While chatting with a friend recently about upcoming performing arts events, I found out the DePue Brothers Band is appearing in “A Bluegrass Family Christmas,” an already sold-out concert, co-presented by the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis and Indiana Landmarks on Friday, Dec. 13 at Cook Theatre at Indiana Landmarks Center. Recalling that former Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Zach DePue and Time For Three member, performs in the band with his siblings, I reached out to him for an interview. I was curious about what had become of him since his departure from the orchestra in June 2017. We met at Starbucks on Mass Ave, where we sat on the patio and he brought me up to date on his pursuits. Herein is an edited transcript of my conversation with the virtuoso musician, who is celebrated for his high-energy performances.
What have you been up to of late?
I haven’t been here for the last month. I just got back to town. I have been performing in chamber music concerts in Florida and New York.
So you’ve been transient?
In a way, the concert with my brothers in December is a bit more creative than chamber music concerts. We have to create stuff and we are going to be short one brother. My brother Alex is going off on his own solo thing, making it a challenge for us because Alex was such a showman. He was the center of the band and also the man on the mic at all times. Now my oldest brother Wallace is on the mic and we are going to try to find times when Jason and I will speak. So it is Jason, Wallace and me. It’s an interesting mix. We just performed together in South Carolina and had a really wonderful show. It’s a different vibe. It’s a cleaner sound without the fourth fiddle, to be honest, so it’s cool. It was a really fun concert.
I think part of the intrigue for Glen (Kwok, CEO of the Violin Competition) for having us is the fact that we are brothers and violinists who all studied differently, but it’s a cross-section of violin in America, if you will. One brother got a doctorate, one brother got a job in an orchestra, one became a concertmaster in a major orchestra and the other is an improv artist. It’s a real dichotomy. It is all the different ways you can make a life out of violin. Hopefully, there will be a nice turnout to see me play with my brothers. I haven’t played here since I last played with The Indianapolis Quartet.
Update me on what you have been doing ever since you left the ISO.
It’s been a real slow process getting back to playing with and living in a world that is more relationship and practice-driven and being fully responsible for your own playing. There is no institutional coverage. The only thing that exists now is you. Your quality of playing is your institution. You treat it like a brand and maintain quality. I am keeping my playing in shape and grabbing opportunities. The concert I just did in New York was fabulous. I played with all these really mainstream classical concert artists who are New York soloists and chair musicians. They were Paul Neubauer on viola, Che-Yen “Brian” Chen, on viola, Fred Sherry on cello and Sophie Shao on cello.
We just had a wonderful time, so hopefully that will lead to playing with each other more. We played at the University of Connecticut and Middlebury College. A lot of artists in chamber settings get invited to university concert halls. Middlebury has a wonderful concert series. They are celebrating their 100th anniversary, so I am going to kick that off for them. Audiences have been fabulous. It is a straightforward chamber music concert and it is not about my personality. Being in the trio, you create a space for yourself. In this setting, it is about Brahms and Schoenberg and performing it at a level that it needs to be played at. It is not about just you.
It sounds like operating as you are now is much different than being a concertmaster.
There is an institutional expectation of how you should carry yourself in a position like that. You are never really tenured in a position. There is a responsibility as to how you carry yourself on and off stage and within the community. Not-for-profit institutions are battling for donor dollars, so you are conscious of that, in terms of making sure you say all the right things in the community about where you work, what you do, and how meaningful it is because it is important to the community. You are “on” all the time. When you walk out your door, you are working. When you are no longer part of the institution and your badge is turned in, you can finally live again, so it is not all that bad.
What’s kept you in Indy?
To tell you the truth, it’s been a year and I didn’t even think I would still be living here by now. I thought I would just be coming in and staying in someone’s guest bedroom. I didn’t think I would still have my place and it would still feel like I was home. I thought I was going to be picking up and leaving, so I haven’t really worked at, or gone out to push anything for myself artistically in the community. I haven’t promoted a recital or anything. It’s got my wheels turning.
