Category Archives: My Writing

#livelarking: Minnesota Orchestra IN CUBA!: Night 2

5:55 PM. The second Minnesota Orchestra broadcast from Cuba is rapidly approaching! Please join me! Facebook, Twitter (those two places were where most of the action was last night), or here on the blog. So pour your drinks and make your Cuban inspired dinner. Please don’t go to Taco John’s.

6:06 PM. If you need some pre-concert reading, take a peek at Scott Chamberlain’s blog, Mask of the Flower Prince! He’s on the ground in Cuba tonight. Pretty sure that this is the first orchestra-related crowdfunded arts journalism effort ever. And that is awesome.

6:28 PM. This shirt is in honor of Richard Marshall, Minnesota Orchestra violist and notorious pun lover.

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7:01 PM. Brian Newhouse begins the broadcast with a series of touching observations about the contrasts between beauty and hardship in Cuba. He reports that the Cubans have been hugely welcoming to our American orchestra! Flutist Wendy Williams observes she feels she is living in Technicolor in Havana. We’re then treated to a Minnesota Orchestra Ibert recording. *excitement*

7:19 PM. The highlights of the broadcasts so far – aside from the amazing performances, obviously – have been the MPR interviews with Cuban music students. I feel honored that we can hear snippets of their stories, hopes, and dreams! I hope that the Minnesota Orchestra inspires their studies as profoundly as they inspired mine…

7:27 PM. Feeling some intense hometown pride as Brian Newhouse runs snippets of interviews with Cuban concertgoers who express gratitude and who (not surprisingly) want the Orchestra to return. (I’m starting the hashtag now: #CubaTour2016.) One woman says they don’t have this sound in Cuba. Not many places do. We are beyond blessed to have this ensemble in our backyard, just in case you haven’t thought about that lately.

7:42 PM. An astonishing moment as the Cuban and American national anthems are played one after the other, with loud enthusiastic applause following. Wow.

7:53 PM. The Bernstein Symphonic Dances are going along swimmingly, with plenty of verve and swing!

8:06 PM. The orchestra is fine form, sounding relaxed and assured. I forget sometimes how truly lovely the Bernstein Symphonic Dances are, so it’s fabulous to be reminded.

8:15 PM. Audiences immediately reward the Bernstein with resounding Bravos! Brian Newhouse muses aloud if this is partly due to the extraordinary gesture of the two side-by-side national anthems that preceded the first half of the show.

8:16 PM. Last night MPR interviewed a Cuban audience member, who observed how in the old days, luminaries such as Heifetz and Rubenstein used to visit annually. Let’s hope the high-level music-making resumes and continues.

8:31 PM. During intermission, Minnesota Public Radio is playing an excerpt from Osmo’s first concert as music director with the Minnesota Orchestra… Grieg, Peer Gynt. I was in my early teens back then. Feeling a serious time warp. So much has happened. So much. And I’m grateful.

8:40 PM. The orchestra launches into a threateningly intense Prokofiev performance. Shades of a delicious nightmare.

8:45 PM. The lower strings, cellos in particular, are really grabbing my attention tonight…

8:55 PM. As the Prokofiev continues, the music dances back and forth between carefree sarcasm and mesmerizing, practically otherworldly beauty.

9:00 PM. Practically had a heart attack when my signal dipped out for half a second. I’m clinging to these sounds like they’re oxygen.

9:01 PM. ~~~DRAMA~~~ as the broadcast signal goes down! OMG! But Brian Newhouse remains cool as ever, smoothly citing “gremlins” and redirecting us to a Sudbin / Vanska / Minnesota Orchestra recording. You can tell they’ve rehearsed what to do if this happens. We’re in good hands.

9:08 PM. The signal is back online, returning us to glorious Prokofiev!

9:16 PM. In the last few minutes alone we’ve been treated to so many ghostly sounds: brass choirs, so-soft-you-can’t-breathe string chords, and now some tenderly foreboding oboe lines. The end was so quiet, so magical… The applause begins slowly, audience stunned.

9:20 PM. Now to bravos!

9:24 PM. Two encores. Eric Sjostrom, Orchestra librarian, has just shared on my Facebook page: “The first encore was the Caturla Danza lucumi, from Three Cuban Dances. Now they are playing Malagueña by Ernesto Lecuona.”

