Tag Archives: Minnesota Orchestra

Interview with Scott Chamberlain: Part 2

In the second part of my interview with fellow blogger Scott Chamberlain, we talked about his upcoming Cuba trip. Catch up on the first part here.

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Scott's logo

The famous mask…

EH: So. I’ve ignored the elephant in the room long enough. The whole reason I even thought of connecting with you in interview format is that you’re going with the Minnesota Orchestra to cover their historic Cuba tour. They’ll be the first American orchestra in the Obama era to visit. And you’ll be writing about it, even though you aren’t a professional arts writer. And I want to take a minute to talk about that.

I’ve never heard of an arts writer – amateur or professional – trying to crowdfund accompanying an orchestra on a tour. And not only trying, but succeeding. As I’m writing this entry, you’re at 55% of your goal, and it’s only been a few days. (Readers, please, if anyone has done anything like this before, let me know in the comments.) I know this project didn’t come about as some grand plan or anything like that, but obviously as I’m watching the total tick up and up, and getting excited about having a writer friend on the ground in Cuba to share his thoughts… I’m wondering about whether you think this is a strategy that arts writers will use in future to get more and better coverage of our beloved arts. I have mixed feelings about whether it could work besides for a few very charismatic people, but I’m curious what you think. Do you think your support is just a one-off thing because you developed relationships with your readers in the depths of a historic lockout, or do you think other arts writers in other times and places could do it, too? Many times I find myself wondering, “are the cool things that are happening here a direct result of the lockout, or could these cool things happen everywhere?” Do you know what I mean?

SC: I do think it’s unusual—in fact, the co-founder Musicovation.com, a website devoted to covering news and industry trends from across the musical world, contacted me to ask these very questions.

And I have to say I’m learning as I go. Given the complexities of this tour, it is fairly expensive… even for those of us who are getting the press discount. As an independent writer, coming up with the cost of the trip seemed daunting, but a number of supporters suggested that this was a perfect fit for a GoFundMe campaign… and off I went.

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Interview with Scott Chamberlain: Part 1

Many times over the past two years I found myself messaging Scott Chamberlain:

You want to cover this one, or should I?

Scott Chamberlain, the author of the widely linked Mask of the Flower Prince blog, and I share a lot: mediums, outlooks, communities, topics, inspirations, and a passion for our Minnesota Orchestra, as well as the performing arts in general. In other words, I’m not sure why I haven’t interviewed him on the blog before. So yesterday I emailed him a list of discussion topics about the role of blogs in the orchestra world, why the [expletive] we kept writing about the Minnesota Orchestra meltdown for as long as we did, and oh, yeah, a little bit about his historic trip to Cuba. (Stay tuned for part 2 of my interview for that.) And he was good enough to email back. So without further ado –

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This is Scott's blog. It's a good blog.

This is Scott’s blog. It’s a good blog.

EH: It’s surreal to me we haven’t had a public chat yet. We’ve each linked to each other a million times, but we’ve never actually sat down for a conversation, so I feel like this entry is way overdue.

First I want to hop in a time machine back to June 2013, which was the month your blog started. It was the exact middle of the Minnesota Orchestra lockout. You were crazy prolific during that time. Why did you feel compelled to spend months documenting this disaster? For me, it was because this orchestra meant so much to me, and it was cathartic to dissect the news. And gradually it became more rewarding than anything I’d ever done, even when the news was really bad. (And it was almost always really bad.) But I was curious why you kept at it. Looking back, don’t you think rational people should have given up after Osmo resigned?

SC: The funny thing is, in many ways I fell into blogging as an afterthought. As many people know, I used to work for the Orchestra and had several friends among the musicians and the staff. So when the negotiations fell apart in fall 2012, it really felt personal. I think like many people out there, I started off thinking that this was a standard-issue labor dispute. For me that changed on November 28, 2012, when the Star Tribune published an op-ed piece by the board chairs of the Minnesota Orchestra detailing their views of the lockout. There were so many things in that op-ed that were disrespectful, and flat out wrong. I was irritated enough that the next day I posted an extensive deconstruction of it on my Facebook page.

I had no idea anyone would ever read it… I mostly wrote it just for my own peace of mind. Plus, such a lengthy rebuttal was way, way too long for Facebook. I fully expected that any attention it received would fade quickly, just like everything else on social media. But oddly enough, this post didn’t die away quietly. I watched in disbelief as my rant took on a life of its own, shared by hundreds of people I didn’t know and had never met. Within a week my number of Facebook friends had nearly doubled. (I ultimately re-posted that piece here on my blog, if you’d care to read it.)