I am thinking about a “Time for One” recital of all Bach, which would include my three favorite Bach partitas and sonatas. The way it would flow as a program would actually be fabulous. It’s awesome music. I have thought about recording those and releasing a CD. When I talk about this “Time for One” thing and coming out and performing…you know…performing Bach is a naked thing to do. Literally, your relationship with the instrument is at its purest state in front of an audience. Nothing can be hidden. If you are having anxiety over the pieces or even if you are having comfort in some of the moods, it is all is felt by the audience. It’s a trip to watch someone perform solo Bach because it is a pure relationship to the instrument, so it’s a challenge. As well as great music, it’s a challenge to the individual. The way to combat that is an incredible discipline. You follow a regimen playing this stuff every day, your scales, intonation; you know the road map on the instrument and these things become automatic.
Do you miss playing with the ISO?
I miss it because I felt like my talents and way about using my talents were appreciated by the majority of that orchestra. My leadership and the physicality of how I led, when it needed to be led physically and when it didn’t, just allowing it to do its thing. I was always a fan of the new players, such as Conrad Jones on trumpet, Riley Giampaolo on bass trombone and Jennifer Christen on oboe. So yes, I miss a lot of those colleagues.
Has it been a difficult adjustment?
I haven’t talked to many people. It was a very quick adjustment so, yes, there has been stress and that has taken me away from focusing on practice, but now I am in a new groove. I am running again. I had completely stopped exercising and was not eating as well as I had been. I am starting to take care of myself again. I practice. I’ve got concerts coming up, so I need to be ready. As you know, being on stage, you have your small fears about what could go wrong, so you prepare in a way that ensures those things can never go wrong.
Did you undergo a period of grieving?
Everyone who knows me and saw me play there knows I put my heart into everything I did 100 percent of the time. The ISO is doing “Missa Solemnis” this year. I played it on a violin made here in Indianapolis that had just come off the shelf. It is a huge concertmaster solo. It is one of those ethereal pieces and it just takes such care. You have to play it beautifully. There is no room for fancy personality. Its job is to soar. It’s about that. I just remember looking down from my seat after I played it, and I think it was Dorothy McIver, one of the regular patrons I saw, mouthing “Thank you.” I loved that. That was always what it was about for me. I miss that.
Back to your current plans. What are other things you would like to do?
Besides the Bach project, it wouldn’t be just one concert. It would be a buildup to the work after that. I would play at nursing homes and retirement communities, to people of an older age, who will sit through 20 minutes of Bach and are awestricken by it. It’s so cool. It’s an incredible opportunity for that community to see this instrument. Think about how many people don’t visit those communities anymore. We put our parents in retirement communities so that we don’t have to think about them.
Since I am here, I am building something. I think the arts community will start to hear about me doing something like that. Also, churches on Sunday as well. You can play at 9:00 a.m. at one church and noon at another church and cover half of the city.
Also, part of me says “Why not just go back and get a master’s degree?” Indiana University is just down the road. My friend Alex Carr (concertmaster for the Dallas Symphony) teaches there. Maybe there is a way I can get my master’s so I can apply for a teaching job. It’s an obvious path. It would also allow me to do guest performances.
Any other concerts coming up prior to the December event at the Landmark?
Next up is Mozart Violin Concerto No. 5 with the Hendersonville Symphony in North Carolina on October 12 and on November 9, I am performing the Dvořák Violin Concerto with the Anchorage (Alaska) Symphony. I am also performing with The Indianapolis Quartet at the University of Indianapolis on Oct. 28. We are bringing in new wonderful artists for the second half of that concert, Nick Canellakis, a cellist from the music society at Lincoln Center, who I went to the Curtis Institute with and Carrie Dennis, a violist who lives in L.A. The program will be the Mozart String Quartet No. 21 in D Major, K.575, an Indianapolis premiere of Robert Paterson String Quartet No. 2 and Brahms String Sextet No. 1 in Bb, Opus 18. The concert will be fun awesome and free.
What do you have to say to your fans and admirers who miss you?
It’s nice to know they are out there and that I miss them too. Maybe we should put something together to put me back out and play somewhere…like a solo thing, just me and the instrument. I think it could develop into something cool.
The Indianapolis Quartet concert takes place Monday, Oct. 28 at 7:30 p.m. in the Ruth Lilly Performance Hall at the Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center on the University of Indianapolis campus. For information, visit theindianapolisquartet.uindy.edu.