9:30 PM. And the final encore is the same encore as last night, Säkkijärven Polka, as arranged by The Man himself, Osmo Vanska. As Eric noted: “There is no more music in the folders.” He would know!

9:35 PM. We end this extraordinary evening with a recording of turbulent Sibelius. I remember that not too long ago Sibelius 2 was being played at the Minneapolis Convention Center in the middle of a dark, cold winter of discontent…a winter both literal and metaphorical. That winter is now over. And so we pass into a bright spring of possibility.

I really loved the dress I wore that night. And now is as good a time as any, between the tour news, and the Sibelius, and (most excitingly) the likely Osmo / musician contract extensions alluded to today in the Strib, to share that I will be PACKING said dress…in my suitcase…for my flight…next March…to New York City!

New York! Carnegie! Hilary Hahn! Sibelius! EXCITEMENT!

Lots of details have yet to be ironed out, but I just wanted to give a little teaser that SOTL is going on the road to NYC in March 2016 to cover the Orchestra’s next tour, and I could NOT be more excited to share the trip with my dear readers!

So thank you one and all for joining me on the journey – not just to Minneapolis, or to Havana, or to Carnegie, but to this moment! An overwhelming moment that transcends place and time.

I won’t be #livelarking or microreviewing this week; I’m set to visit Orchestra Hall in person to catch Stan’s Brahms and Beethoven and welcome our oh-so-seductive heroes back home to Minnesota. Nonetheless, stay tuned, and be sure to follow my Facebook and Twitter page for up-to-the-minute Minnesota Orchestra news. (And be sure to check both those places to read what went down on the sites during the broadcast tonight!) Love you guys. Signing off –

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Hola, Cuba! #MNOrchCuba <3

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#livelarking: Minnesota Orchestra IN CUBA!: Night 1

5:35 PM. Hey guys! So excited to see you online. Welcome to my first Cuba #livelarking entry. The MPR broadcast of the Minnesota Orchestra’s historic Cuba concert starts in about ninety minutes, so set your clocks. I invite you all to join me and other fans online. Celebratory listening is just more fun when others join you!! Follow along at #livelarking on Twitter and my Facebook page, and feel free to refresh this page for updates and commentary as the night goes on.

I felt that this milestone deserved a brief video entry, so I took to my backyard to show you a bit how I’m celebrating today, and also to give a major thank you to the people who made this trip possible.

Well, before it gets much later, I’ve got to make something to eat for dinner. Turns out a tiny tiny plate of nachos doesn’t really hold a ravenous blogger. I’ll be back!

6:45 PM. What’s the funnest thing to do when you’re bouncing off the walls waiting for a historic orchestra broadcast? SELFIES, OBVIOUSLY. Tell me and show me where you’re listening!

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Listening and ready to go wooohooooo

6:54 PM. Just for old time’s sake…a GIF.

7:04 PM. Brian Newhouse gets philosophical with a wave metaphor, comparing the ocean waves to the waves of cultural change coming to Cuba. MPR then gets the party started with a recording of Gershwin’s Cuban Overture by (who else?) the Minnesota Orchestra.

7:19 PM. The recording of Beethoven 8 reminds me what a treasure our orchestra has been, is, and…thanks to you…always will be. Counting down the minutes until the live performance (ten).

7:29 PM. This Beethoven 1 finale is full of such verve and energy. Every chord is like a blast. I’m guessing we’ll hear some of that trademark energy tonight! (Oh yeah, Captain Obvious is in the house!)

7:38 PM. The instruments and their players arrive onstage with a welcome that sounds very wild, very Minnesotan!

7:42 PM. I will not soon forget the sheer violence of that first chord, later followed by the contrast of the melting winds. Glorious!

7:49 PM. My orchestra is back in business. *drops mic* *walks away* *comes back to listen*

7:52 PM. We’re now treated to a gorgeously sensitive opening to the Beethoven Choral Fantasy by Cuban-born pianist Frank Fernández.

8:04 PM. I’m not familiar with the Choral Fantasy – so feel free to pull my Critic’s Credibility Card (c) – but I’m enjoying these sounds very much. I can just hear the passion dripping from them.

