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Pittsburgh Symphony concertmaster Cardenes takes a bow

| Saturday, June 12, 2010

Sunday afternoon, Andres Cardenes will draw his bow across the strings of his violin for the last time as concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

After 21 years in the post, he's looking forward to the luxury of setting his own schedule.

"If there's a time to leave, it's a good time when you're not being asked to leave," says Cardenes, 51. "I'm still young enough to pursue my many other interests and, frankly spend a little more time with my family. Isobel is almost 7 and Tino is 5 and a half and I want to be in their lives."

The departure of Cardenes will be a major loss for the symphony.

"His leadership is unique. He really is the right hand of the conductor," says Anne Sophie Mutter, one of the pre-eminent violinists of our time. "He has an innate understanding of phrasing and helps the musical phrasing by choosing the proper bowings."

This season, Mutter played Johannes Brahms' Violin Concerto with Manfred Honeck and the symphony at Heinz Hall, Carnegie Hall in New York City and on the recently completed European tour.

"I remember at the first rehearsal of the Brahms my head was turning immediately to the right side (the first violins) because I heard sounds and colors one usually doesn't from an orchestra section," says Mutter. "They were using fingerings that might not be comfortable, but serve the music very well. Andres is much more than a great violinist."

Born in Cuba and raised in Los Angeles, Cardenes studied with Josef Gingold, and won second prize in the 1982 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. He had been concertmaster of the Utah Symphony when he came to Pittsburgh in 1987 as a guest concertmaster. It required persuasion to get him to join the symphony beginning in the fall of 1989.

"Andres was pursing a solo career and was not absolutely convinced there wouldn't be some conflict between the post of concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony and his solo career," says Lorin Maazel, who was music director at the time. "I'm glad that he finally felt he could accommodate both. The result was an enormous plus for the Pittsburgh Symphony and its reputation. He is a remarkable artist and violinist, and a superb concertmaster, which is indeed another talent."

During the concertmaster search that ended with Cardenes being hired, Pittsburgh Symphony principal cellist Anne Martindale Williams recalls "hoping we'd fine someone whose playing would be a source of inspiration each and every day."

" When Andres got here, I thought to myself, 'Wow, that's how I want to play,' " she says.

A concertmaster performs many roles. They go beyond be able to handle all the concertmaster solos, some of which are as a difficult as any violin concerto, Maazel says. Musical leadership requires a special rhythmic sensitivity, a feeling for the needs of the first violins and string section and the ability to be an effective liaison between the conductor and the string section.

"And that is in fact one of Andres' most salient characteristics - the sense of carrying out the conductor's wishes and at same time communicating to the conductor the needs of his section and string section," says Maazel.

"It's a very subtle interchange," he says. "Some don't have that particular cocktail of characteristics in order to function efficaciously. Andres certainly has it. I, as music director, was thrilled to have him by my side."

The impact of Cardenes on music making at Heinz Hall is deeply appreciated by audience members, too.

"It gives me a great deal of comfort to know there's a great leader up there," says Perry Morrison, who has been attending symphony concerts for 51 years. "When he stepped in it added another dimension. That's the way I felt all these years and it only grew."

Next season, Cardenes will occasionally be guest concertmaster of several orchestras, including Pittsburgh's. He'll continue playing chamber music and making recordings. And he'll continue as head of the string department at Carnegie Mellon University, a devotion to teaching that is partly a reflection of the importance to him of his teacher.

"Not a day goes by -- ever -- that I don't think about Mr. Gingold and remind myself of the things he stood for - the integrity, the commitment, the work ethic, the standards, the role model he was in every way including decorum and deportment," Cardenes says. "This is one of the things that guides me, not only in career, but also personal life."

Symphony violist Isaias Zelkowicz, who also studied with Gingold, acknowledges that influence in Cardenes.

"Andres is a wonderful violinist whose playing is endowed with great musical depth and subtlety - and all delivered with great elegance and ease," Zelkowicz says . "But there is something else I admire even more and that's his pedagogical gift.

"All those who have witnessed his teaching are always impressed by his extensive knowledge of the violin and his ability to impart it," he says. "That's a great legacy for someone to be able to share. That legacy is probably equal to the one that Mr. Gingold bestowed on us. It's luckily a continuation of what he had received."

Honeck says there's no need to say how sorry he is that Cardenes is leaving.

"When I came here, Andres Cardenes was one of the most important figures in the orchestra and the one with whom I immediately had wonderful connections," Honeck says. "He's a leader who demonstrates not only artistically high-class quality but also high class human values without which an artistic concertmaster cannot exist.

"He is a perfect example for a perfect concertmaster."

What's next

Andres Cardenes provided ample notice of his intention to leave the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, which was announced publicly in February 2009.

Music director Manfred Honeck acknowledges he "will be very difficult to replace."

The selection process involves auditions, at which candidates play solo before the search committee of orchestra members and Honeck, and sitting in the concertmaster chair for a week of rehearsals and subscriptions concerts, which tests leadership skills.

During the 2009-10 season a handful of potential concertmasters have both played auditions and sat in with the orchestra. Some who auditioned didn't make it to the rehearsal and concert part of the selection process.

It could be a long process to fill this critical position. Other open positions remain vacant as well.

For example, the symphony has had many guest principal flutists in this season for a position that's been open for a decade.

Auditions have begun for the recently vacated principal timpani position, with some candidates expected to perform with the orchestra starting in the fall.

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