Tag Archives: Minnesota Orchestra

Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra, Alpine Symphony

The end of Straussfest ’14 is upon us, and accordingly, here is the last SOTL microreview of October.

The Pioneer Press covered the performance with a 366-word rave; ironically, the Minneapolis Star Tribune was apparently over in St. Paul for this week’s SPCO show. An embarrassment of riches, I guess.

As always, if you went to the performance, or listened online, please leave your thoughts in the comment section!

***

Like last week, the concert began with a piece of chamber music – in this case, Strauss’s Sextet from the opera Capriccio. I love chamber music, and it drives me crazy that orchestra tickets are so much easier to sell. Maybe this format of chamber music in the first half, with a big piece after intermission, gives a taste of the magic, simultaneously introducing the orchestra’s individual players to the audience. I worry a bit about the big shoebox auditorium swallowing the performers, but maybe if you have personalities big enough, you can fill it. Every string player sounded divine, and they all have musical personalities that could fill the entire Minneapolis metro, so no worries there. What warmth, charm, delicious informality.

The slender Serenade for Winds was just as delightful. During last week’s wind piece, I wondered if the hall acoustic and lack of conductor was an impediment. But tonight Edo de Waart was on the podium and there was a tremendous sense of direction and crispness.

The big attraction, though, was of course the Alpine Symphony. To introduce it, horn player Ellen Dinwiddie Smith gave a short verbal preface, unveiled an alphorn, and played a short duet with Bruce Hudson. The informality of this feels like we’re visiting in the musicians’ living room. Can any other major orchestra pull this off?

And what a performance of the Alpine Symphony. The ascent had swagger and jovialty in equal measure. Different sections – so many sections! – darted in and out of the intricate texture, suggesting birds and babbling brooks. The sense of luxuriant relief and awe at the summit was palpable…and it’s hard not to tie those emotions to where the orchestra is today. The storm was fricking terrifying in its swirl of volume and intensity, and I know hearing it on the radio shaved off about ninety-five percent of its impact.

Clearly this is one of those pieces you have to hear live to really experience, and I feel terrible I couldn’t make it.

But maybe you can…

***

338 words. There’s one more performance tonight. Tickets available, as always, at minnesotaorchestra.org.

***

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Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra, Richard Strauss, Death and Transfiguration

This week’s appreciative Minnesota Orchestra concert reviews came courtesy of the Strib and the Pioneer Press, clocking in at 422 and 378 words, respectively. The program at Orchestra Hall was all Richard Strauss: the Suite for Winds, Metamorphosen, Burleske, and Death and Transfiguration. Read on to hear what they sounded like over the radio. And if you were at the concert or listened at home, be sure to leave your thoughts, too!

***

Strauss’s early Suite for Winds sounded light and lovely. Over the radio, certain attacks came across as less than crisp. Whether that was because of the relatively reverberant acoustic, the lack of conductor, or another reason entirely was impossible to tell. It was such a joy to hear our maestro stretching his clarinet muscle with his first-rate wind colleagues: more of this, please!

The Metamorphosen had a more overt sense of direction than the Suite did, perhaps because Osmo was back on the podium. What a haunting late Romantic lament, tipping from bittersweet exultation to luxuriant despair, often in the space of a single winding phrase. Everyone onstage was spilling their heart’s blood; various passages sounded like string screams. I appreciated violist Ken Freed’s heartfelt introduction to the piece. Between the instrumentation and the informal remarks, the first half almost felt like a chamber music pre-concert to the second half. I loved that eclectic vibe. More of this, please!

The mood lightened and broadened after intermission once the full orchestra came onstage. Pianist and Minnesota native Andrew Staupe exploded onto the keyboard in the Burleske, and he navigated the piece’s manifold challenges – from cascading keyboard-smashing passages to delicate dance-like themes – with energy, spunk, and good old-fashioned Minnesotan humility. Despite the piece’s hushed ending, the audience response was wild, with appreciative whoops and hollers galore, all so very well-deserved. More Andrew Staupe, please!

But without a doubt, Death and Transfiguration was the highlight of the program. First came the heaviness of the opening’s labored breathing, each carefully notated dynamic meticulously observed, ironically making the music feel that much more improvisatory and new. Then came a manic frenzied rebellion, musicians and maestro railing wildly together against death. (For some reason, this orchestra is hugely effective railing against death…) The ultimate transfiguration seemed to float, buoyant with the ecstasy of artistic accomplishment. And as the piece whispered its conclusion, even over the radio, you could hear the sound ring – then evaporate into the hall, testament to a breathless performance and rapt audience.

More of…well, everything, please!

***

344 words.

Normally this is the space in the microreview where I tell you, go buy tickets for tonight’s performance!, but unfortunately there are no more performances; if you missed it, you missed it.