8:11 PM. There is such a beautiful quality of ethereality (is that a word? well, it is now) to the Cuban National Choir and Coro Vocal Leo. Really affecting.

8:15 PM. The crowd sounds hugely excited and appreciative! Deepest gratitude to Havana for welcoming our musicians with such wide open arms.

8:22 PM. MPR’s report on how the Minnesota Orchestra worked with students yesterday is really amazing. If you missed it, it’s worth your while to find and listen to. If I can get a link, I’ll share it. Support MPR!! Edit: here’s a link to a story, although not the full-length one featured on the broadcast.

8:33 PM. I’m really enjoying the auxiliary musical selections, which so far have included the Bernstein Divertimento and movements from the Minnesota Orchestra Vanska Beethoven 1 and 8 recordings.

8:38 PM. We’re back from intermission. For those of you who were taking bets what time I would start crying, it was at 8:40 CST, at the opening couple minutes of the Eroica. This orchestra and this piece have featured profoundly in my life recently, and I’m feeling a weird combination of overwhelming pride, sadness, excitement, and sheer unadulterated joy. It is a miraculous thing when old music intertwines with your modern life, as it has intertwined with the lives of so many generations before us.

8:52 PM. I’m needing the Kleenex now. The performance was great before but something has just entered another sphere of intensity. I don’t know if they can feel it in the hall, but I feel it over the airwaves.

9:00 PM. I’m sorry to keep raving, but this performance has a depth and beauty that is beyond words. So every description I come up with feels completely inadequate. The political significance of this, the emotional significance of this, the historical significance of this, the musical significance of this… It’s almost too much to handle. Like many others, I’ve devoted my life to this orchestra, and performances like these are why. I’m not sure if people who haven’t been in the trenches like we have get how truly significant this moment is, but trust me: it is. This is a rebirth, a resurrection, the likes of which this industry has never seen before. We are so blessed.

9:14 PM. Such subtlety to the funeral march, with so many details to enjoy and absorb. And now such exacting saucy triumph in the scherzo.

9:24 PM. I am having SO MUCH FUN on Facebook and Twitter I’m neglecting the blog. Stop by!!! You still have a few minutes before the show ends!

9:30-ish PM… Victorious ecstasy.

9:45 PM. Um…I think…it’s over. I’m exhausted by the excellence and the emotion. I don’t know what to say. I’m afraid if I gush too much more I’ll lose all credibility.

So let me end with: This orchestra is back, baby.

I’ll see you tomorrow, same place, same time, for the Minnesota Orchestra’s second concert live from Havana!

And if you want to reread my REAL TIME REACTIONS, take a peek at my perhaps too overly enthusiastic Twitter page and this Facebook thread!

Love you guys!

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#livelarking: Minnesota Orchestra, Eric Whitacre

7:24 PM. I’m playing two concerts tomorrow, so I won’t be able to Microreview like usual tomorrow morning. The fact that I have a life is the bad (?) news. The good (?) news is that I’m liveblogging tonight’s Minnesota Public Radio broadcast. As I said on Facebook, “Mainly I just want to have FUN, enjoy a performance by my fave orchestra, and take a break from pesky extras like ‘correct grammar’ or ‘cohesiveness of thought.'”

Speaking of Facebook, I have a Facebook page, and if you want to join the liveblogging fray there, you can. Or you can hang out on Twitter with the hashtag #livelarking, because lower case letters are cool, and lower case letters with alliteration are even cooler. And I’ll be updating this entry, too. We’ll see how adeptly I can cycle between three sites.

We’ve got about half an hour before the broadcast starts, so pop some popcorn and tell all your two friends that might be interested in this. Standing by.

7:36 PM. For those of you who don’t know, I’m a violinist and violist. My sojourns in choir were sad, sad, tremendously sad failures. So I’m gonna be honest with you: I’m about to lose my Eric Whitacre virginity. In front of all of you. Publicly. I know he’s a guy with long blonde hair that I’m assuming moves around dramatically when he conducts or breathes, but other than that, I’m completely clueless. I also see he’s a social media star, with fifty bazillion Facebook followers. I can appreciate that.

