By Nicole Rupersburg
Robert deMaine, principal cellist for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra since 2002, is perhaps one of the most passionate performers I’ve ever witnessed. Many musicians have fun with their music; many enjoy it. deMaine inhabits it, playing from the heart, not the music sheet. As a result, his audience feels the music instead of merely hearing it.
As a performer, deMaine is delicate yet determined. His bow dances across the strings lightly for playfulness, evoking lightheartedness and joy. Other moments the bow tortures the strings, careening back and forth relentlessly, telling a tale of interminable mourning. His performance is almost a visual presentation of the soundscape he creates—his body gently swaying, eyes closed in rapture, the flurry of his arm and fingers.
This is my second time seeing deMaine in a dedicated performance, the first being in 2006 when deMaine played Dvořák’s masterful Cello Concerto in B Minor. At that time I fell in love with him as a performer, so when I found out that he was performing one of my favorite pieces from one of my favorite composers, I was practically giddy as a schoolgirl.
Robert Schumann’s Cello for Concerto and Orchestra in A Minor, Op. 129 was written at the height of his career, though not performed until after his death. To describe Schumann as a genius fails to do him justice—he was ambitious and arrogant; tortured and talented; inspired and impudent; experimental, fearless, rash, and completely brilliant. This Cello Concerto is just one example of his compositional prowess, and the intricacies of the soloist’s work allows the strongest of performers to shine.
deMaine is just such this kind of performer, who takes what Schumann put down on paper and envisions the hauntingly tender and affectionate world Schumann created. At once graceful and melancholy, frantic and impassioned, deMaine’s playing breathes life into the piece, giving it substance, making it a direct reflection of the player’s and composer’s innermost souls.
My only point of contention is not in the playing but the programming. Since this was the featured piece of the program—essentially, this was the piece people came to see—why oh why was it scheduled in the first half of the program? César Franck’s Symphony in D Minor is a perfectly fine work, but it is certainly no follow-up to Schumann’s Cello Concerto or deMaine’s playing of it. In terms of timing, yes the Cello Concerto is the briefer of the two pieces, and perhaps there was concern over pacing, but I still feel this was an error. Despite the Orchestra’s skillful and energetic playing, Franck’s Symphony was nothing if not anticlimactic.
But this still does not detract from the experience of the performance itself. In the future, when you see the names “deMaine” or “Schumann” on the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s upcoming programs, just buy the tickets. Don’t ask questions. And if you ever see the two names together, buy tickets to every single performance. It would be well worth it.