Friday, January 30, 2009

video of Trinity concert

Here are a few minutes of video from Thursday night's concert in Stillwater.

This is the Philharmonia Baroque performing Rameau's Orchestral Suite from Les Paladins.

Here is the Philharmonia Baroque with tenor Thomas Cooley performing Handel.

And finally, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra performing Haydn.

Photos and a review

It's hard to believe that the festival is nearly over! Last night's concert at Trinity Lutheran Church in Stillwater was packed to the gills!
Click here to see the Pioneer Press review of the concert.

And below are a few photos.

Photos from top to bottom: Conductor Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, McGegan, tenor Thomas Cooley and the PBO, and McGegan with the SPCO.

Photo credit: Ken Friberg & Daniel Life/Rat Race Studios

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Paul and Dee on the Jan 25th concert

Hello, All you SPCO and festival fans!

Paul and I have just returned from the Sunday afternoon Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) performance at Ted Mann. It was a stunner.

After seating ourselves next to Eve and Henry Clark, of Rosedale, we had time for a bit of “get to know you” chat. Eve and Henry have been SPCO devotees for the past 25 years. “Did you get a chance to see the concert when they performed Rhapsody in Blue?” Eve wondered. When I said we’d loved it, she said that she had too: “It really knocked my socks off!”

First off was the Telemann Overture in E Minor from Tafelmusik. Paul and I thought this a clever, happy little piece. The flutes (black and wooden, as discussed on the OAE website) lent a spritely mood.

Vivaldi’s Concerto in D for Two Oboes, Two Violins and Bassoon, came next on the program. I’ve always loved Vivaldi—his Four Seasons was the first classical music that actually reached me emotionally. It was wonderfully vivaldish - the violins going “tweedle tweedle tweedle” in the right places (the effect is that of the stoppage of time), the wooden oboes, more cornet-like than I was expecting, rational and grounding for the high-strung violins. And the wonderful bassoon…the music for the bassoon here was more melodic than I’ve heard before. I whispered to Paul, “Have you noticed that Ms. Podger smiles often?” The rest of the ensemble were smilers as well. And they didn’t seem to be smiling in a goofy, insincere way. Just celebrative and glad.

After these light pleasures, the weight of Bach. I hadn’t realized until Paul mentioned it to me, that we had never heard live a Bach Cantata. This was Bach Cantata No. 51, “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen!” I did not really need to look at the provided translation to understand from the clear joyful tones that the piece was filled with praise for the Christian, Almighty, All-giving God of Johann Bach. A master craftsman in glorification to his Lord, in this cantata he chose to meld the arias of a soprano singer with those of a trumpet in a golden (not gilded, golden) molten river of sound. Amen.

Paul: Like Dee, I loved the OAE’s performance of this cantata; what a privilege. The closest we’d come before was listening to the John Eliot Gardiner series on CD. But hearing live the unfamiliar looking 18th century (I presume) trumpet in tandem with the wonderful singing of the soprano, Ms. Rachel Nicholls, was for me the peak of this concert. The trumpeter, Mr. David Blackadder, wove the most sympathetic and accomplished accompaniment one could imagine.

After intermission, refreshment for our musical palates came in the form of the Zelenka piece, Hipocondrie à 7 concertanti in A. Ms. Podger, in a kind attempt to prepare us for the “quite bizarre sounding” piece, explained that it “keeps changing, sometimes within the bar!” I enjoyed the Zelenka, but not as much as did Paul. “Hmm…yes, odd but lovely, the violins ask and everyone answers together,” I thought. And since the piece featured lots of bassoon, I was happy. Paul was really struck, though: “I really liked that.” He felt the piece may have been questioning, mildly and politely, the rules Baroque musical forms followed.

Paul: More importantly, to repeat the sage words of our concert neighbor Eve, it really knocked my socks off.

Our soprano vocalist charmingly introduced Telemann’s Cantata “Etrage nur das Joch der Mängel” by warning, “It’s rather more miserable than the Bach cantata.” Looking at the translation, we were a bit startled to see “…one suffers pain in this flame that sizzles through the blood… .” The piece was darkly beautiful; the music serious as the angelic voice warns of hell to those who don’t follow the difficult, narrow road to heaven. Nicholls really sang with conviction. Paul and I both remarked on her special hissing emphasis on the “zischt,” or “sizzle.” We thought Nichols' unabashed dramatizing of the words of the piece was a welcome change from sometimes overly respectful and thus staid treatments of this music we have heard (on CD, at least!).

Both of us wordsmiths, Paul and I sometimes find ourselves bereft of them. Such is the case with the OAE performance of Bach’s “Concerto in D for Three Violins” (arranged by Ms. Podger herself). If I’d arranged it myself, I’d have been tempted to give the most dramatic bits to myself. She did not. But to the music: in the first Allegro, emphasis here (for me) was on the three realms I feel Bach most inhabits: heaven, music, and earth. I felt perfect accord between the realms, as represented by the three violin solos. The adagio was warm with the sound of the two cellos. Once we reached the Allegro (the third and last movement), the violins were back in charge. Each violin had its own distinctive tone. And each possessed its own incredibly intricate, sometimes vigorous, yet blissful song, weaving in and out of the other two’s paths.

