So far there have been more than 10,000 hits for a YouTube video depicting popular violinist Zach DePue and his fellow Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra musicians making an “orchestral hit-and-run” in the Fashion Mall at Keystone at the Crossing on the northside of Indianapolis in January.
When he’s not exposing people to classical music in surprising places, DePue performs with the ISO, where he has served as concertmaster since 2007. Somehow he also finds time to perform with Time for Three, a chamber group he co-founded and that is the ISO’s ensemble-in-residence. And if that were not enough, he also performs with his three violin-playing brothers. Calling themselves The DePue Brothers, (a crossover bluegrass/classical violin quartet) the siblings have played together since 1985.
Previously a violinist in The Philadelphia Orchestra, DePue is native of Bowling Green, Ohio. The 31-year-old graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music in 2002, where his mentors included Jaime Laredo and Ida Kavafian. Before that, he studied at Cleveland Institute of Music with William Preucil. In 1998 he received third prize in both the Stulberg International String Competition and the senior division of the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition. An avid chamber musician, DePue has performed across the United States and in Israel.
A few weeks ago, DePue met up with this writer at Mo’Joe Coffeehouse on West Michigan Street in Indianapolis, near IUPUI. Showing up with his violin in a padded case strapped to his shoulder, the affable, tall, blond-headed musician took some time out before a rehearsal to talk about, among other things, an upcoming ISO concert, “Symphonic Hits,” during which he will lead and play Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.”
Later, DePue answered some follow-up questions by phone after a rehearsal with violinist Joshua Bell, who played with the ISO at The Palladium at The Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel on Thursday.
How did you happen to choose the violin as your instrument?
My three older brothers all played the violin. It was the one musical instrument that we had in the house in all sizes, from one-eighth size all the way to full size. It just was what you played in my house by the time I was old enough to hold it.
Tell me about your violin itself.
My violin was made by an Italian maker from Naples, Italy, named Ferdinand Gagliano in 1757. The Gagliano family was the name for violins from Naples during those days.
Why are you a classical musician?
Well, it seems to be the work that, when I was getting ready to go to college, there would be areas that I seemed to be getting better at and feeling confident in, and the music itself always kept attracting me back to it. Every time I would think, “Why am I doing this?,” I would listen to or play a wonderful piece of music, one that maybe I don’t know or one that I do know, and it’s obviously teaching me something new, either in my soul or in my head, and it’s just an endless area to work in; you’re never going to be perfect or never know enough
Should classical music be more accessible, and if so, why?
Well, you know this is a big conversation in our world. I tend to think that the music speaks for itself. I tend to think that our business could be improved by everything around the experience, the event of coming to a concert hall, the grandeur of being in the lobby – there’s an incredible sense of specialness in the air when you have a great orchestra about to perform. People are anticipating the performance, and we wear beautiful tails and we look sharp, and I always think that the orchestra seems to always to continue to improve the things around our game, not the game itself because I think that the music is pretty priceless.
You appear to be someone young people can identify with. Have you found that to be true?
You know, when you’re on stage doing your job, you’re thinking more about doing your job, but people do comment that they enjoy seeing somebody who enjoys playing and not being afraid – I don’t want to use the word “afraid,” but not being covered or worried about showing that, and everybody on stage, I can assure you, has some sort of deep connection to the music that they are playing most of the time, and people show it in different ways visually. Some people respect it so much that they want it to speak for itself and therefore they try not to be a personality on stage. Others try to be a personality. There’s an endless number of ways to go about our business, but I can assure you that everybody in this orchestra loves playing and has a deep connection with the music that they are playing.
For those who aren’t aware of your role as the orchestra’s concertmaster, what exactly does that mean?
Well, for instance, tonight we are playing with Josh Bell, who, as many people know, is a wonderful artist. And part of his artistry is the spontaneity that he brings to his performance each and every time. No two performances are alike with Josh. And so as concertmaster leader, it extends all around the orchestra. You’ll see all of the front players are supposed to be in touch with each other and with Josh, because what we do with our bow arm and with our left hand is mirrored by everybody in our section. Imagine, if you will, working in an office and your job is to literally follow every move that the person next to you is doing – when he or she picks up a pencil, you do it at just the same speed, and you start it over there and you go – and you start to understand what an orchestra really is meant to do. As leader and concertmaster you’re initiating those moves.
OK, let’s talk about Vivaldi. What does Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” mean to you personally?
Well, it was one of the first pieces of classical music I grew up hearing. I grew up in a family of four violin-playing brothers, and “Four Seasons” is one of the earlier concertos that you will learn. Maybe when you are about 12 or 13, you start dabbling into some period music, and so my eldest brother is years older than me, so I literally from the womb was hearing this music. It’s just a staple of my musical life in that way. It’s always been present. It’s a lot of fun to play. It’s a wonderful challenge if you’re going to do it without a conductor, and to get a chance to play this piece; this is my second time now at the ISO, and it’s always great to revisit a piece. Like I said earlier, there is always something new that you discover, and that’s the fascination of being in this business: No two performances are alike; it’s never the same. Two years later it’s going to be a whole different experience.