I followed up this commentary with many others, but given their size and scope they weren’t particularly suited for Facebook. I was a fan of “Song of the Lark,” and wondered if a blog might be a better way to get my ideas out into the real world. With a great deal of prodding from my wife and other friends, I made it happen.

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Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra in Haydn, Mahler

Well, that period of my life is over, so…back to Microreviews, I guess.

For those new to the blog, Microreviews are my thoughts on that week’s Minnesota Orchestra MPR broadcast. There’s only one catch: they have to be the same length or shorter than the mainstream media’s review.

Rob Hubbard at the Pioneer Press was the sole professional reviewer of this concert of Haydn and Mahler. He gave the show a 516 word rave: “one of the most arresting performances I’ve encountered in recent memory.”

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I’m in the midst of packing away my mother’s things, so this week’s Minnesota Orchestra performance of farewell-flavored works felt timely.

The first work on the program was Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 45, the (can you guess the nickname?) Farewell. Unfortunately, my first impression was fuzziness, especially in the upper strings. It was impossible to tell if this was the acoustic, the recording, or the exposed nature of the part writing. I also have a hunch there was a discussion on vibrato that ended inconclusively. Regardless, it was charming – of course. It was Haydn. And nobody else milks leaving the stage like the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra.

But the evening’s center of gravity was, of course, Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth). I love the description of Das Lied as chamber music for orchestra, and Minnesota amped up this idea with some truly virtuosic clarity. Any fuzziness in the Haydn was long gone after the auxiliary forces took the stage. The ensemble’s confidence and cohesion spoke well for the Mahler 5 recording scheduled for June 2016.

Tenor Anthony Dean Griffey and mezzo Mihoko Fujimura were beautiful to listen to. In fact, the first few movements were all very beautiful.

But from its very first notes, the finale felt different. It felt more than beautiful. The opening oboe and flute solos had a sultriness; the answering mezzo a haunting chaste purity. This was the dangerous beauty of a lush late summer night, sun gone, wild meadows lit now by the moon. The lower winds and strings laid out a soft carpet of a dirge. The upper strings slid above them with clear, silvery tones.

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As Mahler wrote:

I stand here and wait for my friend;
I wait to bid him a last farewell.
I yearn, my friend, at your side
to enjoy the beauty of this evening.
Where are you? You leave me long alone!

It was chilling, and hugely unsettling.

As affecting as the broadcast was, clearly it was even more so in the hall. The best Mahler is live Mahler. And so this broadcast made me all the more desperate to box up the past and finish my own farewells.

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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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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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Review: Minnesota Orchestra in Gabrieli, Dietter, Tchaikovsky

Yesterday I made the two hour trek across the tundra for a 2pm performance of Eiji Oue conducting the Minnesota Orchestra at Orchestra Hall.

Snow came early to the northern plains this year. It feels like December – indeed, a lot of people have just said “screw it” and lit their lights a couple weeks early – but obviously we’re not even to Thanksgiving yet, so we’re also in a kind of holiday limbo land. It’s a weighty question: do we follow the calendar or the snow?

I mention this because the program opened with various selections by Giovanni Gabrieli for two brass choirs. And especially at this time of year, said instrumentation bellows carol, cathedrals, Christmas. It felt like implicit permission to kick off the warmth and coziness of the holiday season without guilt.

The two choirs were situated on opposite sides of the Orchestra Hall stage, one anchored by tuba, the other by bass trombone (shout-out to new kid Andrew Chappell!). Obviously they’re normally tucked behind an impenetrable Wall of Strings, so it was a fascinating joy to watch the players and their faces. I really think the orchestra is onto something by programming smaller pieces in the first half, followed by a big blockbuster in the second. My Sunday audience seemed to enjoy the set-up too; as the sharply sculpted phrases were traded back and forth, listeners’ heads oscillated from side-to-side in appreciation. And what a sound a brass choir makes. You have to be in the same room with that core-rumbling buzz to really experience it.

After the Gabrieli came another rarity: a double bassoon concerto by Christian Ludwig Dietter. A different colleague joined principal John Miller, Jr., for each movement. Miller arrived at the Minnesota Orchestra in 1971 (before Orchestra Hall was even built, much less remodeled), and is the longest serving principal player in Orchestra history. That kind of devotion not just to an art, but to an ensemble and a community, is hugely humbling. My hat goes off to anyone who sticks with an organization through so many years…especially through the intermittent hopelessness of the last three.

