fifty years.  If you go back to the recordings made in the
40s, its not just a matter of the recording equipment.  It’s a matter of the technical proficiency of the musicians, and their performing skills, because of the demands or the lack of demands made.  I think the Sacre de Printemps in 1912 was the turning point in terms of the Symphony Orchestra as we know it.  Monteux even mentions that he had seventeen orchestra rehearsals before he played it with the ballet company.  Today, even a ballet orchestra would be lucky if they have five or six rehearsals for that, or any ballet of that quality.  What has changed is the growing technical proficiency of the players.  The unknown factor is what will happen in terms of creativity as we move along, because we have now composers who are important to us, but it is difficult to know if they are parallel to some of the giants of the Twentieth century.  It is difficult to say that we have a parallel for Stravinsky or Bartók today.  [Pauses briefly to think]  We might... Philip Glass is doing a lot, as are other composers, but at this time it’s difficult for us to see that because we’ve very close to it.  So, from the standpoint of creative output, it’s hard for us to imagine what kind of a future we will have, but from the standpoint of performers and audiences, classical music is certainly growing in many ways.  There’s a decline for certain types of audiences, but the growth factor of symphony audiences, especially in America, is more related to standard repertoire.  You can say, “So what?, but what we play for the most part is standard repertoire.  We have to in order to fill the concert halls.  We have to get people to come.  In any case, serious musical creativity today has taken a turn toward writing tonal music.  In Belgium, I played the premiere of [the full version] of a Violin Concerto by Ladislav Kupkovič, who was at that time a forty-seven-year-old Czech composer.  When I was sent the score about five years ago, I phoned the General Director of the orchestra and said, “Did you send me the right score???”  I looked at the music, and couldn’t believe it.  It was a cross between Beethoven, and Mendelssohn, and a little bit of Haydn.  Kupkovič had been a student of Stockhausen, and had written the most radical music.  But he told me, “I decided one day that I was going to write music that an audience could understand, enjoy, and respond to.  So, he suddenly stopped writing esoteric music and wrote very tonal music.  I don’t know that it was improvement in terms of what he wrote, but people responded.


BD:   You have made many recordings.  Will there be some with the Sinfonietta?

Freeman:   Yes. The sinfonietta has made its first commercial recording, which is to be released in January or February.  It is called The Mozart Family Album [shown at right], and has three generations of Mozarts.  It was a fascinating project because we had Centaur Records come here from Louisiana, where they’re stationed, to record the master tape.  We recorded Les petits riens of Wolfgang, and then Bauernhochzeit (Peasant Wedding) of his father, Leopold (1719-1787).  That was with bagpipes, and gunshots, and simulation of other sounds with the musicians.  That was interesting, because in the family, Leopold was the risqué one.  He wrote far more adventuresome stuff than Wolfgang in terms of programmatic music.  Not in terms of harmonic and melodic structure, but in terms of programmatic content.  He did, in fact, write what was known earlier as Haydn’s Toy Symphony.  It was written by Leopold.  He also wrote Schlittenfahrt (Sleigh Ride) using programmatic elements.  Then there is Franz Xaver Mozart (1791-1844), the son of Wolfgang, who wrote two piano concertos.  We recorded the second one with Grant Johannesen.  We’re also looking toward participating in the video projects.  We’ll hoping to take the orchestra to the New Regal Theater to perform educational concerts with Urban Gateways’ participation during the year.  We have on the Board, as a matter of fact, the co-owner of the theater, Mrs. Bettyann Gardner.  She’s been very supportive of the orchestra.  The Theater is the fourth largest black-owned business in the country.  We are pleased to have this type of individual on our Board.  We’re also looking to have a West Coast tour, maybe in the fall of 1990.

BD:   So, you’re planning way ahead.

Freeman:   Oh, yes.  We’re looking ahead in developing plans for the orchestra.  The number of concerts that we will have in Orchestra Hall and at Rosary College will relate directly to the financial resources as these develop.  [Laughing]  That’s not a pitch for sponsorships and contributions, but of course, we won’t deny any.  But this is the way that we have to function.  Instead of presenting six or seven concerts and repeating them, we could suddenly perform fifteen concerts and repeat those.  But at the moment, we do not have the financial resources to do that.  So, as these resources unfold, then we will increase our season proportionally.  As you know, our first mission is that of performing music written for a middle-sized orchestra, and doing it very artistically.  But our secondary or social mission is to develop audience outreach, and this is reflected in the minority participation in the orchestra, on the Board, and on the staff.  We have a mixture of ethnic groups involved in all levels.  We make a conscious effort to find the finest musicians that we can in the community, but we were fortunate in finding a mixture.  Our concert-master is Asian.  We have two or three Asians in the orchestra, and a few Hispanics, and five or six blacks in the orchestra of forty-two to forty-five musicians.  So, it’s an interesting mixture on the stage, and this is reflected in the concert hall as well.