However, there’s still one more opportunity to join in the Straussfest fun, so buy your tickets here. There are still a handful left, and wouldn’t it be nice to close the festival out with a sold-out hall? I highly doubt you’re going to be disappointed.

***

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Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra, Richard Strauss, Don Quixote

I need a coat nowadays when I go outside, and we all know what that means:

The Minnesota Orchestra subscription series has begun.

Therefore: it’s Microreview Time!

For those of you who are new (and quite a lot of you are, so hey!), a Microreview is a type of entry I write on Saturday morning after listening to the MPR broadcast of the previous night’s Minnesota Orchestra’s subscription concert, with a word count equal to or lesser than that week’s newspaper review. Microreviews are meant to hone my short writing skills, provide an alternative perspective to the official critics, promote the official critics, and frankly to provide filler when I’m too busy to write my traditionally novel-length articles on other topics. *thumbs up* Readers are welcome to contribute their own thoughts or Microreviews.

This week’s program was the opening to the Strauss Oktoberfest. Tony Ross the Boss starred in Don Quixote, with the Dance of the Seven Veils and the Suite from Der Rosenkavalier after intermission; the only review in the metro this week came from Rob Hubbard over at the Pioneer Press, and clocked in at 355 words.

***

The beating heart of the Minnesota Orchestra’s program this week was Don Quixote, the story of the original tilt-er-at-windmills. This orchestra excels at conveying narrative, and that strength was put to fabulous use here. DQ felt less like a tone poem and more like a one-act instrumental opera. At the Adventure of the Windmills, you could practically see Don Quixote lunging about with his lance. “The victorious struggle against the army of the great emperor Alifanfaron) [actually a flock of sheep]” variation cracked me up with its juxtaposition of heroic theme with rambling brass bleating. Tom Turner portrayed to perfection the earnest squire Sancho Panza, especially in his recurring and-that’s-that up-and-down arpeggio. The Ride in the Air was fricking airborne. The death scene was genuinely haunting, even after all the comedy that preceded it. And through it all, Tony navigated the multitude of mood changes with honesty and aplomb. Given that this is less a cello concerto than an orchestral showpiece, I wonder if the best performances might come not from traveling soloists, but rather from principals who know their band. This performance bore out the hypothesis; it was certainly one of the best I’ve ever heard.

Tom and Tony

Tom and Tony

After the heart of Don Quixote, the delicious corny schmaltz of Dance of the Seven Veils and Der Rosenkavalier felt…odd. I might have tweaked the program order. Salome’s dance was masterfully done. There was one marvelously performed skittering pianissimo string passage in particular that just made my violin-loving heart marvel. The Suite from Der Rosenkavalier started off with a few dance-heralding blasts in a tempo brisker than I’ve heard before; I loved it. Since the Mahler performance, I’ve been thinking about sarcasm in performance. I heard a bit of it here. Not in the slow tender heartbreaking moments, but in the more…decadent portions. The snarky vibe might have come partly from the fabulously flexible tempos; Andrew Litton and his players milked those for all they were worth, and to glorious effect.

In conclusion, I hadn’t realized how badly my life needed Erin Keefe playing vaguely snarky waltz solos.

***

347 words!

There’s still one more performance left tonight at eight, and I recommend you take advantage of it. As always, tickets at minnesotaorchestra.org.

Edit at 3:30pm: And if you’re interested, here’s the Strib review, which was published after mine.

***

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Review: Minnesota Orchestra, Alisa Weilerstein in Barber, Mahler

As the house lights dimmed in Orchestra Hall on Sunday afternoon, I relaxed into the thought: when I write my next entry, I can focus on the musicI won’t need to write about barn-burning musician speeches, a defiant audience Euro-clapping and waving Finnish flags, or recurring flashbacks about being on the wrong side of the shrubbery. Instead, I’ll be able to write about how our Minnesota Orchestra performed Mahler and Barber.

That is as it should be. That feels good.

And so it is that Minneapolis is gradually acclimating to life post-lockout. We’re like a man who has been in a terrible car crash, gingerly testing out each arm and leg, finding that each limb is still (somehow) in working order. We’re a little bruised and battered. But still whole. And blessed with a whole new appreciation for life, and a whole new sense of purpose, direction, and focus.

The Minnesota Orchestra’s 2014-2015 season opening concert was marketed as a celebration of resurrection, but it was also a paean to ambition. A mere Mahler 2 wasn’t enough for Osmo and his musicians, so they also programmed the Barber cello concerto, one of the most difficult pieces ever written for that instrument. After our long musical drought, this two-and-a-half-hour concert felt like Thanksgiving dinner after a long fast. Trust me, our ears gorged on this music.