A rousing standing ovation brought, not what we’d thought was the end of the program, but more Bach. It was a lovely gift from our British friends—a special thank you. As if we had not been feted by their talent and warmth throughout their stay at our festival, they thanked us.

Monday, January 26, 2009

photos from this weekend

Here are a few photos of our concerts with the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment this weekend.
From top to bottom: The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, director and violinist with the OAE Rachel Podger, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.

Photo credit: Ken Friberg & Daniel Life/Rat Race Studios

more festival reviews

Here are a few links to more great reviews of the festival.

Click here for the Pioneer Press review of Thursday night at Temple Israel with the OAE and the SPCO.

Click here for the Star Tribune review of Friday night at Wooddale Church with the OAE.

Click here for the Pioneer Press review of Friday night at Wooddale Church with the OAE.

Friday, January 23, 2009

OAE blog update

The OAE, our guest orchestra of the week, has been blogging about their experience in the Twin Cities and being a part of the festival. Click here to see their most recent post.

Paul (minus Dee) on Thursday night's concert

Hi folks. This is Paul and I’m afraid I’ll be your sole host for this blog installment, as Dee was sick last night and couldn’t come to the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment and the SPCO’s performances at Temple Israel. Instead, I went with my friend Matt, who was roughly in the position I was in a little more than a year ago, having never seen a classical music concert, but game to try it out.

I have to admit that the OAE is the orchestra I’ve most been anticipating, because it is a chance to see one of the original “period instrument” organizations. Before we began, I explained to Matt as best I could the differences between period instrument ensembles and the more traditional modern ensembles, like historically informed tunings, scores etc. I tried not to make too much of these differences though, since they seem to have lessened over the years as the most eminently sensible insights of the historically informed music advocates have taken hold. Matt said it reminded him of debates on the Supreme Court between the strict constructionists and the interpretationists (sorry—did I just coin a startling ugly neologism?). I thought this comment nicely thought-provoking, because of course, Matt’s right: this debate about history and its recoverability has been staged and restaged many times in many places.

But the music, the music: a wonderfully exuberant Mozart to begin with, the cellists smooth and high, then buzzing low, the violins and violas lively and joyous. Having not heard Mozart live in a while, I had unaccountably forgotten the sprightly freshness, the skipping good-to-be-alive-and-be-here quality of his music. The OAE’s playing couldn’t have been more perfect in capturing this characteristically Mozartian quality. Then the second movement, which reminded me (just as I was asking, “is that all there is?”), of the sublimity in Mozart, brought out by the OAE’s slightly astringent, plaintive violins, seeking and finding, if not answers, at least the right questions. Finally, a presto movement to bring it all together, sublimely sprightly.

The Haydn violin concerto was a stunner. Podger was tremendous, jaw-droppingly in control of her tone. Lovely, lovely, lovely. I wrote, on the little piece of paper I carry with me for notes on life, “words fail me.” And they do. By this time, Matt was looking star-struck, like me, but perhaps more so, since it was his first time and it was a very good time indeed. I asked him what he thought of the concerto (he having just learned what a concerto was) and he said, “It was beautiful.” Perfect. I really have nothing to add. Thanks, Matt.

For the last act of the program, we got to see my beloved SPCO perform Shostakovich, who I’ve read about, but about whose music I am almost entirely ignorant. In retrospect, I can see what a smart choice this 1946 piece was, with its apparently traditionalist modernity, to close a show opened by the OAE’s original instrument Baroque. The piece and the performance seemed designed to elicit and even comment upon what was distinctive and distinguished about the SPCO as a performing ensemble. Their distinction is certainly clear (if one had any doubts, which as an unabashed partisan, I do not) by the fourth movement, an ominous lamentation, almost a warning dirge. At the climax of the movement, unearthly violins cry out as a chorus, echoed by a bassoon’s soberer, yet even more unnerving barely held-in-check hysteria (unnerving in part because somehow we don’t expect the lower wind instruments to be hysterical; must be a cultural thing). Shamefully, Matt and I had not read the program notes (which by the way, have been very good this year in my and Dee’s opinion—genuinely informative and stylistically tops), but when we compared notes right after the piece ended, it turned out we had both been thinking of Stalinism’s through the looking glass world—perhaps incapable of really acknowledging head-on the tragedy of the 20 million Russians killed in the war.

So, sadly, the concert ended. Clapping and back to real life. But live classical music has won another convert—when Dee and I see the OAE again on Sunday at Ted Mann, we’re going to try and snag tickets for Matt and his wife. Like Matt, I too had thought live classical music, while no doubt improving, would be boring (although I planned to keep that a secret). This concert reminded me how wrong I had been, as I keep discovering over and over again, to my delighted surprise.