BD:   I hope it continues to grow that way.

Freeman:   We will make every effort to do that.  As I said, I’m very much impressed with, and pleased by the support that the Chicago community has given us, and we will continue in our efforts to expand in all directions.

A little more than seven years later, in December of 1995, we met for our third chat

BD:   What are some of the considerations that you must take in building programs for one of your orchestras, or for your recording projects?

Freeman:   Let’s start first with the Chicago Sinfonietta, and the audience here.  Because we place an emphasis upon not only multi-culturalism, but variety, then in setting about to create the program we start from the basis that we want to scatter throughout the season works of African-American composers, and some Hispanic composers, as well as something by a female composer, and an Asian composer.  For each program, I like to have at least one work that’s considered
standard repertoire, not only accessible, but well-known, or something less-familiar by a well-known composer whose music is very much accessible.  Then we get into the matter of soloists.  That’s a fascinating evolution as it relates to our programs, because originally we started, as most orchestras do, with one soloist.  Then, we were trying to determine just how large a budget could we bear as an organization for guest artists, because of the escalation of solo-artist fees.  It became clear that practically any soloist of international stature performs within a three- to five-year cycle with the Chicago Symphony.  So, if we bring that person and pay this enormous fee, it does not have the box office return for us that one would normally think simply because they have played recently with the Chicago Symphony.

BD:   Let me interrupt just for a side question.  Are you in any way competing with the Chicago Symphony, or are you trying to be an adjunct to the Chicago Symphony?

Freeman:   From the very start, we invited Henry Fogel [then President and CEO of the Chicago Symphony] to our Board, and he’s been very supportive of our organization.  We have tried to articulate, wherever possible, that we’re not competing with the Chicago Symphony, but rather complementing the type of repertoire in the variety within the content of the programs.  We also expose works of ethnic composers, many of which would not be performed with that orchestra.  Another point is just what we were saying about soloists, which comes back to that aspect of how an audience loves soloists in a program, and it makes a nice variety for any concert.  So, we thought why not get younger, perhaps lesser-known soloists, who were stars of tomorrow, and build our own cadre of soloists, inviting them back every three to four years, mixing them up and so forth.  In this way, our audience becomes familiar with those people.  At the same time, if we bring two soloists, one is likely to be better-known to our audience than the other.  An example that comes to mind is the program that opened our eighth season, in which Leon Bates performed a MacDowell Piano Concerto.  He is very well-known and loved by audiences.  Then we also had Borislav Strulev, a totally unknown 18-year-old cellist from Russia.  We put Bates there as the soloist that’s known to our audience, and then Strulev as an unknown soloist.  He was also very strong, and that made a good balance, but he didn’t sell any tickets in advance.

BD:   But Bates did?

Freeman:   Bates did.  On the other hand, when Strulev returns, maybe within a year or two... You see how the cycle continues.

freeman BD:   Have you gotten to the point where the audiences trust you, and trust the Sinfonietta, so it is the Sinfonietta who is the real soloist and the real draw, and almost no matter what you prepare, they’re willing to give it a try?

Freeman:   To the consistent audience, the people who’ve been with us over a number of years, yes.  But for the new people coming in, we’re trying an audience development idea to bring in new people over time.  Then, we have to use various marketing techniques relating to programming, until they arrive at the point where they trust what we have to present, and enjoy the programs, and come not for a given soloist, but rather for the evening with the orchestra.

BD:   You get that when they subscribe.  They’re subscribing for the Sinfonietta, not for any single entity.

Freeman:   That’s right.

BD:   I assume that musical values are first and foremost, and the marketing technique comes in after that.  

Freeman:   That’s right.  One certainly must take into account that you do want a strong musical program, regardless of how much is repeated.  But given the limited number of concerts each season, I would still rather our audience hear the Mendelssohn Italian Symphony three times in ten years, rather than the Mendelssohn First or Second twice in that time.  You’ll probably notice from our programming that we seldom, if ever, do a program of all one composer, regardless of the stature of that composer, for the reason that we are dealing with variety.  I’m not saying this isn’t good, but I do know that for the most part, except for Mozart, maybe Bach, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky, all programs that have only one composer tend to bore an audience, unless there’s a specific design, like a festival-year featuring various composers.

BD:   Or a single huge work?

