116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
When a teenaged William Preucil needed a record to take to a party, he knew vinyl from his classical collection would never do. So he turned to the guy who ran the record store he frequented, and for $1, left with a pop song to spin.
'I don't remember what it was or where it is,” the Iowa City native, now 58, said by phone from Cleveland. 'I was just socializing.”
Classical music has always been his 'thing,” growing up in a house full of string players. His father, William, for whom he is named, is a violist and professor emeritus from the University of Iowa, and his mother, Doris, a violinist, opened the Preucil School of Music in 1975 in a former Czech social hall near downtown Iowa City. The flourishing school opened a second site in 2002, and all together, counts 700 students ages 3 through adult.
Preucil began his own violin studies at age 5, and is now concertmaster for the Cleveland Orchestra, performing Friday (1/20) at Hancher Auditorium in his hometown. Also in the ensemble's violin section are his daughter, Alexandra Preucil; his sister, Jeanne Preucil Rose; and her husband, Stephen Rose, one of his former students.
Audiences will hear Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Major, Opus 44, featuring pianist Yefim Bronfman, and Sibelius's Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Opus 43.
'I am itching and super-excited to hear a big orchestra in Hancher Auditorium, and I cannot wait to hear the sound the Cleveland string sections make,” Jacob Yarrow, Hancher's programming director, said. 'I'm excited by the repertoire. Both pieces are visceral and exciting. It's just going to be a thrilling bunch of sound.”
'The Tchaikovsky piano concerto is the one that's not played very often - the other is played a lot more,” Preucil said. 'What's nice for me, is there's a big almost piano trio movement in (the Tchaikovsky), where the orchestra drops out. There's solo violin, solo cello and the piano soloist. We've got one of the greatest pianists of our time in Yefim Bronfman. ...
'It will be interesting to hear a piece that's not played all that often. The Sibelius Second is a pretty standard warhorse - everybody likes listening to it. I think it will be a wonderful program that people from my hometown will enjoy.”
It's the hometown where Preucil's musical odyssey began.
Picking up the violin seemed only natural to young Billy, the eldest of the four Preucil children, all of whom are professional musicians. 'What I remember, is that everybody that came to my house to visit my parents played an instrument,” he said, 'and so I thought everybody played an instrument. I started to ask about it - since it was something everybody did, why don't I get started? In those days, starting at the age of 5 was pretty early. Nowadays, they start kids earlier.
'I took to it,” he said. 'I loved it, have loved it all my life, and still love it.”
He was one of his mother's first students pioneering the Suzuki teaching method that has become the hallmark of the Preucil School. Based on the philosophy of Japanese educator Shinichi Suzuki, students begin to acquire musical skills the way they learn language, through modeling what they hear, repetition, motivation and parental involvement.
'I was one of the guinea pigs to see how that would work out, and it worked out well for me,” he said, and music lessons became an integral part of his youth.
'It was educational. It was a good out-of-school activity, which developed when got older and fell into more things” he said. 'But there was a social aspect to it, too. For me, feeling music so strongly, I was just really into it and wanted to do it.
'I did other things, as well. I was the worst player on the junior high basketball team. It's not like (music was) all I ever did, but it was always what I was most interested in.”
When University High School closed in Iowa City, he finished his final two years at Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, graduated at age 16, and began college at Indiana University in Bloomington to study with Josef Gingold, former concertmaster of The Cleveland Orchestra. That's where his interest in performing with an orchestra blossomed.
He had always favored small string ensembles, reminiscent of playing at home with his parents and his maternal grandfather, who was a violinist and pianist.
'After dinner, sometimes we'd go downstairs and just play through things for fun,” Preucil said. 'Some of them were too hard for me, but it was a nice thing to do.”
As his siblings grew, they joined in. When his brother, a cellist, got older, they started playing string quartets. Then one sister joined in with harp, and the other with her violin.
'There was a lot of music in the home, and then we ended up playing concerts, too, until I went away to college,” he said. 'Even then, I would fly back and we would play a concert somewhere once in a while.”
Turning his love of violin into a profession was a natural progression, but his 'aha” career moment came around age 10. 'I might have known that in myself, but nobody asked me until I was 14.”
