Q&A: Mark Dupere, 2021 State Honorary Orchestra conductor – Watch the concert here!
November 2, 2021
Mark Dupere is Assistant Professor of Music at Lawrence University, of which he is the Director. He studied cello at the University of Texas at Austin and continued his studies in baroque cello at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, The Netherlands. He received his doctorate in conducting from Michigan State University of Orchestral Studies.
PBS Wisconsin caught up with him ahead of this year’s State Honors Band performance to discuss the program he has put together this year and hear about the best concert he has ever attended.
The 2021 Wisconsin School Music Association (WSMA) Honorary Concerts were held live and in person on October 28-29, and concert recordings are available at pbswisconsin.org.
PBS Wisconsin: What pieces have you chosen for this year’s orchestral program?
Mark Dupere: I love all of these pieces; I have experience with them in different situations. I played a few of them when I was in high school myself, and I have such fond memories of them. The first piece is the Dvorak Carnival Overture. It is a wonderful festive celebration like the atmosphere. I first met him when I was all over the state of Arizona and had so much fun, and it resonated with the youth of my life. It’s funny how music can cement memories from decades ago, and you remember where you were sitting when you were playing music. I wanted to bring music that had that kind of ability to this program.
Another such piece is “March to the Scaffold” from “Fantastic Symphony”, as is “Javelin” by Michael Torkey. This piece was commissioned by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for its 50th anniversary in the mid-90s. The Olympics were being held in Atlanta around the same time, so there was a connection to the Olympics and well. sure, “Javelin”. Everyone thinks of competitive games and that music, it looks like javelins thrown all over the place.
PBS Wisconsin: Are any of the compositions you have selected particularly stimulating for the students?
From father : Some more than others. “Javelin” is very notey, which means a lot of notes launched in a very fast tempo. And of course the challenge is how to build it musically, so that the ear is not drawn to the individual notes, but rather to the gestures and the overall shapes of the music. Technically speaking, getting all those grades and doing them on time was very difficult, but a good challenge, and it was great to see the students working so hard on it.
PBS Wisconsin: How do you help students meet the challenges of learning the more difficult sections, especially in the midst of such a unique rehearsal structure?
From father : In June, we started our retreat with two days of virtual rehearsals, and we spent some time getting together as a group. Then, we divided ourselves by section into different sub-committee rooms and made the coaches work with them on the technical aspects. We practiced playing with the recording, and I did a few different versions of the recordings slowing down the tempo, which helped us learn it at a slower tempo, and then gradually speed it up. I think it really helped.
But, it was really great those first two days of virtual learning and virtual rehearsals because we were able to spend some time on the background of the story and just contextualize the music. We weren’t just focusing on the notes and the technicalities, but more on the background story so that we could make sense of those notes.
PBS Wisconsin: What’s the best performance you’ve seen?
From father : This is a difficult question because I have attended many performances. John Eliot Gardiner conducting his orchestra, the Revolutionary Romantic Orchestra, in LA in 1998.
Their interpretation of Beethoven’s Symphonies Three and Four was very memorable, very moving. The music itself is amazing, but their delivery of the music was so compelling. It sounded like the first time this music was played, like it was contemporary, like it had been written the day before, it sounded so fresh – and it sounded like the last time they were going to play it. They put all of their energy into the room, and it’s just the most amazing thing there is.
PBS Wisconsin: Why is music such an important part of life?
From father : I believe that music is a gift from above and that music can connect the whole world in a way that language is forbidden. Music can be transcendent for us in a way that takes us out of our mundane, everyday life, and makes us think, think, and prioritize. It can, in a way, pull us out of ourselves and help us look at the world around us and ask ourselves questions. It’s also entertaining, but it’s more than that; I feel like just putting it in an entertainment box is so limiting, you know? So yes, it is important.
And in terms of compositions that were written earlier today and yesterday and last week, last year and 100 hundred years, 200 years ago, you know the music will continue beyond our lives. So being a part of history when we perform old works and pass them on to future generations is something very special and beyond ourselves, and it connects with humanity through ages. It is very important that way. I see us as a very small part of a long line that goes beyond time.
PBS Wisconsin: What has the performance been like for you over the past year and a half?
From father : In my ensembles here in Lawrence, instead of having live performances, which we couldn’t do, we did seven cycles of performance videos. We record in our performance hall here in Lawrence and then send links to artists, friends and family so they can share it with them, but no live audience there.
In fact, the biggest change came last week – we had our first gig with a live audience. It was amazing to go on stage, to see people and to perform for them. You play differently if you play in front of a camera or microphone than when you play in front of people. It changes your game; you connect with people, like having a conversation. When that element has been taken out of the equation, it’s another thing that makes it more difficult, it’s more artificial. I’m so grateful for that, to play in front of people again.