I DID watch this, though: an Eric Whitacre interview with Minnesota Public Radio’s Brian Newhouse. Too bad I shared this seventy-minute video with you fifteen minutes before the concert started. But trust me, it’s good. You would have liked it.

7:51 PM. So, somewhere in Minneapolis there’s a room of 2200 people reading these program notes. I’ll join them. Except I’m in my pajamas with no makeup on. #livingthedream

7:57 PM.Ecstatic Waters is music of dialectical tension—a juxtaposition of contradictory or opposing musical and extra-musical elements and an attempt to resolve them.” Sentences like these are why I’ll never be smart enough to be a composer.

8:00 PM. I’m hearing celestial choral sounds! Eric Whitacre must be in the house.

8:08 PM. First up is Lux Arumque, by Whitacre. These are hugely moving cinematic sounds. But I’m guessing they’re even more affecting in choral format, blessed by the humanity of the human voice.

8:13 PM. Blow It Up, Start Again: funky.

8:15 PM. So do choral geeks view Eric as like, choral Jesus? Is that a thing? Damn, he’s got charisma.

8:19 PM. Quiet City by Aaron Copland. Oh, Marni. Oh, Manny. Suddenly I feel like I’m in a big city, free and lonely. Which I guess is the point.

8:25 PM. The dynamics. I don’t want to type. The sound of my typing will cover the sounds up.

8:32 PM. Onto Stephen Bryant’s Ecstatic Waters. I’m interested in this piece within the first five seconds, so that’s a good sign.

8:35 PM. Thankfully I don’t need to understand the big composer words to enjoy the journey here. For this first listen, at least, the little soprano tinkling is such an effective device.

8:41 PM. Now it sounds like we’ve entered a cold warehouse. We’re characters in a movie thriller. There’s some kind of cyborg dragon in the next room. We are attractive and wearing skin-tight leather post-apocalyptic costumes, and we have buzzing devices that are telling us we need to move in for the attack right…now.

8:44 PM. That’s clearly Satan’s dental drill.

8:48 PM. I think the cyborg dragon has been vanquished, but I’m not sure. It might just be unconscious. Now we’re looking into each other’s eyes, haunted by the failures of our past. Our hands are shaking as we try to disarm the bomb. I know there’s a bomb we’re disarming cuz I hear it ticking.

8:53 PM. Wait a minute, I’m hearing slivers of Quiet City here. I think. Awesome. They aren’t direct quotes – I don’t think – but they’re emotional quotes, certainly. The programmer knew what he was doing. I see what you did there.

8:57 PM. Wait, intermission? What? Time flies when you’re having fun and talking to readers on three separate media platforms. This has been a really enjoyable concert. I like the feeling that I’m listening with you. Brief plug for the Minnesota Orchestra’s historic Cuba concerts: I’m planning on doing this #livelarking thing again next Friday.

9:07:15 PM. The all-enveloping ambiance of the Deep Field app sounds very cool. I’ll totally get the same effect as the audience in the hall. I have a $5 pair of headphones, and I’m listening over a compressed Internet stream.

9:07:20 PM. Also, this blog specializes in sarcasm.

9:16 PM. Looking at the program notes again, as you do during intermission. I have to appreciate a man who plays with animal crackers.

9:18 PM. Eric Whitacre shares a quote from the late Stephen Paulus: “Why go with your fifth bad idea when you can go with your first bad idea?” I feel sad I never had a chance to meet him except through his music.

9:20 PM. I can tell that the Minnesota Chorale enjoys singing under the direction of this man. I don’t know how I can tell that. I just can. And of course the Paulus is beautiful.

9:26 PM. We’ve gotta read a script, too, to fully appreciate the obscure intense plot-heavy masterwork that is Godzilla Eats Las Vegas. *balances reading script, blogging, tweeting, Facebook status updating*

9:29 PM. Over on Twitter, I formally requested an Eric Whitacre interpretation of Airport: 79, my favorite bad movie, and I’m going to repeat the request here.

9:35 PM. I’m gonna assume there is an army of Elvises advancing on stage. Gonna go with it.

9:37 PM. Oh no, in my Twitter- and Facebook-updating I got lost in the plot. I think we’re somewhere in between Wayne Newton’s death and the pirate ships.