The music in the Dietter may have been slight, but it was perfect for showcasing the easy chemistry of the soloists. What a joy to see colleagues working so effortlessly together. (In between movements, the departing colleague would high-five the arriving one, to warm applause and scattered laughter at the informal unconventionality of the gesture.) I think it’s easy to forget how outright beautiful the gentle bassoon can be, placed as it is in the orchestra’s texture, so it was lovely to have this reminder. As for the orchestra, I’ve definitely heard them give crisper accompaniments, but clarity isn’t always Maestro Eiji Oue’s first priority… For an encore, Miller played a Swedish Walking Song with ethereal orchestral accompaniment, and that was delicately breathtaking.

The big marquee event, though, came after intermission:  Tchaikovsky 5.

Tchaikovsky 5 is one of those pieces I really, really know. I really, really love it. I am really, really uncool. And yet, bizarrely, I have no favorite recordings, no interpretation I’m married to…or even dating. Which was good, because if you’d gone into the hall expecting a particular interpretation, you were going to be disappointed, simply because this one was soooo far out there.

The craziest thing about it was the tempi. There were so many yanks and tugs at tempo that the bartenders could have sold Dramamine instead of drinks at intermission. Tchaikovsky can feel pretty episodic to begin with, and instead of smoothing over the seams, Eiji Oue highlighted them by stopping, starting, and occasionally sprinting through them. So that’s one way of approaching a potential problem, I guess: highlighting it, and making no apologies for it. It definitely resulted in a unique interpretation. Sometimes that interpretation veered so far from conventional practice (not to mention the score), it almost came across as a pastiche.

And I was smiling the whole time. Both at the beauty of it, and the ballsiness of it. The interaction between conductor and orchestra was hilarious to see. Mom caught Dave Williamson cracking up. Erin Keefe’s body language was all like: follow me through the storm! And there was one priceless moment when Eiji leaned over to principal viola Tom Turner virtuosically scrubbing away, enticing Tom to give just a little more, and I could practically see Tom’s thought bubble: I’M GIVING ALL I GOT.

And that final movement! Only a virtuoso band could pull off what they did. It continually danced on the edge of completely imploding and exploding in a fiery cataclysm of confusion and honking horns. But of course at the very last minute, the tempos would lurch back, and everyone somehow burst through the exultant finish line together. You’ve got to hand it to the strings in particular for dashing forward with such confidence and cohesion.

I’ve seen him in-concert twice now, and I think my relationship with Eiji Oue is like my relationship with candy corn. Outside the period of approximately one week in the late autumn, candy corn is not particularly appealing. But once a year, candy corn is WONDERFUL. It’s fun. It’s corn-y. It mimics the shape of a kernel of a nourishing vegetable, and that’s cool. In fact, I went out of my way earlier this year to buy a bag of candy corn, and I didn’t regret the purchase. Would I want candy corn every weekend? No. Does that mean I dislike candy corn? I just got done telling you I consider candy corn to be great fun.

So. I could argue very persuasively about why this performance should not work, could not work, and did not work. But one of the valuable lessons I took away from the lockout is, sometimes it doesn’t really matter how something is played, providing the experience surrounding it is unique enough. And you have got to admit, between the sparkly pants, generous swooping, and grins of manic wild-eyed sincerely-felt joy, Eiji Oue creates experiences. I think people who focus solely on the quality of performance, ignoring or even criticizing the air of electricity, are maybe missing the point. This was definitely a show worth catching, an experience worth having.

It was a joy to see such joy. 2014 has been a year of historic, absurdly high stakes shows at Orchestra Hall. Stanislaw Skrowaczewski conducted the first homecoming concert back in February, with everyone in the music world gruesomely interested in whether this great orchestra had survived a sixteen-month lockout intact. The Osmo Sibelius Grammy concerts happened as the board was deciding whether to rehire him. Same with the one-night Josh Bell / Osmo show. The glitzy, hugely expensive, and ultimately successful Renee Fleming gala was pressured to be ultra flashy and fabulous. The Mahler Resurrection concerts in late September mused on themes of fricking Life, Death, and Life After Death. It was a joy just to have crazy fun again, to hear the depth of sound that this great orchestra makes, and to walk out the lobby door to downtown Minneapolis with the faith that everything will be okay.

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Bad News, Good News

In case you missed the news, the Minnesota Orchestral Association has promoted Kevin Smith from Interim CEO to Actual CEO. He’s staying until the end of the 2017-2018 season (at least), and he will be negotiating both Osmo’s and the musicians’ new contracts. The board voted unanimously to keep him.