Superstar Alisa Weilerstein was the soloist. After he was commissioned to write a concerto for cellist Raya Garbousova, Samuel Barber told her to play her repertoire for him. He was obviously impressed with what he heard. Garbousova and Barber were in close contact during the concerto’s composition, exchanging ideas and inspiration. In a canon that skews so heavily male (Fun Factoid!: the works of Beethoven are performed more often than the works of all women composers combined), I cherish these stories of strong women who shaped our repertoire.

Alisa Weilerstein is the archetype of a strong woman. She is a force of nature – a pagan high priestess – a warrior cello Athena. She tore into the ferocious solo part with equal parts fire and grace, the white hot intensity of her concentration blinding. One moment she was crouching over her cello, listening intently with her ear tilted down. The next she was rolling her head back to watch Erin’s bow, Osmo’s hand – then abruptly lurching forward again to attack another triple stop, another sky-high broken arpeggio. There were a few brief scattered moments where I felt orchestra and soloist weren’t completely synched – Weilerstein’s approach to rhythm might be a bit…impulsive? – but she can carry it off, and if anything, her freedom just added drama to the performance. The third movement in particular was wildly virtuosic, completely impossible, breathtakingly death-defying, a fast unicycle ride on a high wire. It the classiest, brainiest, most exhilarating curtain-raiser imaginable. Next time she comes to town, you simply must go.

Then after intermission came Mahler 2. (Like I said, we were gorging.)

There is a famous old story of Mahler and Sibelius discussing the role of the symphony. Sibelius appreciated the genre’s “profound logic and inner connection.” Mahler disagreed: he said that “A symphony must be like the world. It must embrace everything.”

As we all know, Osmo’s calling card is Sibelius. (Rightly so.) And yet – somehow – his interpretive gifts serve both Sibelius and Mahler brilliantly. Osmo excels at immediately grasping the geography of a piece, no matter how complicated. He’s a perfectionist, but he somehow never gets caught in the weeds. He coaxes the most extraordinary superhuman dynamics from his players. He is honest; he is plainspoken; he abhors artifice. All of those strengths are what make his Sibelius so special.

And here’s the interesting thing: they’re also the strengths that make his Mahler so special, too. And by special, I mean “really really special.” And by really really special, I mean “holy crap, I think we have a Mahler conductor and orchestra on our hands.”

From the very first tremolo, it was clear that Osmo and his band were going to twist the Intensity Knob up to “Batshit Crazy.” And so accordingly, on the very first page, while attacking the growling cello part, principal Tony Ross had a Tony Ross String Incident (TM). Wasting no time whatsoever, he whipped his cello around like it was his dance partner, suddenly had a new C-string in his hand, silently re-tuned, then jumped back in with both feet, no fear, no timidity whatsoever. I mention it because the incident encapsulated the attitude of the whole performance: Let’s just go for it.

Tony’s passion set the bar for intensity. And it was a bar every exhausted musician met again, and again, and again. (Remember, this was their third performance in as many days.) The first movement chromatic death motif was haunting – it turned my stomach – and whenever it found its way into the bass registers, it shook our very seats. The fierce col legno clattering of bow wood on strings brought to mind dancing skeletons. Now and then ethereal moments of hope or even heroism peaked through the texture – rising chords in the brass, the pluck of harp strings, wistful lines in the winds – but they were invariably submerged or absorbed by shifting keys or orchestration. Osmo looked like a traffic cop up there, directing the various piano, mezzoforte, forte lines crossing and intersecting, rising, falling, all the while sculpting, molding, the results, revealing details previously buried away in the labyrinthine tangle of a score.

After the movement seemed to have exhausted itself, a wary peace seemed to descend…

And then, with a jab of Osmo’s hand, an anguished trumpet wail smeared a half-tone down. The following mechanical staccato triplets in the strings made it feel as if the very ground had fallen out from beneath us – and the nearly silent pizzicatos after that thudded like handfuls of dirt thrown onto a coffin.

Devastating.

The simple second movement is a Ländler, an elegant country dance. I’d always thought of it as a rather slow and gentle piece of music, ostensibly meant to contrast with all the death and destruction that has preceded it. Wikipedia says it’s an evocation of happy times in the life of the deceased. But this ländler felt like something different. Yes, it was slow and gentle, but it also had a sinister edge to it, intensified by dynamics one had to strain to hear, as well as rocking phrasing that hit on the rhythms just a tad too hard for a traditional ländler. Melody lines that sound merely lovely in other interpretations came across here as (subtly) sassy double entendres, as bitter muttered inside jokes. And this slightly surly attitude just served to intensify the more outright sarcasm of the third movement. Rolling themes whirled from section to section, showcasing each, constantly changing form, reinventing themselves, unfurling from corner to corner of the stage. It really is an experience to hear a Mahler symphony done live by a major orchestra; Sunday afternoon I realized yet again how recordings are the equivalent of pencil sketches of oil paintings. Anyone who thinks they can truly absorb music solely through recordings is delusional.