9:41 PM. Oh the silly. Praise be to the silly. Remember how back in September, just a few short months ago, the Minnesota Chorale was nailing the ethereal Mahler Resurrection symphony? Versatility, thy name is Minnesota Chorale. Bravo.

9:47 PM. Off to the cosmos.

9:51 PM. Grace in the face of hiccups is a trait that I admire greatly, and one in which I am completely lacking. (Someone’s phone went off as the piece was about to begin, in case you’re wondering where that vague philosophical thought came from.)

9:54 PM. Enjoying what I’m hearing so far. That being said, the work’s biggest highlight – the use of the app – could also be its biggest distraction. We’ll be able to judge in a few minutes.

9:58 PM. I think there’s one thing I know for sure, though: this is not a piece best appreciated using cheap headphones. Go see this one live, don’t judge it on recordings.

10:02 PM. Also, if you can’t hear a live version, try listening to it in the dark. You can absorb aural ambiances much better in the dark. One of my readers is listening under the stars. That is such a magical suggestion.

10:04 PM. I just opened my bedroom window. The spring air is cold, and smells rainy.

10:07 PM. What if we thought of Deep Field as less of a piece of music than an experience? How would that change how we listen?

10:10 PM. Don’t really want to turn on the lights. Just want to crawl into bed after that, and dream.

10:12 PM. So here are some quick preliminary thoughts on Deep Field, subject to change (as quick preliminary thoughts are apt to do). I think it’s probably more successful in person than on recording. I think it’s completely transporting. I think any hiccups with the app will clear up after more people get used to the idea. I think it is best listened to in the darkness, on the prairie. I liked it. And I think this has been a very, very fun night. Bravo Minnesota Orchestra, Minnesota Chorale, Marni Hougham and Manny Laureano, Eric Whitacre, et al. Nights like these bring fun into the concert experience. It almost…somehow…makes the quality of the music secondary, if the experience around it is fun and appealing enough.

I’ll catch you #livelarking next Friday, when we travel to Cuba together!

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Review: Minnesota Orchestra in Bernstein, Heitzeg, Copland, Greenstein

Giddy excitement, bittersweet reflection, screams from audience members…

Nope, it wasn’t a lockout concert (although it felt like it). Rather, it was the first show in the Minnesota Orchestra’s 2015 American Voices festival, a massive extravaganza held Friday night at Orchestra Hall. How massive was it? So massive that the ushers told us anxiously and individually as they scanned our tickets: “Intermission is only fifteen minutes.” Aww, yeah. This is my kind of concert.

The show – and it really was a show – opened with Bernstein’s Divertimento. Sassy, sassy, saucy. As the piece went along, the classical trappings of the instrumentation kinda clattered away, and by ten minutes in, it felt like we were in a classy 2000-seat strip club. The hams in the brass section were milking the Blues movement for every single penny it was worth. Maybe even a few pennies’ more. During this section, I noticed a violist or two glancing over at the brass with a raised eyebrow. I can’t tell if they were skeptical or just jealous.

Possibly the least sexy instrument in the orchestra.

We can’t really pull off the strip club vibe with this.

Next came the premiere of Steve Heitzeg’s American Nomad trumpet concerto, written for Minnesota Orchestra musician Charles Lazarus. It was a huge hit in the hall, and the Strib wanted to marry the piece and have its babies. I’m sincerely glad it was loved. But my own personal feelings were more ambivalent. I was discontent throughout the opening. The abundant movement, paradoxically, struck me as frustratingly static. The middle movement was more successful, its pale, sparse scoring gorgeous and affecting. The written part of the third movement struck me as rather stale and routine…until the improv started, and then it exploded to life. In general it felt like music you’d use for a Copland documentary if the original Copland was still under copyright. But of course your mileage will vary. I was definitely in the minority. And as I’ve said on the blog before, I think Heitzeg’s soundtrack absolutely made the unforgettable PBS documentary “Death of the Dream.” I have no ax to grind.

Also, here’s a shout-out to Charles Lazarus. I know nothing about jazz, trumpet, or jazz trumpet. But what a mesmerizing soloist he was, in a very understated Minnesotan way. He has the aura of a grown-up band geek, with the haircut and glasses. His stage presence combines a cool modesty and a steely confidence, and he was such a treat to watch.

