Tag Archives: Minnesota Orchestra

Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra, Sibelius and Mahler

Can you believe it’s the last Microreview of the season? What HAPPENED? It’s like…time passed or something!

Rob Hubbard caught the Minnesota Orchestra’s Sibelius 6 and 7, but not the Mahler, and he wrote about it in a June 4th Pioneer Press article. His report was 366 words, and so, as is tradition, mine is 363.

But before I get to that, I want to quickly extend my thanks to all those who made this season such an extraordinary one. The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, of course, and their Music Director, as well as their beloved audience, the professional and amateur writers who covered this institution this year, the readers who cared so deeply about what we said, and Minnesota Public Radio, whose broadcasts have brought so much joy into so many listeners’ lives. And a special shout-out to Minnesota Orchestra CEO Kevin Smith, who I was lucky enough to meet this season!

I’m probably going on a Microreviewing hiatus over the summer. I have lots to do in preparation for moving home base to the Twin Cities this year. But look for them again this fall, and in the meantime, feel free to contribute your own. And don’t be surprised if one fine Friday evening during Summerfest you find me yapping and #livelarking away on Twitter.

So without further ado –

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This was a program of personal premieres. I’ve never sat through Sibelius six or seven or even Mahler one. Turns out I was busy the last two years. So I’m in no position to describe the fidelity of the performance to the score. But I can say what this music made me feel my first time around.

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Review(ish): Minnesota Orchestra and Garrick Ohlsson in Brahms and Beethoven

This weekend at the Minnesota Orchestra was a love fest.

Love. What a loaded, completely inexplicable word. You can love institutions. You can love art. You can love people as friends or as lovers. Or as both. Your love can be sacred or carnal or some kind of crazy bewildering hybrid. It’s a verb with a thousand meanings, each definition, each possibility more confusing than the last.

I’ve thought a lot about the love that Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms shared. I find it fascinating. I find people’s responses to it fascinating. It was, by and large, a positive force in both their lives. Love of Clara certainly inspired Brahms, and I wonder if Clara would have retained her sanity after her husband’s break with it, had Brahms (and his brilliance) not been in her life. But because there is doubt they made physical love, many people regard their relationship as somehow abnormal or dysfunctional. It’s certainly idealized less than the love that Robert and Clara shared…I’m assuming because it didn’t follow the neat little dramatic trajectory that Robert and Clara’s did. Brahms and Clara lived with ambiguity for decades. And they managed to find a power in the messiness of it.

The emotions that ambiguity unleashed are explored in Brahms’s first piano concerto, which opened the Minnesota Orchestra’s program this weekend. Brahms struggled with the concerto’s musical material throughout his early twenties. He also struggled with a love for Clara, who was in turn struggling with mourning her husband’s sanity and eventually life. In 1856, a few months after Robert died, Brahms wrote to her the famous quote that invariably appears in this concerto’s program notes: “I am also painting a lovely portrait of you; it is to be the Adagio.”

The outer movements are flashier. The first especially has more meat. But the heart of this concerto is the movement devoted to Clara. This weekend, Minnesota’s hushed strings made this music radiate warmth and soul and…that inexplicable, indefinable word, love. This music has a very sacred air to it, and we were honored to have Garrick Ohlsson be our priest to lead us through the sacrament. The notes passed like ghosts, suspended and turning in the air.

But there is a danger in thinking of this music as solely ethereal. In an intermission interview on Minnesota Public Radio, Ohlsson shared a historical tidbit I had never heard before.

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8 Non-Profit Lessons From The Minnesota Orchestra’s Cuba Tour

The Minnesota Orchestra recently returned from a groundbreaking trip to Cuba. It was the first time an American orchestra had performed there since the process of normalizing relations began in December 2014. It was also the Minnesota Orchestra standing up on the international stage and saying, in a particularly badass way, we’re back, baby.

Lots of people who were lucky enough to be on the trip have been sharing their ideas about what the week meant. We’re all still digesting. But the people on the ground in Cuba weren’t the only ones to come away with exciting new perspectives. Eight big ideas keep repeatedly swishing around my brain like Caribbean waves along the shore…

You too can recover from disaster, because damn the Minnesota Orchestra is back in business. Their performance of the Eroica in particular was probably the greatest I’ve ever heard of that piece. It certainly far, far outstripped the intensity of their live performances I heard in April 2015 and July 2012. The Eroica was also the first symphony they played after the lockout ended in February 2014, and the difference between the two performances was mind-boggling. Can this orchestra play even better? Oh, I’m sure. But do they currently stand with the great ensembles of the world? F-, yeah. Give them a few more years and I have no doubt whatsoever that the lockout will recede into organizational history, eclipsed by fresh artistic triumphs from a new era.

One-on-one interaction is beyond priceless. Look at this photo gallery and tell me otherwise.