Then. After an hour of stunning instrumental color, came the contrast of a single female voice, singing a simple melody. The soloists were sitting behind the orchestra, and at least from my seat, the ascent of this anonymous human voice came a surprise. I didn’t see her stand or open her mouth; there was just, suddenly…sound. Effortless sound. Hugely moving sound. Human sound. Once that voice arrived, all the performance’s snark and sarcasm collapsed, and the energy came instead from a clear-eyed earnestness.

And so as the afternoon went on, the plot of the symphony slowly began to shed its outer layers of despair, cynicism, and world-weariness. We saw and heard fresh glimpses – suggestions, promises of a mighty world to come – obscured now by aural clouds, by sinister orchestration – then re-announced by bold choruses of horns and strings. The sounds came in waves, pounding then receding, almost like the ocean in La Mer.

The moments in which Osmo cued the offstage horns were particularly breathless: his eloquent hand suspended, just barely trembling. That simple gesture from the podium triggered muted faraway calls in another room, another world.

It took me a long while to figure out how to interpret that wide-ranging sprawl of a last movement. The closest I got to a narrative was imagining it as some kind of secular religious service in which the orchestra, chorus, and audience communally worships Art, or maybe the Art in God. I’m Episcopalian, and our Book of Common Prayer contains services for baptism, marriage, last rites, funerals…ceremonies for birth, love, sickness, and death. Paging through our slim little book, you go from the height of human joy, to the depths of human grief, then back again, all in the course of a few minutes. The symphony’s closing half hour reminded me of that idea – in fact, only made sense to me within the context of that idea: symphony as a form of worship. And so listening, there was more than one moment when I wanted to kneel and bow my head, cross myself, murmur ancient prayers, giving thanks at this sacred altar for blessings received. That impulse of spiritual reverence only strengthened when the hushed tones of the Minnesota Chorale entered. Whenever their voices fell silent, I suddenly realized I hadn’t been breathing, that I had no idea how long they’d been singing. Had it been two minutes? Ten? Sixty? They were transporting.

At the epic ending, voices rose, brass soared, bells clanged. They sounded like a church’s pealing after a war. As the final chords sounded, more than one face sparkled wet with tears of awe and gratitude at the magnificence arrayed before us. Here in a blaze of sonic glory was a fiery world created anew.

Rise again, yes, you will rise again,
My heart, in the twinkling of an eye!
What you have conquered
Will bear you to God!

“It’s so obvious,” a musician told me afterward. “But it doesn’t matter.”

***

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Review: Minnesota Orchestra and Renee Fleming, September 2014

Last year I and a couple hundred others showed up outside a glitzy event at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis: the famous Symphony-less Symphony Ball. The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra had been locked out for nearly a year, but the leadership wanted to throw a gala fundraiser anyway. The musicians weren’t invited. Nor was the music director. So a group of us got together to point out that this was, y’know, kind of insane.

I chose to wear evening dress (albeit with leg warmers, two layers of socks, and long underwear). After I got dressed, a friend brought me to the hall, and my mom and I walked around the block, taking in the scene. A large crowd had already gathered around Peavey Plaza, which looked like a combination circus, prison, and ShopKo garden center. There were tents, guards, and shrubberies… – 24 September 2013

Slide forward fifty-odd weeks. Mom and I were dropped off by the same friend in front of the same hall. It was the same time of year. I wore the same glamorous dress, albeit without the bulky layers underneath. But this time, we were invited, the guards had disappeared, and the shrubbery now existed only in our memories. September 2013: musicians locked out, music director uninvited, guards posted outside the lobby glowering at patrons, a band of women shaking their fringed costumes the only musical attraction within. September 2014: the Starry Starry Night gala fundraiser, musicians back onstage, Osmo directing and schmoozing in the lobby, no less than superstar Renee Fleming commanding the stage in a haze of golden tulle.

It was surreal. Two vastly differently realities in the same place, less than a year apart. All night I felt like I was slipping back and forth between the two realities, the present and the past.

*

First on the program to this gala concert was the Overture from Maskerade by Nielsen. Osmo strode onstage, turned his back on the hollering audience and raised his arms, simply unable to contain his eagerness to embrace the music. And just like that, we were off. Their tempo was just a hair too fast, a hair too dangerous, and it was glorious. Pianissimo string crossings in the violins were backed by little upward blips from the woodwinds, sounding like a group of happy, and slightly tipsy, revelers. When the whole orchestra came whirling back in, triumph in giddy full voice, it was impossible not to grin in wonder.