But. Let’s face it. The inevitable highlight of the evening was always going to be the return of former Minnesota Orchestra clarinetist Burt Hara to play the Copland concerto. Continue reading

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Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra in Griffes, Rachmaninoff, and Stravinsky

Not a single professional reviewer discussed the concert this week, so I’ll throw out my word count limit.

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This week the Minnesota Orchestra’s program featured three pieces I’ve never sat down to listen to in their entirety: The Pleasure Dome of Kubla-Kahn by Charles Griffes, Rachmaninoff third concerto, and…the Rite of Spring. I know. You’re allowed to crucify me. It’s probably the single most unforgivable blind spot I have.

Conductor Michael Stern was on the podium. I have to transcribe what he said in his brief pre-performance address because I don’t want his words vanishing into the Mists of Time. He was talking about how the works on the program had the force of tradition behind them, yet all three struck out on new paths of their own…

And ladies and gentlemen, I must say publicly, this is the way I see the Minnesota Orchestra: with its long tradition, with its great history, yet now they are on the precipice of inventing something new. And there is a very good reason for that. They have great leadership. You have a great music director. You have a community that believes in music. But you also have these incredible musicians who, despite the recent past, exhibit a kind of bonding solidarity and a commitment to craft and art and a devotion to making great music happen for this city and for the entire region which I know, from my personal experience, and from all my colleagues, is nothing short of inspiring. And you are lucky to have them in your city.

[applause] [applause] [applause]

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Critiquing Criticism of Season Announcements

I’m not sure how to introduce this one besides Greg Sandow recently wrote an article about the Minnesota Orchestra’s season announcement press release, and I was unconvinced by what he said. Here’s why.

Mr. Sandow begins:

I don’t mean to pick on the Minnesota Orchestra.

Of all the sentences in the English language, “I don’t mean to pick on the Minnesota Orchestra” is among the most inspirational to me.

I don’t mean to pick on the Minnesota Orchestra.

Which is why 73% of the words in Mr. Sandow’s 1385 word article are about the Minnesota Orchestra…

Or on anyone.

Okay…

But this is the time of year when symphony orchestras announce next year’s season, and their press releases…are weak. The most basic fact about classical music today is that we need new listeners. But I can’t see these press releases doing much to find those. Which to me is a serious problem.

Is there an art form where season announcement press releases attract new attendees? Seriously, is that a thing? If it is, I wanna fall in love with THAT art form, because THAT sounds like a way easier field to make a living in.

Quick question: who among my readers went to their first orchestra concert because the season announcement press release was cool? I ask because I’m trying to put myself in a newcomer’s shoes. The closest parallel I can think of: I’ve never gone to the Guthrie. Therefore, I don’t read the Guthrie’s press releases. The Guthrie is going to hook this particular twentysomething via recommendations from friends, advertisements, social media, cheap tickets, and, once I attend for the first time, a meaningful high quality experience at the theater.

Can’t we learn to talk about classical music, in a way that might make compelling, so we can people — especially people outside our world — reasons to go to our performances?

First, I don’t know what “learn to talk about classical music, in a way that might make compelling, so we can people” means. I can guess what it means but I’m not sure. Second, I don’t think a season announcement press release is the first place we should be spending our compellingness energy on. Recommendations from friends, advertisements, social media, and cheap tickets are going to give first-timers way more compelling reasons to go to performances. Make those hooks compelling first.

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The Lark Ascending

The last time I heard the Eroica symphony was in July 2012: the Minnesota Orchestra playing in Winona for the Minnesota Beethoven Festival. My mom wanted to bring me. Her daughter had no money. She had no money. But together we had some money, and so we went.

In those days, Erin Keefe was the new concertmaster. In fact, in the first half of the Eroica concert, she made her concerto debut with the Minnesota Orchestra in the Beethoven violin concerto. A man named Osmo Vänskä was conducting. That performance marked the beginning of a very promising musical relationship.

The Orchestra’s Eroica that day was thrilling. Every pitch was hit, every jarring accent pounded. But looking back, there was not much joy to it. There was fire, conviction, energy, passion – but not much joy. It was an Eroica that intimidated in its hard-edged perfection, like a diamond you’d admire breathlessly but be afraid to wear. And I have a recording off MPR of that July weekend’s concerts, so I’m not reconstructing this entirely by memory.