Freeman:   That’s right.  That’s a different kind of situation for a Mahler Symphony or Bruckner Symphony.  The concentration of three or four works of one composer on one program can be seen internationally, but still, by and large, I find that audiences are more excited by variety in the building of programs.

BD:   Now by design, your programs are going to have a bigger variety than most ordinary orchestras, because you have much more vision about bringing in, as you say, the multicultural aspect.

Freeman:   Naturally, when one is talking about one’s own work, one tends to be a little hesitant about how it’s evaluated by himself.  By others, that’s a different matter, but for me it’s like a snowball.  You start with just a few flakes of snow, and then you put more snow, and it grows and grows, and soon there’s a snowman.  In that sense, we are encouraged by unusual things, and then we find more and more and more.  We think “My God, there’s so much out there.”  For instance, in the first year, as you know, we performed and recorded Leopold Mozart
s Bauernhochzeit, which is really an extraordinary work, considering the period of time in which it was written, and that it was Mozart’s father, who was indeed more adventuresome than Wolfgang himself.  Then we discovered the work of Franz Xaver Mozart, the son of Wolfgang.  So, we put the three Mozarts together as a recording.  Remember, Leopolds has the bagpipes!  How many works are there written for bagpipes in symphony orchestras?

BD:   I know of only one, An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise, by Peter Maxwell Davies.

Freeman:   Right, and then that encouraged us to do the world premiere of the Jan Bach
s Steelpan Concerto in our ninth season.  This is the first concerto for steelpan, I believe.  What has come out of that is a very interesting permutation, because then we were introduced to the Northern Illinois University percussion ensemble.  They use a huge array of seventeen or eighteen players, with steelpan and huge wooden xylophones.  There was a work which we played there the night before we did the Steelpan Concerto here that we’re going to bring next season, called Wood-N-Steel by Robert Chappell.  It uses that array of percussionists, and it was a showstopper.  The audiences went wild.  It was mesmerizing.  So, those things have come out of looking at unusual works.


Also, see my interview with Morton Gould

BD:   It’s interesting that we talk about percussion works, because this weekend at the Chicago Symphony, one of the pieces on the program is Ionisation of Varèse, which uses 13 percussion players.  It had not been done here, even though the work is 70 years old.  [Ionisation (1933) is among the first classical works for percussion ensemble alone.  Nicolas Slonimsky conducted the premiere.]

Freeman:   [Smiling, eager to correct the record]  But the Sinfonietta did that four years ago!  We used thirteen players, and we had to collect all the Chicago Symphony players to augment our own.  I’m sorry that you missed the program, but in fact, we played it at Orchestral Hall.  I’ve been fascinated with the music of Varèse from childhood.  I saw Bruno Maderna do Arcana (1925-27) of Varèse in Europe some years ago.  It’s interesting, but so much has happened since that time compositionally, and I have to say that as interesting a work as the Ionisation is, for all the resources that are included, a composer today who would use those resources would have written a far more exciting work.

BD:   One of the things about all this is that percussion players have gotten much better over the last few years.

Freeman:   Oh yes they have.  NEXUS is a percussion ensemble, and there are several other percussion ensembles which have commissioned works for percussion instruments.


Toronto based NEXUS is widely recognized as one of the most influential percussion ensembles to have emerged in the post-war period.  The New York Times has called the ensemble, “The high priests of the percussion world.”  Steve Reich said they are, “Probably the most acclaimed percussion group on Earth.”

Their original compositions and arrangements include works from Reich, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Libby Larsen, and Tōru Takemitsu.  They have collaborated with (among others) The Canadian Brass, the Kronos Quartet, and Richard Stoltzman.

BD:   You always are looking for new material.  Do you ever specifically encourage composers to write things for you?

Freeman:   Yes.  Hayden Wayne, as you know, has been doing some things, as has Hailstork.  We have a composer writing a work, and it’s interesting because it’s done via a percussionist in the orchestra.  I’m not familiar with the composer.  We have not commissioned the work, but if he writes it, we will consider playing it.  This particular work is for maracas and orchestra, and I think it will be a first.  [This would turn out to be Pataruco, Concerto for Venezuelan Maracas and Orchestra by Ricardo Lorenz, which the Sinfonietta premiered in March, 1999.  It was later recorded by Freeman and the Czech National Symphony, with the original maracas player on the same CD as the Jan Bach Steelpan Concerto shown above.]  But if you commission a work, then you’re obliged to perform it.  You do it at a risk of the quality of the work.  What comes out, generally is going to be professional, but it doesn’t mean that the particular work is going to be a great opus.  So, I am a little bit leery about pushing so much to do that, because I have done a lot of world premieres, often without obligation.  They’re written, and they’re there, and we examine them and then decide if we will premiere them.  I have, on occasion, made arrangements with younger composers saying, “If you were to write a work for us, I’ll read it, but we may or may not decide to put it on a given program on a subscription series.  These have to be the terms.  This has to be the condition upon which you’ll agree to write the work for us.  Sometimes we have played it, and sometimes we haven’t.  So, that gives us flexibility.