The Strand Settings for soprano and orchestra by Anders Hillborg were being played Friday night for the first time outside of New York. They were cloudy, misty, ethereal – strange and dreamy – celestial. Fleming’s voice floated through the hall above the cushion of sounds, weightless, piercing silver through all the instrumental shimmer. Some portions brought to mind the feelings of awe one might feel alone in the dark of the night in the countryside, endless black sky-scrape spread above, distant stars twinkling. Other portions were much earthier, recalling a memory of jazz, or maybe a Bernstein musical: bass thumping as the commanding female voice soared above it all. My thoughts lately have gravitated toward death and rebirth, toward angels. Friday night Renee Fleming was one.

*

After Osmo’s resignation, when it seemed likely if not certain that the Minnesota Orchestra as we knew it was dead, in desperate hope I wrote an entry where I copy/pasted the story of the Firebird:

The Firebird is known to many as the Phoenix. It is a mythical bird that lives in five hundred year cycles, which is able to regenerate from injury and is therefore, immortal. With plumage of red and gold that illuminates its flight, the Phoenix is as much a symbol of divinity as it is of fire and many legendary tales have evolved around its existence. Its most spoken about quality, that has inspired stories of encouragement or been compared to adversities that have been overcome, is that the Phoenix, nearing the end of its life cycle, builds a nest where he sets himself and the nest on fire. From the ashes left behind, a young Phoenix rises, to take the place of the older…

The glow from the Firebird’s feather was powerful enough to light up an entire room. It is also believed to bring hope and relief to the suffering and in need, and one story in particular tells of pearls falling from the Firebird’s beak to the peasants below, for them to trade for food…

Over the ages, the Phoenix, or Firebird, has inspired many artists, such as Igor Stravinsky, who in 1910 immortalized the legend of the Firebird, in his ballet score of the same name. From being a symbol of doom to hope, the Firebird’s rise from its ashes has given many the inspirations to rebuild their lives and to believe that there is light in even their darkest moments. The Firebird holds a sacred place in the folklore of Russia, as a creature that is in itself as much of a mystery as the legendary tales. – 6 October 2013

*

The Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana always risks sinking into shlock. But Osmo doesn’t do shlock. Instead, he crafts long lines to make warhorses feel suddenly, miraculously, new. Their performance was so tender and intimate I almost felt uncomfortable: it was a private love note between maestro and musicians, and an acknowledgement of all they have endured together.

But before the mood of tenderness had entirely evaporated, came the determined roil of the Overture to La forza del destino, and suddenly the tenderness was a mere memory. Now came muscular brass and flashy Italian spunk, and violins chattering repeated phrases high in their register, like gossipy Italian divas.

This orchestra can cover the full gamut of human emotion with a panache no other ensemble can muster.

*

Renee Fleming came out for her second act sporting a massive blue gown. In front of the podium sprawled a white bouquet. Surely this was planned: a not-so-subtle shout-out to the Minnesota Orchestra’s new colors, blue and white, shades of Osmo’s Finnish flag, the colors of the Minnesota audience rebellion. The beauty of “O mio babbino caro” garnered murmuring appreciative applause; the flirty sauce of “Ier della fabbrica a Triana,” from Conchita laughs and happy clapping.

After lovingly sung accounts of Somewhere and I Feel Pretty came a surprise encore. We all knew there would be an encore – we’re talking about Renee Fleming, after all! – but those of us expecting a classic opera aria were surprised.

“I want to honor you for taking care of this brilliant orchestra, treasuring this orchestra,” Renee said, to wild applause. She then went on to explain that her encore would come from Bernstein’s (legendary flop) 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and that in its original setting, the song was about taking care of the White House. But in this context, in this night, she meant for it to be about taking care of “this incredible institution and treasuring it in the future and always.”

Oooooooookay, I think most of us thought, but we applauded enthusiastically nonetheless.

Then she sang, and her and Osmo’s intent became crystal clear:

Take care of this house / Keep it from harm / If bandits break in, sound the alarm – be always on call / for this house is the home of us all.

My jaw dropped at the ballsiness of it. From now on, every piece played in Minnesota will have double meanings for those who seek to find them.

*

The evening’s great showpiece was The Pines of Rome by Respighi. In another context its triumphant bombast might sound insincere: not here, not tonight, oh no. You would never guess this was an orchestra that stared death in the face and walked away. Every player worked together to create a whole even greater than the sum of its fabulous parts; sixteen months apart in 2012-14 had done nothing to mute their chemistry. Greg Williams knocked it out of the park with his earthy – yet otherworldly – clarinet solos. Kathy Kienzle sparkled on the harp. Erin Keefe and Tony Ross enthusiastically shared gorgeous lines together; they strike me as being musical siblings, both embracing grit and passion in equal measure in their music-making. Respighi meant the famous final movement to be a portrait of the ancient Roman army advancing, but I couldn’t help but think of the city of Minneapolis taking up their symbolic arms to fight against the destruction of their beloved orchestra. First the musicians had spoken: a clear, firm, but quiet voice. Then their listeners spread the message to their friends and family. Then a slow but steady crescendo of people from all around the world raised their voices in all manner of ways, drawing a firm line in the sand: here is Minnesota. Managements can approach the line without going over it, a la the Met. Or they can even approach the line and go over it, a la Atlanta. But the line is there. And in future, managements will cross it at their peril.