I remember talking briefly to one musician after the show and somehow intuitively understanding that he was very, very distracted. In fact, there was a distant look in all the players’ eyes that scared me. I remember fretting. I felt I had seen something very important without understanding why it was very important, and I drove home with Mom feeling blown away and very, very uneasy.

Turns out negotiations for the musicians’ new contract had begun that spring. They were going badly. To the best of my knowledge, that performance – in a middle school auditorium in Winona, Minnesota – was the last time that Osmo Vänskä conducted the Minnesota Orchestra before the sixteen month lockout broke everything apart.

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Winging Up and Up

On March 9th, my mother Dorothy (Dodie) Hogstad passed away at the age of 59. Less than six weeks had elapsed from her cancer diagnosis to her death. Her dad had died a little over seven months previous.

My mother and I, August 1995

My mother and me, late August 1995

We are overwhelmed and humbled by the fundraiser my friends and readers set up to help the family with the many expenses associated with her passage, and I simply do not know what to say besides: thank you.

Thank you.

After Stephen Colbert’s beloved mom Lorna Colbert passed away, he did a segment on The Report in tribute to her. So much of what he said applies to my own relationship with my mother. You can watch the whole thing here, but here are some excerpts:

I’ve been away from the Report for a week because one week ago today my mother, Lorna Tuck Colbert, died. And I want to thank everybody who offered their thoughts and prayers. Now if you watch this show, and you like this show, that’s because of everybody who works here, and I’m lucky to be one of them. But when you watch the show, if you also like me, that’s because of my mom.

She made a very loving home for us… Hugs never needed a reason in her house. Singing and dancing were encouraged, except at the dinner table…

She was fun.

She knew more than her share of tragedy… But her love for her family and her faith in God somehow gave her the strength not only to go on, but to love life without bitterness, and to instill in all of us a gratitude for every day we had together…

We were the light of her life and she let us know it til the end.

And that’s it. Thank you for listening. Now we can get to the truly important work of television broadcasting, which is what she would want me to do. When I was leaving her last week, I leaned over and I said, “Mom, I’m going back to New York to do the show.” And she said, “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

So. [deep breath]

With that in mind, this is the Colbert Report.

And this is Song of the Lark.

So. Once I settle our affairs, and the time is right, and the finances work out, I will be moving from Eau Claire and starting a new life in Minnesota. Her rebirth into death will ultimately bring a rebirth to the blog, to my work, to my education, to my passion for great orchestral music. There is no more beautiful final gift she could have given.

Thankfully, her presence is enveloping. I dearly hope that her legacy of love and love of beauty and love of hilarious snark can somehow live on in me. And thankfully, music heals. I’ll be at Orchestra Hall a lot this spring, so I anticipate a lot of healing. I look forward to being the best I can possibly be, and to making you – and her – proud. Keep an eye on this space.

In lieu of a funeral I am in the early stages of planning a celebration of her life to take place sometime this year: a fabulous chamber music concert with Minnesota Orchestra musicians as guest artists. I will keep the community posted when I know more.

A few adapted lines of George Meredith’s poem The Lark Ascending:

For singing till her heaven fills, / Tis love of earth that she instils, / And ever winging up and up, / Our valley is her golden cup, / And she the wine which overflows / To lift us with her as she goes…

The sunset that appeared a few hours after Mom slipped away.

The sunset that appeared a few hours after Mom slipped away

With much gratitude – Emily

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Farewell to 2014

Well that was quite the year.

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In the tradition of years past, here’s a New Year’s summary of what all happened at this address over the past twelve months.

Here are the year’s most popular entries in reverse order. Spoiler alert: it was an Atlantapalooza!

5. Doug Hertz Takes On The Crazy People. 4 October. Woodruff Arts Center board chair Doug Hertz gave the strangest interview of the year to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, where he called his musicians “crazy” and suggested that his music director could help the negotiations with “ideas.”

4. Stanley Romanstein’s Massive Bonuses: 2012 Lockout Edition! 18 September. Former Atlanta Symphony CEO Stanley Romanstein raked in $45k in bonuses during the first musician lockout in 2012, and people were pissed.