BD:   Do you ever make suggestions to composers, or give them advice which would help ensure that it would catch your eye... or rather catch your ear?
 [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at right, see my interviews with Emma Lou Diemer, and William Bolcom.]

Freeman:   That’s a good question.  In terms of general suggestions, very much so.  For instance, we say that it’s much easier to get a shorter work performed than a massive work.  Then with the Sinfonietta, it’s certainly a requirement that it have a small instrumentation rather than the full resources, even though we can use three trombones, tuba, and three to four percussion on occasion.  We still tend to use double winds and for the most part, especially if we plan to present the work frequently.  Often, we will say that if the work is going to open the program, it should be in an upbeat kind of style, and if the work is going to close the program, it will send the audience off with a great feeling.  But composers are not prone to take advice too kindly that has to do directly with what they’re writing, unless it’s topical.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You have now taken an additional post in the Czech Republic?

Freeman:   Yes.  Having recently been appointed Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Czech National Symphony in Prague, we are in the process of programming.  This will be my first year, and some of the programs have already been established.  Just as I did in Canada, when I was Music Director there during the
80s with the Victoria Symphony, I tried to go into the situation and read the pulse of the environment, to try to determine what we might bring to that cultural community in terms of repertoire, and that will help increase the size of the audience and therefore the number of people we’re serving.  In Canada, we had a requirement by the Federal Government Council, which is equivalent to National Endowment of the Arts of this country, that a minimum of 10% of the music that we’ve performed had to be by Canadian composers.  Therefore, I had to familiarize myself with the many, many Canadian composers whose music I had not heard.  I’ve heard of some of the names of the composers, but not a lot of their music.  So, it was a learning process for me, but at the same time a fulfillment of the requirement.  I tried to do it in such a way that would not only be fulfilling the requirement, but really exposing some of the greater works of Canadian composers to West Coast audiences.

BD:   Did you look at all of these scores yourself, or did you get some advice as to which areas to delve into?

Freeman:   It was a combination of things.  There is a place called the Canadian Music Center.  They have three or four branches throughout the country, and then they have a catalogue of scores.  The director of each of the centers is well-steeped and well-versed in the various components of his catalogue, so we would ask for recommendations of what he considered to be strong works, or composers of this type of music.  This was a learning device, and the basis for which to select the music.  We were also constantly receiving scores and tapes from composers.  The CBC has been very active in cataloging recordings, many of them Canadian works.  So, we had tremendous sources from which to pull and select works to perform.  Now, going into the Czech Republic, the orchestra is not just better known internationally, but it’s a bigger situation.  We have a number of subscription concerts with which to deal, and the orchestra records quite a bit with various conductors.

BD:   This is in Prague?

Freeman:   In Prague, yes.  There is also the challenge of the Czech Philharmonic, where they have Albrecht as their German Music Director.  [Conductor Gerd Albrecht led the Czech Philharmonic from October 1, 1993 until January 30, 1996, widening its repertoire to include, for example, works by the so-called “Terezín composers” (Ullman, Klein, Haas).]  
The challenge for me is to come in as a foreign conductor in an age of nationalism, and try to make a contribution in such a way that one is less considered a foreign conductor, but more an international conductor, or a part of our community.

BD:   Does that behoove you to play quite a bit of Czech music?  [Vis-à-vis the recording of oboe concertos shown below, Krommer was born in Kamenice, in what is now the Czech Republic, and Hummel was born in what is now Bratislava, Slovakia.]

Freeman:   Yes. And not only that.  We are developing a series of subscription concerts where we will feature primarily Czech conductors, and Czech soloists, with Czech music included.  It doesn’t mean that there won’t be another series as well, but this series is going to be heavily geared in this direction.  My appointment just occurred last week, and we haven’t even had the press conference yet.  It was set for January ninth because I had to come back here to Chicago to do concerts.
BD:   Is it surprising for an American conductor to be named the Music Director of this orchestra in the Czech Republic?

Freeman:   If you look at statistics, you will see that in Eastern Europe, which includes the former Socialist countries, maybe there are one or two others in some smaller cities, but in terms of an orchestra that’s quite well-known, it was quite extraordinary for them to invite an American conductor.

BD:   Have you had an ongoing relationship with this orchestra?

