October 9, 2012
Robert deMaine named Principal Cello of the Los Angeles Philharmonic

One of the stars of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra may be heading for Hollywood.

DSO principal cellist Robert deMaine, 42, was offered the job as principal cellist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic on Sunday by music director Gustavo Dudamel, after the cellist completed a trial week with the orchestra, said Sophie Jefferies, director of public relations. Jefferies could not confirm whether deMaine had accepted the post but said he was “very excited to be offered the job.”

DeMaine, whose decade long tenure with the DSO began in January 2003, could not be reached for comment early Monday. But he posted a message on his Facebook page Sunday night that simply said “overwhelmed and overjoyed,” and the page was filled with dozens of congratulatory posts from friends.

A DSO spokesperson said early Monday that the orchestra had not yet heard from deMaine.

DeMaine’s inspired musicianship and charismatic solo playing have been responsible for innumerable moments of magic on the stage of Orchestra Hall, and his departure would be a blow to the DSO. There has been substantial turnover in the orchestra in the wake of the six-month strike in 2010-11, and though the orchestra has recently filled nine positions — including hiring gifted young concertmaster Yoonshin Song — losing deMaine would rob the orchestra of perhaps its most distinctive solo voice.

A deMaine departure also would come immediately on top of the loss of principal bassist Alex Hanna, who joined the Chicago Symphony in June, and it would mean that four of the five principal string positions will have shifted due to post-strike defections or retirements. (Principal violist Alexander Mishnaevski would be the only pre-strike holdover.)

The strike, which ended with pay cuts of 23% for the musicians, caused some to leave the DSO out of frustration and bitterness. Others departed for personal or professional reasons unrelated to the strike, including opportunities to jump to principal positions with more prestigious and higher-paying orchestras.

The continued churn of personnel remains one of the primary artistic challenges facing music director Leonard Slatkin as he leads the orchestra through its post-strike rebuilding. A symphony is more than simply the sum of the musicians on stage, embodying a collective memory of ensemble style, tonal blend and inflection that solidifies with time and experience performing together.

For deMaine, landing the top job with the Los Angeles Philharmonic would represent another chapter in a remarkable personal and professional odyssey. A former prodigy, deMaine fought alcohol addiction early in his career. But once he got sober in 1999, his career took off. He has been a star from the moment he assumed his post in Detroit, wowing audiences, critics and fellow musicians with the refined and communicative lyricism of his sound and phrasing.

He has played most of the standard repertoire cello concertos with the DSO, and a recording made last spring of John Williams’ Cello Concerto with Slatkin conducting the DSO is slated for release as a download on the Naxos label. In recent seasons, deMaine has dramatically expanded his activities as a soloist, recitalist and chamber musician outside of the DSO, working with such musicians as violinists James Ehnes and Hilary Hahn, pianist Andrew Armstrong and others.

DeMaine’s next scheduled performances with the DSO are subscription concerts Oct. 19-21. He is also scheduled to perform Edward Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” in January with the DSO with British conductor Mark Wigglesworth on the podium.

A DSO spokesperson said deMaine was under contract with the orchestra through the end of the 2012-13 season. Once a musician wins a principal audition with an orchestra it can take weeks to work out contractual details.

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