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Dec 2003 / a day's work :: email this story to a friend

Eleven Questions with ... David Halen
By Amanda E. Doyle

1) Are you from St. Louis? If not, what brought you here initially?

I grew up west of town in Springfield and Warrensburg, Missouri. I lived a childhood not unlike a 20th-century Tom Sawyer in a beautiful part of Missouri. I always wanted to come back to where I grew up.

2) Although what the audience sees is you playing a note to signal the "tune-up" phase for the orchestra, and you shaking hands with the conductor and soloist, we're sure there's lots more to being the concertmaster. So ... what else is there?

David Halen @ The Commonspace I am a violinist first and foremost, and must help indicate when and how we should play in the orchestra. In addition, though, I have the responsibility to make sure the conductors (whether music director or guest conductor) are able to achieve their goals musically in a very limited amount of rehearsal time. It is an ever-changing set of responsibilities that adjusts depending on the profile the music director takes with an orchestra. In some ways it is sort of like a first officer on a ship.

I also serve on a number of committees, listen to lots of auditions and try to help our various departments in every way I can. It reminds me of when I worked at our local Holiday Inn hotel when I was in college — I did whatever I had to, to get the job done.

3) What would we find in your car's tape deck/CD changer? (Are there times you secretly listen to thumpin' hip-hop?)

Boring as it may seem, I get a lot of very important work done in the car. For me it is the most controlled listening environment I know of. I can hear a lot of detailed things that help give me new musical ideas.

4) What's been your most memorable moment thus far on stage at Powell Hall?

Strangely enough there are two and they were both quite sad. The first was in the spring of 1996 when Leonard Slatkin conducted his final concert with us as music director. It was the end of an unbelievably exciting era for the orchestra.

The other was February 2002, the night I had to help Hans Vonk off the stage in the middle of a piece by Samuel Barber, when he was unable to continue conducting. I had been aware of the progress of his tragic disease, and dreading that possible development. I love the man as an artist and human being and will never forget any of the numerous beautiful moments we shared in concerts together with my colleagues.

5) Were you sold on the violin from the get-go, or were there other instruments along the David Halen Path to Musicianship?

Both my parents played the violin professionally and gave lessons. We had black-and-white TV with only two stations. It was a no-brainer — really!

6) Does the concertmaster get the best parking spot, locker, etc.?

The concertmaster gets a few perks like a parking spot, and more time off. I used to sit in the middle of the violin section and wonder why those old guys in the front got all that special treatment. Now I think I know — my life span is decreasing rapidly as my gray hair increases...

7) Can you tell just by listening (live or to a recording) which conductor or orchestra is playing a given piece of music? How can average concertgoers cultivate that skill?

What becomes most obvious is whether an orchestra, conductor or a solo musician is great or less than great. As you listen more and more you develop more appreciation for the finest of qualities. When you hear the good stuff, it's like tasting the most wonderful vintage wine. Musical taste, like the appreciation of fine wine, has to be cultivated for a lifetime.

8) Have you written any orchestral music? Has it been performed?

No way. There are plenty of mediocre composers already.

9) Where do you hang out on SLSO's non-performance nights?

I like being with my family mostly. I am so busy most nights, that when we can get away, we like to travel to Houston or Chicago and, well, go to more concerts. We have Metropolitan Opera tickets this year, for example.

10) What's your favorite violin you've ever played?

The one I have is my favorite. It's a J. B. Guadagnini made in 1752. An old Italian violin is like a relationship with an Italian woman: how you treat it is a miniscule reflection of what you get back in return. When she suffers from neglect, or the tiniest mistreatment, believe me, we all hear about it.

11) What's your favorite musician joke?

I always liked this one:

How do you tell the difference between a violinist and a dog?
The dog knows when to stop scratching.

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