That's when he went to the prestigious Interlochen academy. About a year later, when it was time to eye colleges, his conductor and mentor asked him what he would do if he didn't play the violin. He replied that he could see himself doing something with history or literature.
'He asked, ‘But how long would it take before you would say, I've gotta get back to violin?' My answer was ‘A day.' So I went to college as music major with violin. I let all the other things slide, got busy playing violin, and didn't miss anything else.”
He became concertmaster at Indiana University, and since he knew finding work in string quartet right out of college would b hard, he pursued concertmaster positions, which he's held with orchestras in Utah and Nashville, before joining the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra from 1982 to 1989, and the Cleveland Orchestra in April 1995.
The position entails assisting the conductor, as well as the ensemble, and especially the strings as a whole and the violins in particular.
'As a joke, I often say the concertmaster does what everybody else forgets to do,” he said, 'and I've done some weird things.”
When one conductor's pants fell down during a performance, Preucil thought he was going to have to spring into action and pull them back up, but the conductor managed on his own. Another time, he saw a wasp 'attack” the conductor, so he stood up and 'whacked it away.”
But '99 percent of the time,” he said he's a member of the violin section and on occasion, the soloist.
'I do what I can to help us stay together. Most of what I do is with body language. I try to speak as little as possible, in terms in giving instructions,” he said, 'because these are immensely talented professional musicians in an orchestra like this.
'I'm probably one of the most physically active concertmasters and I enjoy that, because that's how I feel the music anyway. Just like if you go out dancing, you're feeling the music and you're making physical motions. ...
I would rather try to ask them to do some kind of phrasing by showing it with my body rather than trying to explain it with words.”
As with music, where timing is crucial, so it has been with his life. After Atlanta Symphony Orchestra conductor Robert Shaw retired in 1988, Preucil soon moved north to teach at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. There, he returned to his intimate ensemble roots, playing with the Grammy-winning Cleveland Quartet. That celebrated ensemble maintained a rigorous touring schedule until the members decided to disband in 1995, around the time the concertmaster position opened with the Cleveland Orchestra.
That ensemble had contacted him previously, but the timing wasn't right for him. This time, it was.
'I still had to win the audition and their trust,” he said.
He also had an unexpected learning curve, before and after.
'I'll give you this example: When I went to the quartet, I knew the Beethoven symphonies pretty well. And then, one of the things I had to do in the string quartet was learn all the Beethoven string quartets,” he said.
The converse was true when he went back to the orchestral realm.
'When I started playing symphonies again, my knowledge of the quartets taught me how little I knew about the symphonies.”
He doesn't see himself repeating that career cycle, but he continues to build on that movement from symphonies to quartet and back.
'It also taught me that we're always learning,” he said. 'I do quite a bit of teaching, and this is something I can pass on to my students.”
Hancher has presented the Cleveland Orchestra in 1979, 1980 and 1982, and staff members are excited to bring the ensemble back in the new auditorium.
'What I'm looking forward to more than anything, is the experience of that major orchestra in our new Hancher hall - acoustically and just being able to see all of that happening on our stage,” Chuck Swanson, Hancher's executive director, said.
'The acoustics have tested so well with other performances we've had. The University orchestra had their major performance early in the season with the choirs, and the sound was exquisite - it was extraordinary. I'm very excited to be sitting in that audience and experiencing a world-class orchestra from the standpoint of the audience side, and then to hear from orchestra, too, as to what they think of the hall.”
Touring logistics aren't easy with a large ensemble, and it took about 18 months of planning to secure the Cleveland group, which will be playing the following night in Chicago.
'We're dedicated to presenting orchestras, particularly great American orchestras, and Cleveland jumps to top of that list right away,” programming director Yarrow, said.
Swanson is hoping to see lots of young faces in the audience, as well.
'Experiences like this can really inspire young people to be able to work hard and decide this is something they want to pursue in their life,” he said. 'All of that is what Hancher is all about - creating those experiences that change lives.”
AT A GLANCE
What: Cleveland Orchestra
Where: Hancher Auditorium, 141 E. Park Rd., Iowa City
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday (1/20)
Tickets: $10 to $80, limited availability; for the most up-to-date information call or visit the Hancher Box Office (closed until Tuesday) at (319) 335-1160 or 1-(800) HANCHER
Program: Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Major, Opus 44, and Sibelius's Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Opus 43
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