*

After the concert, suddenly a dear beautiful face from the past appeared. Screams from each of us, then a hug and tears of joy and triumph, spinning round and round. I had not seen her for two years; she has been in California. But she came back home for this concert, The lockout made us sisters.

Before the show, I met up with a brand new friend I’d met online. (Making connections with dozens of wonderful people has been one of the few silver linings in a very cloudy sky.) Within the blink of an eye, we were chatting as if we’d known each other all our lives. Such connections don’t happen very often in a lifetime… Together we earnestly discussed the wonderful ensemble and the terrible situation that had brought us together. “This isn’t just an attack on this orchestra,” she said. “This is an attack on beauty! And I will not stand for it!” – 22 October 2012

Together we all celebrated very late into the night, well aware we’re living as close to a happy ending as real life can provide. Let us put this lockout nonsense behind us, embracing the lessons it taught us, embracing the connections it fostered between us, and work toward an even brighter day.

***

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SOTL Q&A with Emily Green, 17, Aspiring Minnesota Orchestra CEO

On May 4, 2013, a sixteen-year-old girl messaged me via my Facebook page:

Hello Emily, my name is Emily Green and I am a Young Musician of Minnesota looking to do something about this lockout! I currently am in MYS [Minnesota Youth Symphonies] and a few of us students are forming a large group of young musicians to make a powerful video in regards to the lockout. Would you be interested in joining us? (Your articles are amazing, by the way!)

And that was my introduction to YMM, a group of talented young people determined to support the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra during their 2012-14 lockout.

YMM outside Ted Mann Concert Hall, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, summer 2014.

YMM outside Ted Mann Concert Hall, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, summer 2014.

 

Over the last year, under Emily Green’s leadership, YMM has done a lot more than just shoot a powerful video. In their own words:

The Young Musicians of Minnesota (YMM) is a student-led and operated organization, consisting middle school through college graduate music students from across the state who have bound together to preserve and promote classical music throughout the state. YMM is entirely student-led, with students taking on roles such as conductor, orchestra manager, logistics advisor, concert event manager, and as performing musicians. YMM serves as a gateway to the professional music world, believing in offering students opportunities to challenge themselves, grow in their musical leadership and technical abilities, develop a greater appreciation for classical music, and work alongside professionals, all for NO COST. YMM members have held a presence in the community through filming our own YouTube video, participating in rallies, performing at the Minnesota State Fair, Orchestrate Excellence forums, our own youth orchestra concerts, chamber performances in the Orchestra Hall lobby, and as well as at We Day Minnesota 2013 (which is an educational event and movement of our time—a movement of young people leading local and global change).

Not bad for a teenager!

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Double The Fundraisers, Double The Fun

Dear friends,

We can all agree: the Minnesota Orchestra lockout pissed us off. There was no louder critic of the Minnesota Orchestral Association than this blogger (although Robert Levine, Norman Lebrecht, Alex Ross, and Bill Eddins all gave me pretty fierce runs for my money).

Was I wrong in taking such a critical stance? Nope. I’m convinced the lockout will be studied for years to come as a textbook example of how NOT to conduct productive negotiations. (Unit Eight will cover “For God’s Sake, Don’t Buy The Domain Names of Audience Advocates.”)

But here’s a more important, more relevant question: Does the Minnesota Orchestral Association still deserve my ire?

Well…………….

The truth is…..

No. Probably not.

I’ll acknowledge that being pissed off does wonders for the page views, but here are the facts.