Freeman:   Yes, this was my second trip there.  I had made recordings in May, and two weeks ago we had a concert with music of Mozart and the Czech Suite of Dvořák.  What better way to introduce me to the orchestra and the public than that?  Then we recorded five concertos while I was there, works by Mozart, Arensky, and Rachmaninoff.  It was after the concert that they asked me.  They had intended to go through a year of guest conductors because the former music director, Zdeněk Košler, died this past July.  But after we worked together, they asked me after the concert if I would consider becoming the Principal Conductor and the Music Director.  I said that was very flattering, but we have many things to discuss, such as scheduling and other requirements, including how many times I have to be here, and so forth.  We had five meetings over an eight-day period.  They couldn’t have a press conference then because I was on the way back to Chicago.  So, they agreed that it would be announced in America.  My work will become effective January 1st, which is their season.  They have a calendar year for the season.  We are taking the Chicago Sinfonietta on its fourth European tour in January, so prior to my starting that tour of twelve concerts in Switzerland and Germany, I will be stopping for two days in Prague, and we’ll have the press conference at that time.  I’ll have my first concert with them on March twelfth.

BD:   Could you detour the Sinfonietta to play in Prague, also?

Freeman:   That would be very nice, except that the European tour is planned considerably in advance, and they’re very costly.  I’m hoping that one day we might be able to bring the Czech National Symphony to Chicago, and take the Sinfonietta to Prague as a part of its other activities in Europe.

BD:   You’ll be playing quite a bit of Czech music.  Will you also bring George Walker and Adolphus Hailstork to the Czechs?

Freeman:   It’s interesting that you would select those two composers.  I’m certainly going to play American music, but I don’t know yet which composers.  One thing we definitely hope to include is Jan Bach’s Steelpan Concerto.  That’s going to be included next.  I’ve already talked with the soloists at the university about making those arrangements.  There will also be other American works, but we haven’t finished the program yet.  However, there would not be the same emphasis upon works of African-American composers, but rather a broader look at American music as it would fit into that particular environment.

BD:   You don’t seem the type that would just automatically go to Copland and Gershwin.

Freeman:   No, not automatically, but in one instance, in one of the gala concerts which we are having in the Spanish Hall of the castle, which is a very nice setting, we’re planning to use right now four Czech soloists and maybe two Americans.  One of the works will be the Rhapsody in Blue, but that doesn’t mean to say that we’d involve the music of Gershwin.  In this particular instance it seems to work.  What is fascinating to me, however, is that I’ll have an opportunity with the orchestra there to enjoy the great Czech tradition of playing their music.  For this program, we’re starting with the Mozart Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra with Badura-Skoda and his student, Josh Cullen, that we’re doing here.


Josh Tatsuo Cullen served as an army interrogator in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he learned the stories of people whose perspectives are very different from our own.  He brings this passion for storytelling to his music, challenging our assumptions in search of our shared human experiences and values. Unafraid of breaking the mold, after finishing his military service, he has pursued an interdisciplinary career spanning the classical and Broadway worlds. 

Praised for his “delicious” collaboration by the New York Times, he has performed as a chamber musician, solo pianist, and concerto soloist at Lincoln Center and in venues throughout the world.  His recordings include Beethoven’s first three piano concertos and Mozart’s concerto for two pianos in E-flat major with Paul Badura-Skoda, released by Hallmark Classics and Tintagel Records. Equally active in musical theater, he has conducted and played on the national tours of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder and Anastasia, and plays keyboard on the national tour of Disney’s Frozen, the Musical.

These arrangements had been made before I was appointed.  This was a part of my plan simply as guest conductor.  Then we’re doing the Prokofiev Third Piano Concerto with a Korean soloist, because we’re also recording those two works.  After intermission, we’re doing the Dvořák G Major Symphony.  When I go to orchestras and play music that is so well-known to them, I always have some concern and some trepidation about what I’m going to ask them, and how they will respond to a foreign conductor doing their music.  An example is the Rachmaninoff Second Symphony that I did with the Russian orchestra.  I had a similar feeling.  In talking with some people, some musicians, I would ask, “What do you think?” but most of the time, they’ll come to me and say, “I’m surprised that you would have a grasp about style in this way.”  For the Czech Suite, it was amazing because the Sinfonietta had played it several times, but then I was listening to some of the things they were doing that are idiomatic to their performances, I would immediately grasp that and make that a part of my own interpretation.  It was so crisp and so exciting.  In just a few notes I knew it was going to be fun to perform.

*     *     *     *     *
BD:   You have responsibilities as Music Director, and you still do guest conducting.  Do you feel more secure in an orchestra where you have the directorship, as opposed to just coming in for a week or two?

