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Edward Cumming, final MSO candidate, visits this weekend

February 17, 1999

Edward Cumming directsBy KATE COLEMAN / Staff Writer

Edward Cumming says he's been looking forward to this weekend's Maryland Symphony Orchestra concerts for a long time.

The final of the four candidates for the MSO's music director position, Cumming says he was moved by community's affection for the orchestra.

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He's also looking forward to Prelude, the discussion that begins an hour before the Saturday and Sunday performances. "I love doing that sort of thing," he says. He does a similar program with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, where he is resident conductor.

"That's going to make the performance more special for the audience," he says. He appreciates people taking the time - paying the baby sitter an extra hour - to come and learn about the music they will hear. It means a lot to him.


Cumming, 41, grew up in Southern California, one of five children. Although no one in his immediate family was musical, Cumming has a cousin who is a composer. He calls Richard Cumming "Uncle Dee Dee" - Chinese for "little brother" - a nickname he says the composer-cousin doesn't like.

Cumming was in junior high school in Oakland, Calif., when he started playing the French horn. "It was somewhat accidental," he recalls. The teacher, Mr. Dean, told his students that they had to take some kind of music ensemble.

"You want to try it?" asked an acquaintance with a poke to Cumming's ribs. There were no trumpets left, and the drums were taken, so Cumming picked up a dusty old horn and liked it.

A couple of decades ago, Cumming met another horn player - Barry Tuckwell, former MSO music director. Tuckwell was performing in California, and although Cumming had a rehearsal and couldn't get to the performance, he was able to drive Tuckwell to the airport. They were about half way to San Francisco when Tuckwell cried out, according to Cumming. He had left his valuables behind, and they had to turn back. Cumming was happy to have more time with the renowned musician.

"He's a character," he says.

Cumming studied music at University of California at Berkeley, a school he says never had been known as a music school. But it was good for him. Performance opportunities were ample. He formed his own student orchestra and he met Celeste Viery, whom he would later marry.

He also found his passion for conducting. During his second year of college, Cumming became more interested in the whole orchestra than in playing the horn. He says he was aware of his limitations as a musician: "I was a very good horn player. I was never going to be great," he says.

After graduation, Cumming waited a couple of years before enrolling at Yale University. The delay made him appreciate grad school, he says. "I was just hungry for it."

Prior to coming to Pittsburgh as resident conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Cumming has always had dual positions - teaching as well as conducting in Florida, Oregon and Southern California.

As music director of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra, Cumming enjoys working with the musicians who are 12 to 23 years old. He calls it the finest American ensemble he's ever worked with. He says it's great fun and a great experience for the kids. He keeps telling them to pinch themselves, he says.

Why did Cumming apply for the MSO opening?

"I know a little bit about this orchestra," he says. He's heard the musicians perform and says he may have even worked with some of them. He's impressed with their facility in playing music of many different styles. He cites the community's support for the orchestra as another attraction.

Also, Hagerstown is just a "stone's throw" from Pittsburgh, where he lives. Cumming is married with two children - Caroline, 12, who plays clarinet, and Ian, 7, who plays piano. The professional choices he makes have to be things that are good for his family, Cumming says.

"Hours in this field are rather strange," Cumming says. Musicians work weekends, so time with school-aged children is at a premium. He likes just spending time with his family - bowling, visiting the science center, coaching his daughter's basketball team.

What does he listen to when he's not working? Cumming says he loves rhythm and blues and listens to some pop and rock music. But he doesn't feel the need to escape from the music he conducts.

"For me, work is play. I love it so much."

-- MSO concert information at a glance

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