  1. Michael Henson is leaving. He has about seven weeks left on the job and then he’s off to…a Bournemouth beach house? memoir writing? consulting with the Met’s management? Point is, his reign of incompetence is nearly over. Halle-fricking-lujah.
  2. Richard Davis and Jon Campbell are gone (well…officially; one assumes they have influence in the philanthropic and business communities, but – that’s the nature of the beast). Even more impressive? The remaining board representatives are now working with audience advocates.
  3. Osmo is back. Repeat: Osmo is back.
  4. The 2014-15 season is the best the Minnesota Orchestra has presented in years. It’s big, bold, ambitious, beautiful. This is the first time that I’ve looked at other big city seasons and thought, you know, Minneapolis’s season reigns with the very best. Yep, mark my words: the best orchestral music in North America will be happening at 1111 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, Minnesota, ZIP code 55403. And you don’t want to miss it.
  5. Kevin Smith, the Minnesota Orchestra’s interim CEO, is giving every indication of being The Anti-Henson. Seriously. Everything Michael Henson did, Kevin Smith is doing the opposite. Just one example: Henson scurried with bodyguards through the back door of Orchestra Hall during Save Our Symphony’s “Ending The Lockout Will Be A Ball” rally in September 2013. Kevin Smith, on the other hand, has actually already talked with SOSMN, and has even scheduled two listening sessions that will be open to the public in August 2014 (follow Save Our Symphony Minnesota’s Facebook page for details as they become available). I have also heard some great things about new Vice President of Advancement Dianne Brennan. Mr. Smith will be here for anywhere from six months to a year; Ms. Brennan is here long-term.
  6. I think every rational outside observer believes that the Minnesota Orchestral Association is brimming with untapped potential. But here’s the flip side: that potential needs time to blossom. It won’t – it can’t – flower overnight. And as every gardener knows, you have to take care of a plant before it blossoms to enable it to blossom.

Yes, I acknowledge that MOA executive committee board member Doug Kelley is still having trouble coming to grips with reality, but I admit there’s a part of me that wonders… If he’s representative of hardliners on the board… And if the hardliners are waiting to bring his attitude into the next negotiating cycle… Might his words actually be an inspiration to give? To prove him wrong – to weaken his position in whatever way possible – to cut his arguments off at the knees? I genuinely don’t know the answers to those questions. In the end, you’re likely going to give in spite of his viewpoint, not because of it.

COMPLETELY understand if you don’t want to give to the Minnesota Orchestra yet. Concerned patrons have been BURNED, with a capital B, U, R, N, E, and D. But I also encourage you to send a small amount of money with a promise of more once benchmarks of your choosing are met. Or perhaps you could send an email to the Minnesota Orchestra explaining why you aren’t contributing yet. If you don’t have faith that your emails will be read (and yes, it is true that many negative emails went unacknowledged during the lockout), CC Save Our Symphony Minnesota (saveoursymphonymn at gmail dot com), and I can offer you a personal guarantee that they will get to the people within the MOA who need to see them.

So. I’m saying all this because it’s a lead-up to some news…

Thank you

My mom and I gave!

Yep, the Minnesota Orchestra is in the midst of its #CommUNITYinConcert fundraising effort, in which every dollar up to $100k will be matched in July. My mom and I really liked the idea, and we discussed the pros and cons of the investment, and then we gave.

I followed the Minnesota Orchestra lockout from the beginning (well, from before the beginning). I’m pretty sure there’s not another “civilian” who knows the ins and outs of the conflict better than I do. I milked the negotiating incompetence of the Minnesota Orchestral Association dry. Hell, I came close to making a career out of it.

So if I, the loud poor skeptic, gave what is a lot of money for me… If even I am optimistic that the flower of potential can indeed bloom here…

Will I regret the decision this time next year? Maybe. But right now the MOA is moving in a positive direction, one that was unimaginable six months ago. And I feel it’s important to send the message in my own very small way: this change is good.

Of course I sincerely hope you join me – but I also understand if you’re not ready yet.

And while you have your wallet out…

The Young Musicians of Minnesota (YMM) are hosting their own Kickstarter fundraiser this July to cover the cost of renting Ted Mann Concert Hall on August first. DETAILS HERE! These entrepreneurial teens and twentysomethings have  already reached half of their $4500 fundraising goal in a few days, so that’s hugely encouraging, but of course there’s still work to do! A gift to YMM might be an alternative investment if you’re still leery of the MOA. If you support YMM, you’re also supporting an outreach partnership with the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, as there will be a variety of musicians sitting in for the performance, granting these hard-working young musicians priceless exposure to world-class virtuosos. I honestly can’t think of a worthier musical organization to give to. To prove it, I gave to that fundraiser, too… Not as much as I wish I could, but I gave. Even a donation of $5 or $10 helps! If you aren’t in a position to donate, or if you’ve already blown your philanthropic budget this July due to the MOA challenge grant, then please, come one, come all to the concert on August first at 7pm! (And while you’re there, keep an eye out for my program notes!)

Okay. So despite the topics of my last few entries, it’s not my intention to turn into a promotional arm for the Minnesota Orchestral Association. But I did want to talk one-on-one, friend-to-friend, about these two hugely important initiatives, and offer you a chance to give if you feel so moved. I hope I’ve given you something to think about. If I haven’t, well, then sit tight, because there’s a lot more content coming. And if you want to chat about this whole big ambiguous topic, the comment section is open, as always.

Anywho! I’ll see you at Orchestra Hall this fall, as we all commit together to making a fiscally stable world-class orchestra in Minneapolis a reality.

With deepest warmest sincerest gratitude for your time, thoughts, and readership -

Emily

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Sommerfest!