Freeman:   Actually, no.  I’ve conducted so many different orchestras that one has to develop a technique.  When you go in, you try to think that it’s your own orchestra, which it is for those days.  By now, I’ve conducted in more than twenty-seven countries and over 100 different orchestras.  I’m not saying that to tell you numbers, except to answer the question to this extent, to say that one has to very quickly adapt to the situation if it’s going to work.  Musicians can assess a conductor in the first five to ten minutes, to see whether or not the basic craft is there.  You have to wait until the first performance or the first recording to see how the whole thing unfolds, but I have simply tried to use a very direct approach.  Whatever I’m working on, I tried, for the most part, from the beginning to do more reading than detailed work, until I get an opportunity to hear the various sections of the orchestra, to see how the various principals react and perform, before I go to the detailed work.  I know some conductors use the opposite approach.  They like to work on detail from the very beginning, but I find that with a new orchestra, this is less successful.  With an orchestra that you’ve worked with a lot, then either approach can certainly work.  When you work with one orchestra for a period of time, generally there’s more synergy.  You feed on each other, and you know each other better.  Even though I work with orchestras like the London Philharmonia, the Royal Philharmonic and the English Chamber Orchestra, and all of those various orchestras in Russia and in America, my great love is the Chicago Sinfonietta.  We work well together.  Going into our ninth season, sixty percent of our musicians have been with us from the inception of the orchestra.

BD:   [Surprised, but pleased]  That many?  That’s good!

Freeman:   That’s incredible!  This is how the ensemble has developed.  We have had a few guest conductors over the years, but we have only a limited number of concerts.  In the tenth year we will have a guest conductor, and this will probably become a pattern, especially since I have the other activities in Europe.  But the point is that I will go to an orchestra, no matter how great the orchestra is, and then come back to my orchestra and feel so much at home and so much love.  It’s a wonderful exchange that we have with the Chicago Sinfonietta.

BD:   More than just being music director, you started it.  You selected the original players, and you continue to select the new players that come in.

Freeman:   Yes, and I have to give a great deal of credit also to Rachel Wicks, who is our Personnel Director.  Rachel plays Assistant Principal and sometimes Principal second violin with Lyric Opera, so she has a thorough grasp of the concert scene here, and the musicians and their talents.  She has been most instrumental in helping us to select those outstanding musicians of various ethnic groups.

BD:   You’ve managed to get a really good mix of players on the stage that make a good sound together.

Freeman:   Yes.  When you asked me earlier about which comes first, the music or the marketing, one could also ask the question about personnel.  Which comes first, the affirmative action approach or good musicians?  We are very much engaged in affirmative action, but not at the risk of selection of good players.  On occasion we have not accepted a player of a minority simply because that person does not really fit, or they have not reached the level of attainment necessary to make a contribution to the Chicago Sinfonietta.  We also don’t replace or put out a musician who is not African-American or Hispanic or whatever.  We work more on enlarging the string section, or bringing in string players.  Then, when there is an opening or an opportunity in the woodwind section or the brass section, and we find a minority player, then we certainly try to encourage that player to come into the orchestra.  But if we were to use the opposite approach, that would demoralize the orchestra.  They would not be good for music-making.  It depends upon the artistic development of the orchestra.

BD:   Are we getting to the point where we’re not even going to have to think about this?  It automatically will be the right mix?