3. Naked Nymphs and the Atlanta Symphony. 3 October. Arguably the weirdest entry of the year, in which I took a wide-eyed look at the Atlanta Symphony’s bewildering 2014-15 season brochure, which boasted massive naked ladies and lots of strategically flung red scarves.

2. Stanley Romanstein’s Massive Bonuses. 8 September. The #2 entry in 2013 was Michael Henson’s Massive Bonuses, so it’s only fair that the companion piece “Stanley Romanstein’s Massive Bonuses” received the #2 slot in 2014.

And the most popular entry…

1. The Atlanta Symphony Facebook Page Loses It. 11 September. It’s not often that you get to watch a major American orchestra throw a temper tantrum on their Facebook page, but 2014 was a truly special year. It also included my favorite reaction GIF of 2014.

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I spent a lot of time in the early part of 2014 volunteering for Save Our Symphony Minnesota. (As you can imagine, during the Henson / Osmo showdown and resulting administrative churn, there were a lot of things that community members needed to do to make their voices heard.) Mainly because of all that volunteer work, and also because of some sad losses in my personal life, there were only 41 entries in 2014, as opposed to 97 in 2013, and traffic declined by 36%. In other news, readers visited from 155 countries this year, as opposed to 149 last year.

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As for personal favorites…

Favorite Blog: Scott Chamberlain had some great entries at Mask of the Flower Prince. He was extraordinarily prolific this year, and he provided lots of food for thought about the Met Opera negotiations in particular. Scott’s now president of the Minnesota Chorale board, so that’s cool.

Favorite Microreview: the November 14 concert

Favorite Ousted CEO in the Non-Profit World: Impossible to choose

Favorite Non-Ousted CEO in the Non-Profit World: Kevin Smith.

Favorite Interview: Actually, my only interview…a chat with Emily Green, founder of Young Musicians of Minnesota

Favorite Essay / Favorite Concert / Favorite Life Experience: the Sibelius 1 and 4 concert in March. It will never be repeated. It will never be surpassed. My essay about that concert is here.

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And in case you missed it first time around, here’s the 2014 SOTL Advent calendar, which surveys the year and includes 24 wintry-themed music videos. If you haven’t stopped by yet, and you enjoy that kind of shameless nostalgia, be sure to check it out!

2015 will be a crucial year for the Minnesota Orchestra. I hope you’re ready to donate, to support, to brag, and most importantly, to buy tickets! The possibilities are truly endless, but first we all need to step up to the plate together.

And I’m sure you will. You always have, because you’re the best. Catch you in 2015.

Some notes I'm working on

Some doodles I’m working on

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Cost Disease Confusion: Part 1

Ever since the Minnesota Orchestra lockout began, I’ve read a lot of articles on arts administration. (And from a unique perspective, too: not as a board member or an employee or a union shill, but as a concerned audience member.) Once in a while I’ll disagree with a particular point, debate it with friends, and then tuck the insights away.

But. Last month I read an article that made me say “wait a minute…” so many times, I knew it could be used as bloggy fodder and discussion. It’s called Baumol’s Cost Disease Is Killing Me, and it was written by management consultant Duncan M. Webb. I feel very strongly that post-Minnesota, people who are still talking about Baumol’s Cost Disease in the way that Webb does are doing themselves and the institutions they advise a disservice. So I thought I’d take the chance to think out loud about some of the points he raises…from an audience member’s point of view.

Webb’s entry begins:

I first read Baumol and Bowen’s The Economic Dilemma of the Performing Arts some 20 years ago, almost 30 years after it was first published in 1965. The theory was fairly straightforward: the problem in our sector is that because there are no productivity gains associated with the creation of the work (it takes the same time and energy to rehearse and perform a Brahm’s Requiem today as it did when first performed in 1868), and because costs always increase over time and earned revenue growth is limited by a range of market forces, we are doomed to fall further and further behind, essentially forcing the more aggressive pursuit of contributed income just to balance the budget. And the problem is progressive, meaning that every year we fall a little bit further behind. This phenomenon has come to be known as Baumol’s Cost Disease.

Let’s start at sentence number two. It takes the same time and energy to rehearse “a Brahm’s Requiem” now as it did in 1868?

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