Besides Vivaldi, what else will be performed in “Symphonic Hits”?
Well, in the first half, I’ll perform an incredible piece of music by Mozart, “Synphonia Concertante,” with Michael Strauss, principal viola. Clearly the Vivaldi is a masterpiece, and one that everyone will recognize many themes from, but the Mozart is every bit as much, if not more, a masterpiece that I think people will walk away truly excited to hear again.
As depicted in the YouTube video of your hit-and-run, what were you playing when you came down that escalator in the fashion mall?
Coming down the escalator, I was playing Aerosmith, “Love in an Elevator”. And then we went into Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings.” And then we went into the last movement of ”Summer” of Vivaldi’s ”Four Seasons,” and at that moment a representation of a thunderstorm rolling through. That’s one of the cool things with Vivaldi’s music: It’s one of the earliest forms of storytelling in a way that you have in classical music or great music.
What was it like to play for that Fashion Mall crowd?
There were a lot of kids floating around, and the cool thing about that experience was seeing their faces, especially in the playback in the videos, seeing a little 5- year-old with his mouth open and frozen staring at all these people doing what we’re doing. And not knowing anything other than, “Wow what a sound, what a spirit,” and the raw connection that a youngster has with what we do. It’s very, very human, what we do, and it’s just really cool to see. One kid going up the escalator just keeps turning around because he can’t help but be drawn to what he’s hearing.
How was that group chosen?
Honestly, it’s only chosen by some of the guests who inspired us to it. They start asking us in the orchestra, “Hey, do you want to do this?” And then it just sort of spreads out, and people ask people and you get a big enough group. You don’t want too many people because of the scheduling and everything. And then we just get together and do it in our own time, rehearse on their own time, and they organize it and with the help of the ISO public relations making sure that they are aware of the plan so that they can utilize the event in some fashion. But really the whole thing is to share our love from the orchestra’s standpoint of music for the everyday public.
Did you receive any feedback from anyone in the crowd after your performance?
A ton. I think people were very inspired. One of the comments from several people was, “So where are you guys and what are you? Oh, you’re the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra? Wow, and where is it?” ”Downtown on the Circle.” ”I had no idea!” And people that would love to hear it – it’s funny, we kind of did a better job at reaching out to that clientele, those people that maybe don’t even know that we exist.
Any plans afoot for more surprise appearances?
It would ruin the surprise if I told you! I think people should always be on the lookout, because I do hear murmurings of another event. Certainly the weather’s getting nice, and there are going to be some art fairs happening, so I think the Broad Ripple Art Fair is going to be happening soon, so …
What’s going on with Time For Three?
We’re developing our fourth show for Happy Hour this year, May 17th, and we’re knee-deep in that one right now. We are putting together a show that we are doing at Symphony on the Prairie with Arlo Guthrie, and we’re taking that also to Wolf Trap this summer out in D.C with the National Symphony, so we are pretty excited about that project as well – you know, old musicians combined with us younger guys, as Arlo likes to say. … It’s such an exciting project that we are just getting started on.
Any idea yet about what you all will be performing with Guthrie?
Arlo already has a couple of things that he does with orchestra that he’s familiarizing us with in the charts, and we haven’t even gotten recordings of his pieces with the orchestra, but we are going to see how we can tie in to three or four of his tunes we are going to share; we’re going to do a half, and he is going to do a half, and we’re going to share the stage for 20 or 30 minutes. Right now we are familiarizing ourselves with his music.
Will you be doing “Alice’s Restaurant?”
That wasn’t one of the tunes that was on there, and that was actually one of the tunes that we were thinking would be cool.
So, are you looking forward to working with your new music director, Krzysztof Urbanski?
Yes. I think everyone is very excited, now that he’s been announced, now that we’ve been through the process, that we can now get down to brass tacks and get down to work. We are all excited to see what his vision is for the institution, what he wants to do with us where we are, and where he wants to take us in the community, in the region, maybe nationally, maybe internationally. Hopefully right now he’s thinking the sky’s the limit, and we’re all hoping to help him to inspire our community to really charge the orchestra and get some energy behind it.
In addition to the concerts at the Hilbert Circle Theatre, the ISO will perform “Symphonic Hits” at Kresge Auditorium on the DePauw University campus in Greencastle on Thursday, May 12, at 8 p.m.
For tickets and more information about “Symphonic Hits,” call the Hilbert Circle Theatre box office at (317) 639-4300 or visit www.indianapolissymphony.org.