Freeman:   I would like to say that this is the case, and we’re probably moving more in this direction with compositions than with players in orchestras nationally.  This is an expansive topic, but if I could capsulize this area about minorities in orchestras in America, I would say that in the
60s and 70s, many school boards throughout America reduced the size of the budget for music programs.  This had a profound impact on the development of musicians, and particularly minority musicians, because so many minority kids are from families which are not able to afford the music lessons, even if they can afford the instruments.  Many kids start studying music in the public schools, and hence many minority kids start studying music in the public schools.  Without this encouragement and this available resource, minority musicians will be few.  This will continue until we have an accelerated emphasis placed upon the training of minority musicians in the public schools and hence throughout the system.  We need the people who are playing in public schools, or who played during their elementary and secondary periods.  Then they go on to the collegiate or conservatory work, and when they come out of that, they gain experience in small orchestras before they finally get to bigger orchestras and major orchestras.  It’s a long process, and unless you have sufficient numbers from the beginning, you’re not going to have numbers at the end.  While we have certainly a very fine smattering of excellent minority musicians in various orchestras throughout the country, more now than ten or fifteen years ago, still those percentages are very small.  It’s about one-and-a-half percent if you use that on a national basis.  I am very much impressed by the fact that I can go to some other countries and find minority musicians, African-Americans.  I found two viola players in the Gulbenkian Orchestra in Lisbon.  They were both from South Carolina!  One had played seven years in the La Scala Orchestra.  I asked them when they were coming back to America, and they didn’t know.  They were happy doing what they were doing.  One was going into a French orchestra the next year.  Then I found a bassoonist.  He was the first black bassoonist, an African-British bassoonist in the London Philharmonia.  In all the years that I’ve conducted in England, he was the first black musician that I encountered in a British orchestra.  This was just last year.  We can find black musicians of different nationalities scattered in various places, so that’s not unique, but I hope we will continue the various programs, and push that we now have the emphasis on trying to develop minority musicians.  It will be a number of years before we can say minority musicians are thoroughly integrated into the mainstream in symphony orchestras, and in major symphony orchestras in America.  It’s different from the compositions, because that has moved along since the days of the initial Black Composers Series release.  Speaking about players, just a word about musicians and minorities in general.  I said last week to the Personnel Manager of the Czech National Symphony, “I see that you have one female player in the orchestra.”  I was being a little bit facetious, kind of joking a bit, but he turned to me very seriously and said, “Yes, but she’s only a substitute player.  The fact is they generally don’t have females in the orchestra in 1995, so the fact that the Sinfonietta has fifty-two percent females is enormous.  Gradually, female players are now coming out of the conservatories in different countries, but in some countries and some orchestras it has been a long tradition that they do not even audition women musicians.  I was on a plane with a violist from the Vienna Philharmonic two or three months ago.  The orchestra was coming to perform in New York, and I just happened to have been sitting by him, studying a score.  He asked me what I did, and we got into a conversation.  He happened to have been a Canadian in the Vienna Philharmonic, and I asked him about the female situation and he said, “Mind you, it is not my thinking, but the Vienna Philharmonic does not have regular female players, and as of now, it is not its intention to have female players.”  I asked why, and he said, “That’s tradition.”  Though he is not Austrian, he continued, “As we tour, the concept is to have Austrian male musicians on the stage.  That’s our orchestra.”  [Anticipating my next question]  You might immediately ask, as a black American conductor who has developed an orchestra involved in affirmative action, what would be my position in that instance with the Czech National Symphony.  [Answering the question]  It’s like anything else... One has to open the lines of communication before one communicates about any problem.  So, first I have to entrench myself in the situation, and as I do this, I will certainly find ways to open the doors.

BD:   I hope that one of the reasons they hired you was to have you help to open this very heavy door.

Freeman:   As it relates to that, it wasn’t even an issue.  If it had been, it would have been discussed.  In this instance, I can say that if one considers this to be a plus factor, they were interested primarily in the contribution that I can bring to them as a conductor.  Certainly, they have been made aware of the development in Chicago Sinfonietta, and some of the progressive things that we’ve done artistically.  They called it to my attention, so it was a part of their thinking.  Already we are thinking about many things that relate to music and marketing as we’re developing plans for the orchestra.
BD:   I assume they examined all that you could bring, including your record of hiring different kinds of people, and making a successful concert series from nothing.

Freeman:   I can only speak about what I observed, and you never know exactly what’s in the minds of the other individuals.  But one of the very attractive elements is that I’ve made over one hundred-fifty recordings.  I’m recording for various companies, and I have a variety of projects.  One of the things we decided to do was to contractually agree on a minimum of ten CDs during the given year.  This is certainly not unattractive to any orchestra.  In addition to that, we’ve talked about the possibility of developing a rather extensive television series.  But the structure of the orchestra is so different there.  One has to consider, first of all, that it has only been six years since the revolution, and only three years since the division into the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic [also known as Slovakia].  It also takes into account the federal government during the socialist regime, which supported the arts organizations to the tune of ninety to ninety-five percent of their budget.  Therefore, the tickets were very inexpensive for the public.

BD:   Has this support been cut off, or is it just greatly reduced?

Freeman:   The organizations, for the most part, have become privatized, so they, like we in America, have to get sponsors.  They have to increase the price of tickets.  They have to do projects in order to bring the income.  There is still some government support, but it is considerably less than what it was in former days, because the whole structure has changed.  Taking this into account, the orchestras for the most part did not have boards of directors of lay-people.  There were Advisory Councils, and the musicians have participation in the various aspects of the orchestra.  But there are also some techniques which we have developed in America, that I would like to bring to the Czech orchestra to help strengthen its financial base, as well as its potential artistic base.  It’s an interesting situation, and it would be much different if I were to become, say, Music Director of an orchestra in Germany, particularly in a city that was formally West Germany.

