James DePreist

Written by: Colin Anderson

On 28 April the American conductor, James de Preist, makes his London debut – at the age of 68…

American conductor James DePreist anticipates a special event on 28 April in the Barbican: his London debut. “Careers tend to vary widely even among conductors with impressive resumes. There are gaps that seem inexplicable. Making one’s London debut at age 68 is novel!” He conducts Mahler’s much-heard Symphony No. 5. “The anticipation of making my London debut with the world-class LSO adds considerably to the significance of the event. The fact that Mahler 5 is ubiquitous works both for and against the next interpreter. On the one hand the notes and considerable technical challenges have already been overcome but on the other you have the legacy of the most recent powerful memory. But London orchestras are celebrated for the flexibility of their musicianship. I selected Mahler 5 because it is a work that I am passionate about; its kaleidoscopic content is a familiar yet spectacular universe.”

In recent year the Proms have brought belated debuts there for such as Leonard Bernstein, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Frederica von Stade; but each had already been a visitor to London as a musician. What will be outright James DePreist’s first visit to London as a concert conductor will be documented, “especially in light of the fact that I will record the Mahler 5 with the LSO.” This is a recording initially in search of a label: “No company is yet selected. The same benefactor who underwrote the Oregon Symphony recordings loves my Mahler.”

I enquire of Mr DePreist about performing so frequent a work as Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, music that is so familiar to the LSO, and also how best to handle the fourth movement Adagietto that now has a separate life as film and ‘in memoriam’ music. “The Adagietto is not number Five’s ‘Blumine’ (the dropped movement of Mahler’s First Symphony) and not only fits nicely but is in fact the interpretative destination of the first three movements. The fact that it is extractable and is effective in a cinematic and ceremonial sense is really not the fault of Mahler. I have no concerns that will emerge will indeed be my personal view of Mahler Five.”

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