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Q&A: A farewell to Christian Zacharias

Zacharias blog post

Concluding six years season as an Artistic Partner, conductor and pianist Christian Zacharias is here for three consecutive weeks of performances. We asked him to reflect on his time with the SPCO at the end of his official tenure.


Your interpretations of Mozart and Haydn in particular, both play/directing from the keyboard and conducting the orchestra, have had a real impact on the orchestra’s approach to those composers. How have you seen that develop since you first came to the SPCO? 

I’m happy you say that something has changed, and as I leave, I’m happy to know that I have left this kind of imprint. The only thing I can really say is that things I’m dreaming of in my interpretations are now much more easily achieved than they were when I first started working with the SPCO. Sometimes it’s a simple gesture and the musicians just get the message. For example, in these Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach Sinfonias [performed April 29–May 1] which is something the orchestra hasn’t played very often, after just a short amount of rehearsals, all of the sudden I got them to really switch. I think it’s just more natural now. What I bring is getting into their system, and they are doing it with conviction and that’s what’s so wonderful about working with this orchestra. Their playing has really touched me, and that’s the best you can get!

What have been the highlights of your Artistic Partnership with the SPCO?

I think the inspiration of the organization’s ideas for programming has been the biggest highlight of my time here. Sometimes I’ve been asked to do certain pieces that I thought maybe weren’t my cup of tea, but have come to realize maybe it really is, but no one has ever asked me before. For example, when I did Three Places in New England by Charles Ives, that was completely new for me and it ended up being a real highlight. Also this time around, I must thank Kyu-Young Kim for his idea to perform this new piece from Escaich [Baroque Song performed April 29 – May 1]. So I think what I will treasure most are these opportunities to try new things, expand my boundaries and continue to feel inspired.

You have played multiple times in almost all of our various venues. What do you think about the new Concert Hall?  What has been your experience playing in our many neighborhood venues?

The new Concert Hall is certainly an incredible achievement, but I also really started liking the different neighborhood venues more and more over the years I’ve been here. I like the new hall very much and am excited to be playing in it during my three weeks here, but I will miss playing in the other venues because it just adds something else. The audience is slightly different, the acoustics are different, and some acoustics out in the other venues are really very good.

You have said that Saint Paul has become a home away from home during your Artistic Partnership. What are your favorite non-musical things about Saint Paul and the Twin Cities?  

I’ve really seen the development of Saint Paul during my time here. The first reason why I feel that it’s a home away from home was that I’ve always had access to a piano 24 hours a day. I can truly work here, which at home you can’t even really do sometimes. At home you have the telephone, and people stopping by, and the garden has to be kept and all these kinds of things, but here, I’m on an island and I can work and then slowly discover my surroundings. At the beginning, it felt like there was very little here going on, but now, the city has really come alive! Cossetta, for example, has this fantastic bakery and restaurant where I think you can get one of the best espressos in the country. My wife and I also love to explore places like Grand Avenue and Selby by foot. I really love W.A. Frost and the Mississippi Market, and have found many good pottery shops in these areas.

Hear Christian Zacharias in his final weekend of performances May 13-15 (Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto).