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.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

SPCO in The New York Times again!

The New York Times ran another concert review for the festival! This one is from the Jan 16 and 17 performances of Heiner Goebbels Songs of Wars I Have Seen by festival guest orchestras the London Sinfonietta and members of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.
Click here to read the review.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightement blog

We were thrilled to discover that our guest orchestra this week, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, also has a blog and has been writing about their experience here with the SPCO!

Click here for their first entry about arriving in the Twin Cities,
Click here for the next entry about encountering cold Minnesota weather,
click here for the entry about going to the Roseville movie theater and seeing if water thrown from a cup freezes instantly outside,
and click here for some of their photos.

And, to see their full blog, which includes entries about other things besides the festival, click here.

Paul and Dee on January 18th concert

For us, one of the most interesting features of the London Sinfonietta’s Sunday program at the Ted Mann concert hall (great acoustics, by the way!) was that we had seen virtually the entire program less than 72 hours previously at the Music Room in the Hamm Building (see our review for Thursday, January 15 for more details). We don’t know how often any of you reading this blog have had a similar experience, but for financial and time considerations, if for nothing else—fear of boredom looming large under the “else” category—we rarely see a program by anyone in the performing arts twice.

Nevertheless, the experiment was a success. Certainly, the London Sinfonietta was just as consistently interesting on Sunday as on Thursday (or on Saturday with the OAE—see our last review). They play with an intense intellectual precision, but leavened by a playful and wry sense of humor. So, not to put too fine a point on it, our grand conclusion would be that we once again liked them a lot.

Interestingly, we both found the first and second movements of Paul’s favorite piece last time (and Dee’s second favorite), Benjamin’s Three Inventions, a little thin this time around. The composition may not have been rich enough to withstand heavy scrutiny or (perhaps more likely), we enjoyed the piece’s surface flash the first time around, but missed the deeper arguments, so there was nothing to sustain us the second time we listened. Furthermore, Paul felt (Dee wasn’t sure) that the Sinfonietta dug deeper and more assertively into the third movement on Thursday night, so maybe it was the performance that didn’t sustain the composition.

Taking stock of a live performance is tricky, isn’t it? The interaction between performers, audience, and composer is so complex that it can be difficult (for us, anyway) to track down the source of our responses. Maybe we were less receptive to Benjamin this time because we forgot to eat lunch! Who knows? But enough philosophizing! Back to the Sinfonietta: Paul was converted to Dee’s point of view on Thursday night regarding Birtwistle’s Cortege (Dee: “I knew it.”).

Paul: Fantastic! I was blind the first time around! Again, it’s amazing how differently one can see an artwork depending upon one’s understanding. This time I knew enough from seeing and hearing the piece last time (not to mention listening to Dee rave about it) to grasp clearly the ceremonial thrust of the piece from the opening notes onward. The London Sinfonietta closed with Stravinsky’s Suite from L’histoire du soldat, a piece they didn’t play last Thursday. In their hands, the potential of the piece as a boozy, carnivalesque brawl is fully exploited.

Dee: One of the things I noticed was that the small combo performing the piece played to and with each other. Maybe not having a conductor to look to made a difference; the musicians looked to one another instead. Also, the orchestra really captured the eighteenth and nineteenth century satirical humor often aimed at the life of a soldier; it evoked that tradition of literature for me, novels like Thackeray’s Barry Lyndon. Finally, I saw I had underestimated Stravinsky’s range, since I hadn’t really heard the piece before. I was pleasantly surprised, because Stravinsky to me has always meant something more coolly avant-garde (which I also like) than the more human tableaux he painted here.

Thanks for reading, if you made it this far. We’re signing off now until next time. Our next concert is a mock duel between the SPCO and the OAE later in the week; we’re going to the Thursday night performance at Temple Israel. See you there.

video of Songs of Wars I Have Seen

If you weren't at the concert on Friday or Saturday night, here's a taste of the US premiere of Heiner Goebbels Songs of Wars I Have Seen performed by the London Sinfonietta and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

video of Beethoven's Emperor Concerto

Here are a few minutes of the SPCO and Artistic Partner Pierre-Laurent Aimard performing Beethoven's Emperor Concerto this weekend.


Paul and Dee on Jan 17th concert

We must admit that we’ve been looking forward to this program since it was announced last spring. We are self-confessed Pierre-Laurent Aimard idolaters. If there was a celebrity fan magazine devoted to the world’s greatest pianists, we’d have his fold-out picture up on the wall over our stereo. We know not everyone admires his approach at all times, feeling that he brings to the older canon too much of his training with and predilection for the post-war avant-garde. But we like his severe, pure aesthetic, the way he (at his best) can strip the sometimes dead weight of tradition off the performance of the 18th and 19th century canon. As a performer, (see his interpretation of Bach’s “Art of the Fugue” on DG last year) he seems, with the rigor of a scientist, to prefer to go back to first principles in thinking about a piece. Paul says he visualizes Aimard bearing in his hands like a gift the post-war canon as he journeys back to meet with its progenitors.

Dee: For me, Aimard and the SPCO’s performance of the Emperor concerto was a highpoint of an already surprising and always interesting festival. And this particular Beethoven—there is such beauty overflowing from the piece that it would seem difficult for the performers to plumb more, but they do. Pierre-Laurent Aimard represents the delicate beauty of the concerto with seeming ease—like Paul, I feel so much of the performance rests in his hands, whether rippling down the keyboard, pretending to be swans to solicit lovely tones, or as fists launching salvos. The SPCO musicians too, seem to bond instantly with Aimard’s intent. I don’t hear any questions in the piece; just faith that all is not only well with the world, but can also that the world can be beautiful.

Paul: Despite our musings on Aimard above, which may deceptively make it appear like we think we know something, I found myself quite surprised by the performance. I expected a rigorously abstract performance, but, as usual when a performance is well thought out, my preconceptions were dashed by the live performance’s surprises. This lovely interpretation of the Emperor revealed to me the insouciance under Beethoven’s typical muscularity. Aimard and the SPCO played this piece in a deceptively relaxed style, moving under Aimard’s lead in an instant from vigorous to stately to insistent. In their hands, this concerto was delicately taut.

After the break, it was on to the Goebbels composition from 2007. We would like to mention as prologue that we admired the guts of the programming here, putting the new piece after the old and much-loved classic. The usual convention these days seems to be to reward the audience for sitting through the unfamiliar by saving the familiar composition they know and love for last. This decision made internal sense too, as it turned out; the Goebbels piece was highly dramatic (see our last review, in which Paul rather plaintively asks why European high art music doesn’t employ the language of theater more—never mind!).

Speaking of theatrics, we were both impressed with the manner in which the whole stage was used to allow the correct mood and properties for the Goebbels. The planners simply arranged for a curtain behind the first work to hide the homey, lamp-lit set that was pre-arranged for the second.

Anu Tali, conducting the London Sinfonietta and The Orchestra for the Age of Enlightenment, highlights adeptly the questions that seem to stream from this work. The questions and conversational comments that run through the piece are the same now as they were in post-war Europe; to paraphrase: “How long has it been going on now, this war? … even I, who used to be optimistic have become fairly pessimistic, now.” Tali does not shy away from the silences inherent to our knowledge of our involvement or noninvolvement in recent wars. She allows Goebbels messages to sink in at many levels: the stark contrasts befit its multi-layered complexity. Among other things, it seemed to us a meditation on the Enlightenment as a progenitor for both good and ill of the “modern” world from the perspective of a fragmented “postmodern” aesthetic. The Baroque, as representation of the Enlightenment’s dawn, young, fresh and optimistic, keeps erupting into the composition’s present, the twentieth century world wars which seemed to dash the hopes of the Enlightenment regarding the efficacy of the progress of knowledge. We also see the Enlightenment in its 19th century maturity and flowering, as represented by its legacy teaching us to perceive the world anew through science, the very science that collapses us into the morass of the twentieth century.

Moreover, the readings of Gertrude Stein’s wartime letters throughout the piece demonstrate starkly the potential oppressiveness of a patriarchal scientific “objectivity,” a point the piece also “stages” by having the women form a community in the front of the stage, while the men form percussive cadre in the back.

SPCO reviewed in The New York Times

Last week a critic from The New York Times went to a few festival concerts. Click here to read his review of the January 15th and 16th (am) performances.

We also had some local reviews this weekend. Click here to read the Star Tribune's review of the January 15th concert. And click here to read the Pioneer Press review of the January 16th (pm) concert.

Friday, January 16, 2009

photos from Thursday night's concert

Here are a few photos of last night's concert with the London Sinfonietta and Soprano Claire Booth at SPCO Center.

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

Paul and Dee on Thursday night's concert

Hello, fellow SPCO music lovers! Dee and Paul here, hoping that you all are well, safe, and warm as we foray into our second week of the Festival. First, if you have yet to attend a concert at the SPCO Music Room in the Hamm Building in St. Paul, do! We all felt like adventurers, braving the bitter cold to hear some contemporary music.

Dee: The evening began exquisitely with Birtwistle’s Cortege, a Ceremony for 14 Musicians. Never having heard his music before, I didn’t know quite what to expect. From the title, I guess I thought there would be fanfare...pomp. And that was true, but it was too fragmented and even comic to be pompous, as if the composer had taken little pieces of pomp and put it into composed frames. After the piece, I whispered to Paul, “I felt like I was waiting for a bus outside of some type of musician’s hostel, where each musician is shown practicing the piece.” Distant skronks from a tired trombone, booming drums, persistent bassoons. The sounds waxed and waned, sounding at times like the Doppler effect, but in reverse. It was as if the music was a separate entity from the musicians and it was blowing by, leaving the orchestra and the audience standing.

Paul: It wasn’t as easy for me to find my way “in” to the first piece as it was for Dee (she paints, and clearly that metaphor helped her inside the piece—“composed frames” etc.). I found myself struggling to latch on. And I’m afraid this exercise in humility, while no doubt good for my soul, went on a little too long. It did serve to remind me that art is always baffling without an interpretive idea to let you in to start to make sense of it. One of the fun, challenging and exciting things about newer music for me is that there aren’t as many “received” ideas about how to understand the pieces, the way there are with, say, Bach.

I liked the bit of physical theater at the end, the “ceremony,” as the flute player went to each of the other players, played directly to them and moved to the next after they responded, as if the flute were summoning/waking them. Made me wonder: why doesn’t the continuing tradition of European art music use theater more (besides the obvious practical considerations)?

Paul again: I loved the second piece, Or Voit Tout en Aventure for Soprano and 16 Players. The piece seems to be in part a meditation on musical aesthetics: high Renaissance celebrations of classical artistic forms meet with objections and complaints both more modern and more ancient, embodied by abrupt shifts in mood and form. Or Voit more fully revealed to me the high level at which the London Sinfonietta obviously functions. They weaved in and out of each other’s lines of argument as if they were used to conversing only through music. And soprano Claire Booth was wonderful, with beautiful diction and clear, ringing tones. They weren’t just “playing”; you could see them tracking through the dilemmas the piece presented, in both form and content.

Dee: I’m skipping over a couple of pieces to reach Benjamin’s Three Inventions for Chamber Orchestra. I saw this piece as both modern and primal. The trumpets blasting were overrun by piccolos and pennywhistles; the brasses plucked at by violins and violas until their tones were velvet-soft. Now muttering, now whining. Chatter. Shriek! Shriek!

Paul: Yes, I agree with Dee that this piece had a certain almost physical presence underneath its dissonance. By the last movement, booms and cries resonated from the percussion and wind instruments respectively, while the strings hopped and skittered over them.

So we both enjoyed the evening. The London Sinfonietta musicians are obviously ace players and we felt very lucky to be able to see them in this intimate space, so far from their home.

The concert as a whole also made us think about the issue of “new music” versus “the classics” in classical music halls. As audience members we both prefer to support the “artist” role for classical players - the role of the sensitive and mindful interpreter and creator, rather than the “athlete” role, asking for someone who will perform these works for us “correctly,” (as if that’s possible) but as moribund museum pieces. It seems as if there’s always the danger, because much of the music belongs to the past, especially the music we the audience mostly seem to prefer, that an orchestra will tend toward the latter model, but supporting the active and continuing new music seems to work against that tendency . . . or at least, we think so. We’re open to correction!

We’re going to see the London Sinfonietta twice more, on Saturday at the Ordway with Pierre-Laurent Aimard, the SPCO, and the OAE and again at Ted Mann on Sunday, to do this same program, but substituting Stravinsky for the Bedford piece. See you there!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

SPCO festival reviewed in the Financial Times

A review of the first week of the festival ran in the Financial Times today! Click here to read it.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Paul and Dee on this weekend's concerts

Here is our first blog entry by SPCO patrons Paul and Dee (for an introduction about them, click here.)

Douglas Boyd (conductor) — The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra — Chamber Orchestra of Europe

Our first evening of the International Chamber Orchestra Festival…it felt good to be back at the Ordway after the winter break. We’re always struck by how warm it feels, for a large hall. People chattering excitedly, the air filled with expectation and (at least for us) a little nervousness: will they be good tonight? How will it work, to have 2 orchestras who don’t routinely play with one another onstage?

Wow, the musicians stride out onto the stage! Everyone looks stunning; the ladies elegant and glittering, the gentlemen in white tie and tails. Douglas Boyd enters, stage left, and we begin with Tippett’s Concerto for Double String Orchestra.

The stage is charged. Violins perched on their players’ shoulders. Basses, cellos, and violas at attention. A thrust of Boyd’s hand: the music soars. The first movement is dazzling. Paul feels relief and Dee feels joy (which illustrate our respective temperaments nicely!). The strings sound like they’re negotiating with one another, with the COE’s violas seeming especially brisk and stern, but the whole string section is rising and falling.

Then we’re into the second movement, the two orchestras adeptly performing the movement’s languid English romanticism. For Dee, the stately progress of dark, solemn notes conjures up visions of deep forests pierced by the subdued sunlight of the first violin (COE artist).

No time to waste: right on to the third movement. Dee’s thoughts: “With a wave of his baton, Boyd transported us straight on into joy!”

“Was there a pause, a weightlessness, at a moment one-third of the way through the third movement?” Paul wondered. “Perhaps by design or accidentally made by two orchestras not completely in tune with one another for a moment?” Since we are relative neophytes in this world, we are not always sure whether what we are hearing is intended by the score! In this case, whether by accident or design, Paul thought that it was a wonderful moment of chaos, a stuttering dying fall, the strings lurching and flailing for one tiny instant and then roaring back, seeming to hold at bay (sadly, only while we listened) the anarchy of the world.

Then we were on to Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, written for double chamber orchestra.

Warm. Rich. Romantic. The pastoral English romanticism referenced in the Tippett piece is brought to full life here, but we found it just a touch dull after the brilliant dynamics of the Tippett. Given the standing ovation that the piece received, we seem to be in the minority.

On returning from intermission, the woman next to us wondered out loud, “Say—what is a fugue, exactly?” Paul tried to explain in technical terms (Paul: “That just means I used numbers in a clumsy attempt to illustrate the principle!”). “Huh?” In the row in front of us, another woman clarified, “It’s like an expanded ‘round.’ “Ah,” Dee’s neighbor smiled, “The Bartok has two of them: one in the second and one in the fourth movements.”

We love the SPCO audience.

Then, finally, the Bartók piece we’ve both been excited about hearing, his Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta. We both love the demands Bartók can place on us. Indeed, one of the things we discovered by beginning to attend classical concerts is that, just as in the case of bebop and other post-war jazz forms, complex modernist music is much more easily understood in a live performance than listening to a recording.

It’s always a thrill when the copper kettle drums are wheeled out for a piece. A harp! And of course (for this piece) a celesta.

Paul felt that all four movements were modernist triumphs, with the third movement displaying a modernism within romanticism, thus tying the whole program together. We’ve both always loved what is so creative yet uncompromising about Bartók: “coiled power and beauty,” Paul calls it. Thanks to our concert neighbor, Dee recognized the musical meanderings in the first and fourth movements as fugues. The celesta pitched its pure little fits between times, signaling our heroes to sway and swing in the musical breeze. We felt both orchestras really loved this piece and understood it, as did the conductor, of course. It was wonderful to watch Boyd again and again launch himself furiously into the music.

After the concert was over, we were in the elevator at the Lawson parking ramp, talking to another couple who had attended about how great the show had been. The man said, “the last piece sounded like soundtrack music,” something we also had discussed in relation to Bartók and to the Second Vienna School. We had never realized that there was no reason to be afraid of this music; we already knew it from exemplary film scores, like those Bernard Herrmann composed for Hitchcock.

We had a great time at this concert and thought it augured well for the rest of the festival. We’ll see you there!

Reviews from first festival weekend

The reviews from the first weekend of the festical are in!
Click here to read the review from the Star Tribune
and click here for the one from the Pioneer Press.

One down, three to go!

The first weekend of festival concerts is behind us. We sure enjoyed having the Chamber Orchestra of Europe on our home turf for a while, and we're looking forward to hosting the London Sinfonietta later this week!

Or click here to see a few minutes of the Vaughan Williams piece on Friday night's concert on YouTube.

SPCO patrons blog about the festival

We asked SPCO patrons Paul Gripp and Denise (Dee) Heart to blog about their concert experiences throughout the festival. They introduce themselves to you below and their reaction to this weekend will follow soon.

Hello, SPCO Friends! My name is Dee Hart. My husband Paul Gripp and I will be sharing our thoughts and impressions of the SPCO’s International Chamber Orchestra festival here on this blog.

To start off, a bit about us: a short time after Paul and I met (online) we got married and moved to the Twin Cities. Paul, having grown up in Coon Rapids, was familiar with the area. He was eager to show me St. Paul and Minneapolis; thought we would enjoy our new life there.

For me, it feels sometimes as though I stepped through a gritty tunnel from gothic, gritty Pittsburgh into the magical Twin Cities. I love them both: the prairie-sprung glass blues and greens of Minneapolis and the gray and red quarried castles of St. Paul. Amazingly, for Paul and I (both life-long lovers of punk, soul, rock, and country music) the SPCO has become one of the biggest attractions of the very attractive life here.

It’s only been 13 months or so that Paul and I received a flyer in the mail offering budget seats to a concert. We had both made attempts to enjoy classical music before and even had a few favorite "songs." It seems silly to me now, but we really were intimidated by the thought of actually going to a concert, as opposed to a rock ‘n roll blowout. We talked it over: "What the heck, it's only twenty bucks for the both of us. If we get too bored, we can leave."

"If we get too bored," for me meant, "I'm probably not smart enough to understand this music." I had always felt like classical music was something I "should" do. Like eating lentils, or flossing every night. Wrong! Also, having grown up working class, I thought things like chamber orchestras were for rich people. Again, wrong!

I loved, too, how warm the audience was. For such a huge group, many people seemed to know one another. Paul and I are looking forward to sharing some of our impressions on this blog: how the music makes us feel; how a certain conductor or artist can create an entirely different mood from a piece we'd heard differently before; even the winter loveliness of the square in front of the Ordway--all twinkle lights and snow.

Oh, and before I forget, Happy 50th Birthday, SPCO! We’re so glad you were born!

Friday, January 9, 2009

patron reactions to opening concert

Here are reactions from a few of our patrons about last night's performance.

get your radios ready!

Minnesota Public Radio will be broadcasting several of our festival concerts LIVE! Here's when you can tune in to hear festival concerts (if you're not already in the concert hall, that is!)

Saturday, January 10 at 8pm live national and regional broadcast
Saturday, January 17 at 8pm live regional broadcast
Saturday, January 24 at 8pm live regional broadcast

Also, there will be a special live broadcast of the SPCO's birthday party concert* on Saturday, January 31. Listen to an SPCO retrospective feature at 7pm, followed by the concert at 8pm.

All of these can be heard on MPR's Classical 99.5FM.

*Note: This concert is not open to the public.

SPCO bassist Chris Brown comments on opening concert

After last night's opening concert we asked Principal Bass Chris Brown what he thought of the concert and what it was like to hear another orchestra on his home stage. Here's what he said.

Festival opening concert on YouTube

The opening concert of the festival was a great success! The SPCO's winds opened the program with Berg's Chamber Concerto and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe closed with a crowd-pleasing performance of Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence. Check out a few minutes of that piece here on YouTube.

Festival in the Star Tribune

There's a great article about the festival in the Star Tribune today. It made the front page of the Variety section. If you don't get the paper in print, you can read the story here.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Minnesota finds another customer

While the Chamber Orchestra of Europe staff member in charge of printing and binding music was touring the SPCO Center, he became mesmerized by a piece of equipment used by SPCO Librarian Jim Kortz that quickly binds several sheets of paper together with one piece of special tape. It turns out that Jim’s music binding device was a prototype brought to him by a 3M representative over 25 years ago. Luckily, the product is still made and distributed by another Minnesota company, Vital Presentation Concepts (VPC), and after a quick phone call, a VPC representative stopped by with one for the Chamber Orchestra of Europe to take home! coverage of the festival just posted their coverage of the festival as well. Click here to read David Hawley's article.

Festival on MPR news this morning

This morning Minnesota Public Radio aired a news story about the International Chamber Orchestra Festival. If you missed it on the radio, you can read the story here and also stream the audio.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Festival media coverage begins

The Chamber Orchestra of Europe is here! They arrived safely in Minnesota last night, and we were even able to direct some of them to the Mall of America. Today is a busy day full of rehearsals in anticipation of Thursday night's opening festival concert at the Ordway.

A couple of local media items hit earlier this week about the festival, which might be of interest.

Click here to read the Pioneer Press' article
Click here to read the Star Tribune's Spotlight