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Published: Friday, 10/26/2007

Conducting and performing keep Dennis Russell Davies on the go

BY SALLY VALLONGO
BLADE STAFF WRITER

COULDBEANYWHERE, Earth - Appending a dateline to a story about Dennis Russell Davies, the international keyboard/conducting phenom and native son (Libbey High School, 1962), is a bit like throwing darts at a moving target.

This week's dateline is DETROIT.

That's where the inimitable Davies is fine-tuning the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and French violinist Renaud Capucon for concerts this weekend in Orchestra Hall. On the program is music by Beethoven, Bolcom, and Saint-Saens.

It's not where he was when I talked to him, however.

That would have been SAN FRANCISCO, where Davies, in his San Francisco Opera debut, conducted the premier of Appomattox, the newest opera by his longtime friend, Phillip Glass.

Nor will he be around next week, when reviews of his Detroit gig are being clipped by family and friends in Toledo.

By then, a Davies dateline will be NEW YORK CITY.

There, this Juilliard School alumnus will bring full circle a major project he produced with the Dresden Philharmonic in conjunction with his alma mater: the world premiere of the last symphony by Russian composer Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998).

"The Dresden Philharmonic took it on as a commission and asked me to conduct the world premiere in the Frauenkirche in Dresden," he explained. "The church was ruined in WW II, then rebuilt."

In a way the work, Symphony No. 9 by Schnittke, whose music Davies long championed, is also a rebuild.

"He wrote a symphony in the last month of his life. It's a very moving thing - he was paralyzed in his right arm, and he was right-handed. His widow asked Russian composer Alexander Raskatov to look at this manuscript and bring it into performable shape."

Raskatov did, then added a fourth and final movement of his own, Nunc Dimittis, a memorial to Schnittke.

On Nov. 7 Davies will conduct the Juilliard Orchestra and the Hilliard Ensemble in the Schnittke and Raskatov works plus a Haydn Sinfonia Concertante, Op. 84. Earlier, he and his keyboard partner, Maki Namekawa, will give a duo piano recital at the Austrian Cultural Forum.

Then, perhaps, it will be time to change that dateline once more, as Davies heads east to his home in Linz, Austria.

Since 2002 he has been chief conductor of both the Linz Opera and Bruckner Orchestra, where he also is music director. Davies is professor of conducting at the Salzburg Mozarteum. He holds conductor laureate mantles from both the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra and the American Composer's Orchestra, which he co-founded 30 years ago.

He's also been associated with the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, Bonn and Stuttgart operas, and the Beethovenhalle Orchestra.

In the U.S., Davies, who began his solo career with the Toledo Youth Orchestra, made his major league marks with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra, the Norwalk Symphony Orchestra, and the Cabrillo Music Festival in Santa Cruz, Calif.

These days, this internationally renowned champion of new music has slowed his work pace slightly, a concession to the Hodgkin's disease with which he struggled - and says he conquered - from 2004-2005.

The dateline for that period would have been LINZ, AUSTRIA, where he underwent chemotherapy and canceled all appointments. He spent his time reading, practicing the piano, and simply thinking, he says.

"When I was sick, I realized I'd had a splendid career. I decided I would try to do some things better if I recovered. That's what I try to live up to. Enjoying every moment I can of good health."

Striding down Van Ness Avenue on a San Francisco morning, Davies replied brusquely to questions about his current level of activity. "I've been working full time for about a year, although I

have cut down on the amount of unnecessary trips. I listen to what my body says. When I need a nap, I take one."

This DETROIT week brings a reunion with his friend William Bolcom, the Ann Arbor composer whose operas, McTeague (1992) and A View From the Bridge (1999), Davies conducted in premieres at the Lyric Opera in Chicago.

"It's wonderful to have a work by him on the program," the conductor said. Plus, he has worked before with Capucon, who will perform the Saint-Saens Violin Concerto No. 1. "It's very much unknown, but a wonderful work," says Davies.

Dennis Russell Davies will conduct the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at 8 tonight, 8:30 p.m. tomorrow, and 3 p.m. Sunday in Orchestra Hall in Detroit's Max M. Fisher Music Center, 3711 Woodward Ave. Tickets are $28 to $60 plus service fees. Information: 313-576-5111 or www.detroitsymphony.com.

Contact Sally Vallongo at svallongo@theblade.com or 419-724-6101.



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