This is not how the typical orchestra season launches in the Twin Cities.

Both the Minnesota Orchestra and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra are in contract negotiations with their musicians that carry significant consequences.

Orchestra Hall is closed for a renovation, and music lovers must wait until Oct. 18 to hear the ensemble play its first concert in the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Audiences will have a respite from the machinations of bargaining and building this weekend when Edo de Waart conducts the SPCO in a program of Stravinsky and Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, "Eroica."

De Waart, 71, is former music director at Minnesota and is now an artistic partner with the SPCO. He is music director in Milwaukee, and just concluded a stint rebuilding the Hong Kong Symphony. The maestro spoke by phone from his home in Middleton, Wis., where he lives with his wife and two grade-school children.

Q What is your history with the "Eroica"?

A When I was in conservatory, I played in the orchestra, I was about 19, and I had just started conducting lessons with my teacher who was also the conductor of that orchestra. I had never been in front of a real orchestra and suddenly in the middle of rehearsal of "Eroica," he said, "So Edo, now you." I know I stepped up, I gave the downbeat and I do not know what happened until I cut off at the end of the first movement. It was like a haze. I've lived with that piece my whole life. I've never done it with the forces that I will have with the St. Paul Chamber. It's always been about double the strings at least, and certainly when I was young you would use the whole string orchestra and then be sort of surprised that the winds don't come through. You wonder, where's the balance, what's wrong with Beethoven? And of course there's nothing wrong with Beethoven.

Q How does the ensemble and hall affect your work?

A With whom and where you play, acoustics, always play into any concert, any experience you have. I have always felt that "Eroica" is not, even in the slow movements, is not turgid. It's brimming with energy, almost bursting over, like a young man who has discovered what he can do -- ebullient, crazy, fantastic, inventive. This was a young man having those feelings. He wants it almost in two, at a certain tempo and I would say that with smaller forces particularly, I would say it moves quicker. It's slender.

Q Beethoven is all about rhythm, I have been told.

A It is sometimes maniacal, and the first movement of "Eroica" is one of them. If you are all over the place like a car with flat tires, you can't keep track. It doesn't work. It needs to propel but it also needs to breathe, have structure and excitement -- but not just for excitement's sake.

Q Your second weekend with the SPCO, you'll conduct Richard Strauss. You're regarded as a top interpreter of him.

A I only want to be regarded as a guy who loves Strauss and has done his work a lot. Towards the end of a long life conducting and having done many hours of Strauss, I think I understand him better than when I was in my 30s, and have always loved his music.

Q What insights did you pick up?

A When you see a movie of him conducting, he hardly moves. There's also the famous sentence from him that a conductor that sweats is not a good conductor. When I was 19, I went to a conductor master class by Dean Dixon. He said one thing that I never forgot: You shouldn't get excited; the audience should get excited. And Strauss applies to that. Strauss can be fantastically romantic, and full and rich. And if on top of that you are going berserk on the podium, I don't know if that helps clarify the proceedings.

Q Are you following the contract issues at SPCO?

A If you ask me this question in two weeks, I would say yes. Since I'm only a partner, I do not inject myself into it. My point of view is this: If a country with 350 million people that prides itself as one of the greatest countries that ever was can't sustain a 35-piece full-time chamber orchestra, the only one in that country, that's really shameful. I'm not blaming anybody, but there should be a way that can exist. This is a jewel. It's a beautiful little orchestra. It cannot, in my view, it should not be made smaller and it needs to keep its competitive edge by attracting the best players by paying a decent salary.

Q Are your kids back in school?

A Yes, thank God. These vacations are too long. They don't know what to do with themselves and there is an end to what we can do with them. We certainly love being together, but it's good for them to have a little more structure in their lives in school.

Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299