I haven’t met Mr. Smith yet, but nearly all of my musical friends have, and I’ve heard nothing but good about him. A few things are abundantly clear. He knows what he’s doing. He knows the Twin Cities. He has years of experience under his belt. And, perhaps most importantly of all, he listens. Stakeholders respect this man. When he has to make the tough decisions that lie ahead, I may not always agree with his choices, but I will respect them, and I will know that he is working for the good of the organization and the art form and the community. You can’t buy that kind of trust.

In fact, if I had to choose what’s the bigger news, Osmo’s rehiring or Kevin’s promotion… I’d probably go with Kevin’s promotion. And you all know how thrilled I was that Osmo was re-hired. So you can guess how excited I am about Kevin.

But wait. As the infomercials say, there’s more. In an interview the other night on Almanac, when asked if Osmo’s contract would be renewed, Smith said:

We are talking about that. I would hope and expect, yes.

I would hope and expect, yes.

I would hope and expect, yes.

I-Would-Hope-And-Expect

The phrase “I would hope and expect, yes” in a pretty font and decorated with my excited yellow Rays of Yay

 

It’s a tribute to how far we’ve come that this quote isn’t plastered all over blogs and Twitter and Facebook and Strib articles.

I think most people would agree that

  1. the chances of a second lockout have declined precipitously
  2. we just might be looking at a fair musicians’ contract extending until approximately 2020, and
  3. the Osmo era is likely going to continue.

It’s looking like the Minnesota Orchestral Association has entered its own Era of Good Feelings. And I’m on board with that.

So it might be time to bid a fond farewell to the Song of the Lark Outrage Machine. The Outrage Machine ran fast and hard for a very long time, fueled by the spittle from my flail-y freak-outs and the sarcasm of animated GIFs. But between Kevin Smith’s hiring and the Atlanta Symphony lockout ending, it looks like outrage is going out of style. Which is great.

It’s just too bad I can’t take the Outrage Machine out for a final spin to commemorate old times and old scandals.

Unless…

Somehow… somewhere… some news could break about the Era of Bad Feelings.

But, no. That’s impossible. Michael Henson has been gone from the Minnesota Orchestra for months now. His vision – or maybe that’s “myopia” – has been thoroughly repudiated by all. Surely there’s no new news left about his tenure…

990s

I’m sorry, guidestar.org, the website that “gather[s] and disseminate[s] information about every single IRS-registered nonprofit organization“…did you say something?

990s

Oh? What’s this? The 990 form for the Minnesota Orchestral Association covering the time span of September 2012 to August 2013, which features only one non-lockout month?

Do you hear that roar in the distance? I think it’s the outrage machine revving up for one last final outing! So jump aboard now, for one last ride, for nostalgia’s sake…

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Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra in Nazaykinskaya, Mozart, Prokofiev

For those new to SOTL, Microreviews are my thoughts on the Minnesota Orchestra subscription concerts broadcast live on MPR. I take the word count of the “official” newspaper reviews of the week’s concerts and use that as a guideline. (This week I’m using Rob Hubbard’s Pioneer Press review, which clocked in at 379 words.) You can join in the Microreviewing fun by catching the MPR broadcast along with me and then writing about it, whether on your own blog or on Facebook or in the comment section here. My mantra is: the more people talking about and dissecting Minnesota Orchestra concerts, the healthier our cultural habitat will be! (It’s a long mantra.)

So here are my thoughts on what the concert sounded like via MPR last night.

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The concert began with Polina Nazaykinskaya’s Winter Bells. Nazaykinskaya is the only woman composer in the Minnesota Orchestra’s sizable 2014-2015 subscription season, and also my Facebook followers are tired of hearing me complain about this.

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“Yeah, Emily, I know. The lack of female composers definitely sucks.”

 

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“Yep, Emily, we get the message, the lack of women composers is hugely unfortunate and a downside of an otherwise brilliant 14-15 season. Agreed.”

"OH MY GOD, EMILY, JUST SHUT UP ABOUT THIS ALREADY THIS IS THE THIRD TIME YOU'VE POSTED ABOUT IT LET IT REST OMG"

“OH MY GOD, EMILY, JUST SHUT UP ABOUT THIS ALREADY; THIS IS THE THIRD TIME YOU’VE POSTED ABOUT IT; LET IT REST; OMG”

Ah well. If women could only make one contribution to programming this year, Winter Bells was definitely a fabulous choice. How often does a work by a 22-year-old hold up against Prokofiev and Mozart? The orchestra’s treatment of the gorgeous score felt hugely confident; the lower brass blasted away with spectacular abandon. And the way the sound evaporated away at the end? Pure magic.