Twitter is an amazing tool to use during big live events to cement connections with readers and patrons. I associate Twitter more with political live-blogging or passive-aggressive celebrity feuds, but it actually works really well for documenting big live events like this tour. I’m still split about the idea of “Tweet seats.” But for a radio broadcast, where I was holed up in my bedroom and my furious typing wasn’t bothering anyone, it was a marvelous format. (And I definitely understand the appeal of Tweet seats now way more than I did.) I gained lots of new followers and had some truly meaningful exchanges with readers, including the official Classical MPR and Minnesota Orchestra accounts. That loops back to my preceding point.

At big events, non-profits need to employ someone whose main responsibility is creating content for social media. The Cuba trip was unique in that not all the responsibility for documentation was laid on the Minnesota Orchestra’s staff, since many major media outlets were toting along their own photographers and videographers. But the lesson still stands. All of my friends are sharing the Cuba pictures with all of their friends, and I have no doubt all their friends are, too. I wish it was possible to convert the value of that increased enthusiasm and engagement into dollars. But I have to believe the Orchestra at least broke even on the $1 million that Marilyn Carlson Nelson and her husband invested into this tour. Maybe even more than that, because a lot of the positive experiences we had cannot be bought…since they’re not for sale.

Speaking of which….

The greatest work of non-profits is, at the end of the day, not about the bottom line. There was a group of us who argued passionately during the Minnesota Orchestra lockout that the worst thing to do would be to regard the Orchestra’s bottom line as its sole metric of success. I hate to say I told you so, but… (Haha, KIDDING. I don’t hate saying that at all. I TOLD YOU SO.)

In future, all orchestras need to employ musician-writers the caliber of Rena Kraut and Sam Bergman. Click here to read a Rena entry; click here to read one from Sam. Yes, finding others with their talents may be a tall order, but it needs to happen. Rena and Sam’s accounts of their trip brought on countless of tears and bonded many hundreds of hearts closer to the Orchestra. I have to believe there are equally talented writers at every American orchestra who would be willing to step up to the plate. (I don’t know how – or if – it could work, practically speaking, but… If there were two candidates for a position in a major American orchestra, their musical abilities roughly equal, and one was a ridiculously talented writer, or photographer, or interviewer, or podcaster, or whatever, you might just want to go with the candidate whose talents extend beyond music-making.) (Might this be a way for young musicians to distinguish themselves as competitors in a particularly cutthroat marketplace? How do we train young artists to write well, and whose responsibility is it to teach them?)

Crowd-funded arts journalism is a potential game-changer. Yes, blogger Scott Chamberlain had the chance of a lifetime to go on the Cuba tour after readers chipped in several thousand dollars to get him there, but he also had quite the responsibility: he couldn’t disappoint the people who had given him that money with the expectation of top-notch writing. Because those people were, in large part, his friends. Of course, he disappointed no one. The roaring success of his coverage brings up an interesting question: what comes next in the field of entrepreneurial arts journalism? If a blogger can finance a trip to Cuba…can a writer make a part-time job out of creating online content about classical music? A full-time job? Soon somebody is going to try. And I’m excited to watch content creators (I don’t like the limiting term “bloggers” in this particular context) push the envelope even further. We will all learn a lot about our art from the successes and failures that lie ahead. I’m not saying that crowd-funding is a magic bullet, especially if / when the marketplace becomes saturated. But it could be a potent weapon nonetheless.

When you’re recovering from institutional trauma, one healing tactic is to find a big goal and go for it. I’m thinking about the Atlanta Symphony in particular. They’re in a process of real institutional flux right now. They’re searching for a new CEO and trying to establish an identity of stability and relevance. I’m wondering if the best thing they could do right now is spearhead a major artistic project. Easy for me to say that, obviously; I have zero idea what that project could be. The Cuba idea, for instance, never would have occurred to me, which is why I write about the arts and don’t administer them. But I think the incoming Atlanta Symphony president, whoever he or she may be, should find one. Atlanta needs (and deserves) a “Cuba moment.”

So let’s take a moment to appreciate what Minnesota Orchestra CEO Kevin Smith and board Vice Chair Marilyn Carlson Nelson accomplished here. They acted boldly and smartly, and they refused to act out of a place of timidity or fear. I’ve learned a valuable lesson from them both. The best way to bond a group of people together is to work toward a major goal, all together. The board gave their money. The musicians gave their talent. The staff gave their time and expertise. And together they created something far more valuable than what any one group could have accomplished on its own. And consequently, lots of healing took place. Caveat: you must be reasonably sure you can achieve your major goal. If any number of things had derailed the Cuba tour, then… Well, let’s not go there. But the potential rewards were obviously worth the risk.

Those were my big takeaways from this extraordinary weekend that all Minnesota Orchestra lovers were privileged to share.

What were yours?

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#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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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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