The air conditioning is roaring; the mosquitoes are feasting on my flesh; and those annoying explosion-happy neighbors are already gearing up for the Fourth of July. I have a feeling that Sommerfest is right around the corner.

The musicians recently wrote on their Facebook page:

Here’s the deal: buy an Easy Pass Package with 6 flexible vouchers redeemable now for Sommerfest performances as well for all of our Fall concerts beginning July 25. Select your seats from our best available locations and beat the rush before tickets go on sale to the public August 7. 

You can buy Easy Passes here.

So with that offer in mind, if you want to simultaneously get a jump start on the new season and also sample the joys of Sommerfest…

May I make some suggestions?

*Emily swoops in with a massive sampler platter of delicious Sommerfest-y morsels*

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Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra and Chorale, Heitzeg, Stravinsky, Orff

Time for the last Microreview of the season! *gets weepy*

Catch this fabulous program tonight at 8pm and tomorrow at 2pm at Orchestra Hall; tickets at minnesotaorchestra.org. SOTL Microreviews will return this fall as we all embark on the Best Season Evar! Feel free to contribute a Microreview of your own, too.

My word count comes from this week’s enjoyable Rob Hubbard Pi-Press review: 429. I think it’s best for everyone if we forget the Strib’s review of weirdness ever existed, so 429 words it is. Here goes!

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This week the sacred and the sexual mix unabashedly in a program of Stravinsky, Orff, and Minnesota composer Steve Heitzeg.

I’m not so familiar with Heitzeg, although I love his soundtrack for Death of the Dream, the TPT documentary about abandoned Midwestern farmsteads. It was sparse and devastatingly effective. So it was interesting to hear his voice in this new context. “Now We Start The Great Round” has the flavor of movie music written for a Copland biopic, and it serves as a sweeping curtain raiser. But it finished before it started, especially when the stage change took half as long as the piece itself.

After the Stage Change of Interminability came Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. Way too late I realized: maybe it’s irresponsible to write about a performance of this piece, especially when

  1. I’ve never heard it before,
  2. I don’t know anything about choirs, and
  3. my two instruments have left the stage (violins! violas! come back!).

So I put the critiquing ears away and just soaked in the ambiance. From that perspective, the Symphony was all melancholy angularity, lit by the glow of the sound of the Chorale. It sounded like candlelight flickering in an Escher cathedral. Lush, sacred…and very odd. Last night I didn’t grasp the narrative. It was all very lovely, but meh. Then again, I don’t find much Stravinsky seductive, so…

Oh, you're the bad boy of music alright.

Oh, you’re the bad boy of music alright

The narrative for Carmina Burana, on the other hand, hit like an anvil to the head. From the first notes it felt like straight-line winds were blowing over the radio. O FOR-TUN-A, indeed. I think the Minnesota Chorale put every single emotion of being locked out of Orchestra Hall for sixteen months into that opening phrase. The bitter sneer of those consonants! My takeaway? Do not get on the wrong side of the Minnesota Chorale. Damn.

It was immediately clear that members of the Chorale could not only sing Carmina in their sleep, but under general anesthetic. That familiarity could easily lead to a bored performance, but of course they’re above that. Their effervescent joy at being back on that stage was contagious, and so deeply satisfying to hear. The Orchestra supported them all the way, but – dare I say it? – it was the Chorale’s show last night. And deservedly so.

As for the baritone in Ego Sum Abbas, I wish I sang that well drunk.

To sum up the 2014 season:

Away with sadness!
summer returns,
and now departs
cruel winter…

wretched is the person
who neither lives,
nor lusts
under summer’s spell.

***

Addendum: An earlier version of this review misspelled composer Steve Heitzeg’s name. Awkward, and my apologies.

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Doug Kelley: Still Problematic

(Warning for language.)

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I’m so excited about the new season and our bright future. And I seriously cannot wait to work with people at the MOA who I was unable to work with during the lockout.

But. Fault lines from a multi-year conflict remain. (No, duh.) And if anyone ever cites false or misleading claims about the negotiations, well, then I have no compunction about setting the record straight. And I’ll use a sharp tongue if necessary, kum-ba-yah-ing be damned.

Board member Doug Kelley came forward today in MinnPost to reminisce about the Petters case and…the Minnesota Orchestra lockout. (Because those two things go together…I guess…) Remember Doug Kelley? He originated the catchphrase “frolic and detour” (frolicking detour?) and was the management go-to spokesman when Michael Henson was so inexplicably unavailable. (Which was most of the time.) Kelley’s stances on the lockout have been viewed as problematic by many observers, as even MinnPost acknowledges. Scott Chamberlain has also had issues with Kelley’s claims in the past, so it’s not just me who finds Kelley so…problematic. So with that in mind…

From MinnPost:

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