Soloist Jonathan Biss was a polite presence at the piano in Mozart 20. Perfectly lovely and unobjectionable. Which isn’t to say the performance wasn’t enjoyable. But it wasn’t gripping. It felt a bit like filler. And I wonder if I’m the only one idly curious how Mozart ended up in an Art of Russia program. Orchestra advertising justified it by saying that Mozart was “a Russian at heart.” O-kay. That being said, I’m not sure how well live Mozart transfers over Internet radio, so your mileage may vary if you saw it live. And the audience reaction sounded wild, so this one might be on me.

Prokofiev 5 was the meat of the program. Gleaming propulsive meat, with an earnestly, sometimes nostalgically, beating heart…and a dash of insanity. The intensity of the last few notes of the first movement was simply shattering. Said intensity carried over into the maniacally metronomic second movement. I love this music; it sounds like sarcastic skeletons dancing. (Somehow.) The spitting runs in the strings and winds were genuinely creepy, both because of the sound produced and because I didn’t know it was humanly possible. The third movement was balletic: graceful, luscious, very Russian. But still slightly odd, as if the skeletons had put on tutus. (Somehow.) These sounds are strange, maybe even slightly dangerous, but they’re so seductive, and in the hands of these players Friday night, so committed and so heartfelt. The finale began with a quiet wild-eyed mania, seizing one idea after another, before going completely batshit crazy with agitated caffeinated palpitations. Perfection.

Definitely my favorite radio broadcast so far this season.

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369 words. *dusts hands*

I know I say it every week, but this week I really mean it. Buy tickets for tonight at minnesotaorchestra.org. Seriously. I’m incredibly depressed I won’t see it live.

Can’t guarantee a Microreview for next week, as I’m aiming to catch Tchaikovsky 5 in-person! So keep an eye out for an entry on that, as well as some others that are cooking on the back burner.

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Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra in Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Stravinsky

The Minnesota Orchestra launched its Russian festival this week with concerts devoted to the works of Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Stravinsky, led by Courtney Lewis. Both local papers were impressed. The Pioneer Press wrote 340 words of praise, the Strib 465.

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The performance began on a somber note with the addition of Stephen Paulus’s “Veil of Tears” from To Be Certain of the Dawn. Paulus passed away on October 19 at the heartbreaking age of 65. Words don’t suffice, and I hope this moving musical tribute brought a measure of peace to the family and friends who have lost so much.

After the moment of reverent silence, excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s The Snow Maiden began. This music sounds as if it belongs in a snow globe: the Nutcracker minus the “oh no not again” baggage of the omnipotent warhorse. Warm horn calls, silvery woodwinds, rich and shapely lines in the strings… I craved a bit more forward motion at certain points earlier in the piece, but the Dance of the Tumblers finale more than made up for that with a truly dizzying propulsion. I’d never heard The Snow Maiden before, but it’s going on my playlist of winter favorites for sure.

Pianist Kirill Gerstein took the stage for Shostakovich second concerto and Prokofiev first, performing with clarity, nuance, and sensitive, exciting musicality. Moments in the interior of the first movement of the Shostakovich were absolutely explosive, and the songfulness of the andante was almost vocal. He brought similar intensity to the spiky Prokofiev first. What manic, electric repertoire, and what manic, electric playing!

The program officially closed with Stravinsky’s Symphonic Suite from The Fairy Kiss. Tchaikovsky practically deserves a co-writing credit here, as Stravinsky used bits and pieces of Tchaikovsky as subjects. To put it in bloggy terms, this is Stravinsky writing fanfiction in Tchaikovsky’s universe. My relationship with Igor is one based in ambivalence, and that’s likely why I wasn’t particularly grabbed by this piece or performance as a whole. That being said, there was some brilliant orchestral playing going on (as there always is): some beautifully blended contributions from the woodwinds, and strings full of power and character. But I do agree with the Pioneer Press that the program order would have worked better with the Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky reversed.

The encore was the finale from the Firebird: a piece that will forever have a place in the heart of Twin Cities audiences as one of the anthems of the lockout. Good news: the phoenix has risen from the ashes, and you can hear it sing this program once more tonight at 8pm at Orchestra Hall.

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And I came right in the middle between the two newspaper reviews, at 397 words. Were you at the concert? Leave your thoughts below and contribute a microreview of your own! The more people talking about the Minnesota Orchestra, the better.

Tickets for tonight here. Be sure to check out the collection of Russian art on display in the lobby, on loan from the Museum of Russian Art.

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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!

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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…

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

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