Comfort level continues to grow for Davis, PSO

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The rapport between a new boss and the gang that's already been there can take a while to establish. That pattern doesn't just play out in downtown offices, but in most director posts of symphony orchestras the world over.


Artistic adviser Sir Andrew Davis says he's enjoying getting to know the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
Click photo for larger image.

Pittsburgh Symphony

Featuring: Andrew Davis, conductor; Lang Lang, piano.
Program: Higdon's "Loco," Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 and Brahms' Symphony No. 4.
Where: Heinz Hall, Downtown.
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $19-$72; 412-392-4900.

That Sir Andrew Davis took an unusual position as artistic adviser to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra instead of music director has not made that road any more difficult, he says, just a bit longer.

"It has taken me a while to feel at home, which is not surprising, given the fact that I have conducted the orchestra so seldom in recent years," Davis says from a hotel in London, there conducting the BBC Symphony. He shares podium leadership with two other principal guest conductors, has reduced power in artistic decision-making and only conducts the PSO about half the time of a typical music director. But rather than become querulous, the cheerful, easygoing Brit has just let things unfold naturally.

"Now I feel we are kind of getting to the point where we are getting to know each other really well, which is very good, and I am enjoying that a lot," says Davis, who returns this weekend to conclude the PSO season with pianist Lang Lang. The goal would be the sort of connection he shared with the BBC Orchestra, which he conducted from 1989 to 2000. "I left here six years ago, but [returning] is like putting an old pair of shoes on," he says, then continues, laughing. "Perhaps that's not the best simile! It's easy because we know each other so well, and I am beginning to get to that stage with the Pittsburgh Symphony, which is nice."

You can always expect wit and jocularity with Davis. On several occasions this season, he has had to smooth over situations from popping balloons to thunderous lightning strikes.

But is he happy living in the netherland between principal guest conductor and music director?

"I am enjoying it enormously, I have to say," he answers. "It has taken me a while to get to this point, but I actually don't feel any sort of reticence about rolling my sleeves up. I am much more comfortable in being demanding of the orchestra right now."

It is the future that concerns Davis, not the past, which yielded some artistic ups and downs at Heinz Hall. "I am going to be very interested to be with the orchestra on tour [to Europe this August] because it is always interesting to hear an orchestra outside of its own hall. And particularly 'cause we are playing in some concert halls I know well."

Davis knows London's Royal Albert Hall and Cardiff's St. David's Hall particularly well. Davis leads the PSO in concerts there, and in Dublin and Greece before it travels to Germany for concerts under Hans Graf.

Davis is already nearly a year into his three-year contract, and the classical music world schedules about two to three years in advance. It raises the question, will he stay on if the PSO wants to continue the trio scheme, or would he remain if he were granted music director?

"It is a very valid question, but I am not sure I can give a really considered answer on the subject at the moment," he says. "I am at the point, and I am sure that the Pittsburgh symphony is at the point, where we have to think about what the future is beyond this three-year term."

You wouldn't expect anything but saying the right thing from a Cambridge man, but then a curious calm comes over the conductor: "The other thing is, frankly, I tend to get more and more nostalgic for England as well at times. Whether I am looking for something back here, I don't know."

He did once spend 13 years out of England while director of the Toronto Symphony, but his son will soon be out of high school in Chicago. "In a sense I become freer then." His wife, Gianna Rolandi, recently was promoted to run the Lyric Opera Center. Davis is contracted to be that company's director until 2010, but after that: "Things will be changing, and I don't know exactly how they will be."

In the meantime, he wants to get to know Pittsburgh and the PSO more.

"There are some wonderful people there, and great artists," he says. "And I love that. I am beginning to feel comfortable."


Post-Gazette classical music critic Andrew Druckenbrod can be reached at adruckenbrod@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1750.


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