William Preucil just started his 18th season as concertmaster with the world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra. I asked him recently why this ensemble is so special to him. He said, "Well, it's just a wonderful orchestra. There's a wonderful dedication here and we have a lot of performances that I really enjoy being a part of." Some of those special performances involve an honorary member of the Cleveland Orchestra, pianist and Mozart specialist Mitsuko Uchida. Together, they've just released their third recording in their live Mozart piano concerto cycle. It includes an early masterpiece, and a later concerto which is one of Mozart's best-known.
"We've gone through the whole cycle of Mozart concertos with her," Preucil explains, "and now we're going through the second time and doing these recordings. And she's been here a lot — she feels like a member of the family and she knows everybody here. We enjoy her for her musicianship and her sense of humor. And the rehearsals are not tense. They're fun and doing the right things, talking about trying to achieve something which is beautiful, artistic and important."
Preucil says his role as concertmaster involves helping to articulate technically to the other musicians the musical vision of the conductor. He says working with Uchida as soloist and conductor creates a very special dynamic: "It feels a little bit like chamber music, because she has something to do besides conduct and pay attention to us. So I think that the musicians' radar is set on high, listening very carefully, because a lot of times, she's not showing us with her hands any kind of beat. So the listening is very important. And we respond to each other very much. I think that these performances that turned into this recording were not three nights in a row exactly the same. There were different inspirations each evening, and some of the timings and dynamics might be different. There's a kind of back-and-forth musical conversation happening between the orchestra and Mitsuko, and that's a lot of fun.
"And she sits with her back to the audience, which is interesting, because everybody in the hall can see her hands and we can see her face. And all of that is important because at the moment that her hands are busy, she might give us some kind of musical direction with an expression — probably not even purposefully, but something that just happens."
Mozart was just 21 years-old when he composed one of his first masterpieces which appears on this recording, the Piano Concerto No. 9 in E flat. William Pruecil says this work really is one of Mozart's most inventive: "There's a lot of interplay right from the beginning of the piece between soloist and orchestra. The second movement has this deep expression in c minor. All the happy brightness of the first movement is gone. It's dark and brooding and has a level of expression which I think is not unique but special for when the piece was written."
The high point of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major is probably the hypnotic slow movement. Pruecil says that even when Mitsuko Uchida declares their performance of the Andante beautiful, the Cleveland Orchestra still wants to make it even more beautiful. "We're always searching for a way to make things better in terms of what it should express. And when we play it with her we get into her expression, and if we play it with someone else, it might be slightly different. So part of the rehearsal process is us getting married to her expression of a movement like that."
Not everybody can say they still love their job after almost 18 years, but concertmaster William Preucil relishes his role with the Cleveland Orchestra. From his unique vantage point, he gets to see the interaction between orchestral musicians, conductors, and soloists, and how it all comes together, as on this new Mozart disc with Mitsuko Uchida.