BD:   Because then it’s all subsidized?

Freeman:   That’s right.  It’s a considerably different scene there.

BD:   [Noting his many activities including Directorships, guest conducting, and recordings]  Are you too busy?

Freeman:   That’s a very good question, and I want to give an answer that is honest.  In the years since I left the Victoria Symphony, I’ve tried to assess very carefully another move into Music Directorship.  There have been other potential opportunities, and they were very much interested in my becoming involved.  The reason that I liked this Czech post so much is because I have a great deal of flexibility.  They have, at the moment, ten subscription concerts, and other activities, and I’m only required to do five of the ten.  Then we have a resident conductor, and guest conductors.  So, in this particular post, it gives me an opportunity to first consider my schedule and activities with the Chicago Sinfonietta, and then weave the Czech National Symphony Orchestra activities into that.  Then I can simultaneously reduce some of my other conducting activities, and put a focal point on recording activities in Prague, as opposed to having them in Moscow and London, and Bratislava.  I’m pulling in what I’m trying to do, because it is very important that one assesses the use of one’s time and energy.  I’m trying not to continue everything, but reduce some of the activities in order to make things work, because it’s extremely important that one refuels.  I try to get my sleep, my rest, despite the travel.  I do a lot of studying on planes, when I am away from telephones and so forth, and I minimize what I consider to be unnecessary activities.  I’ll give you an example... I’m often asked to lecture and do pre-concert activities, and I will minimize all of that.  I don’t go to dinners before concerts, and I don’t give lectures before concerts.  I tried that once or twice, and in each case it took too much energy away from the performance.  So, it’s a matter of one’s trying to use the time wisely, and not try to do everything, but to assess what other things that seem to fit the puzzle the best.

BD:   Are you pleased with where you are right now at this point of your career?

Freeman:   I don’t know.  I’m getting older, but I feel that I’m getting younger.  [Both laugh]  No, I’m just kidding, but in fact, I do try to look at life in this way, even though in reality it’s not true.  Perception is reality, so if one thinks that one is getting younger, while it may not be physically true, psychologically one is.  I can’t explain this.  I’ve had this kind of philosophy for a long time.  You speak about a busy schedule, and what I try to do is when anything negative comes to my attention, I try to convert that to something positive.  You can’t do it all the time, but I try to stay away from negative thoughts and negative things.  To me, it takes too much energy to try to decide if I should have done this, or had I not been an African-American this would have happened.  A lot of people do that, but I’ve had wonderful opportunities.  Some of those opportunities were because I was African-American, but I never was invited to an orchestra twice because I was African-American.

BD:   The second time, it’s because of your artistry?

Freeman:   That’s right, because of the contribution I made the first time.  Basically, what I’m saying is that I am happy for the development.  My family is happy about that.  My friends and I are happy about it.  The orchestra and the Board members have all expressed a great joy with me in making this particular career move.  Ironically, Prague is a sister city of Chicago.  But at the same time, I really have given very little thought as to where I should be, or what might have been in that regard.  I just try to put all of my energy into fulfilling what opportunities I have to the maximum.  That’s the way I answer that question, and the way that I try to view activities, and life in general.

BD:   Is conducting fun?  [While I asked this question in the first interview, his response this time is more personal.]

Freeman:   Oh, very much so.  Not only is it fun, but I have never used social drugs, and I am not a smoker.  For me, the ultimate high is making good music.  The whole process is exciting, because it starts with the studying, and then you decide mentally how you’re going to develop this particular work, or how you’re going to try to interpret the work as the composer would have you interpret it.  Plus, most composers think that every performer should bring something of his own to his music.  That is the building process, going from that step into the rehearsal process, then going from the rehearsal to the performance and then to the recording.  Sometimes the recording precedes the performance, but when you arrive at that performance-point and everything is clicking, and you’re giving of yourself, and the orchestra is giving of itself, and you mold into one with the audience, it’s a wonderful, wonderful high.

BD:   Thank you for all that you have given us, and for all that is still to come.

Freeman:   I am always happy to answer your questions.



The texts above mention a few more of my interview guests, including
Robert Linn, Irvine Arditti, Jorge Mester, Hugh Wolff, and Sergiu Comissiona



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© 1986 & 1988 & 1995 Bruce Duffie

These conversations were recorded in Chicago on July 25, 1986, September 14, 1988, and December 8, 1995.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1986, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1991, and 1996; WNUR in 2004, 2012, and 2015; and Contemporary Classical Internet Radio in 2012.  This transcription was made in 2021, and posted on this website at that time.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

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Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.