SPCO Chamber concert features Mollie Marcuson on harp

This past weekend the SPCO had their last Chamber Music series concerts, and the first part of the program featured harpist Mollie Marcuson.

Here is the program for the concert:

  • Fantasy in A for Violin and Harp, Op. 124 – Saint-Saens
    Mollie Marcuson-harp, Daria Adams-violin
  • Entr’acte for Flute and Harp (from Le medecin de son honneur) – Ibert
    Mollie Marcuson-harp, Alicia McQuerrey-flute
  • Sonata en trio, for Flute, Viola, and Harp, L.137 – Debussy
    Mollie Marcuson-harp, Alicia McQuerrey-flute, Tamas Strasser-viola
  • Archduke Trio, Op. 97 – Beethoven
    Leslie Shank-violin, Joshua Koestenbaum-cello, Lydia Artymiw-piano

While the most famous piece is the Archduke Trio, which would lead you to think that was the signature piece.  I really feel that having three chamber pieces with harp meant the SPCO was showcasing the able skills of Marcuson.

For me, the Saint-Saens piece was my favorite of the night.  It was very beautiful and a great pairing of Adams on violin and Marcuson on harp.  I didn’t like Ibert as much, not sure if it is the music itself of the instrumentation pairing.  The Debussy took a while to grow on me, but by the last movement, I was enjoying it a lot.

It was really nice to have the harp as a featured instrument.  It has such a beautiful sound, and for it to be brought forward for so much of a concert, was great.

I also enjoyed sitting right in front of the harp.  When I attend SPCO concerts at the Ordway, the harp is tucked behind the string section, and from my front row seats, can’t see much of the instrument or performer.  On Friday, I was enjoying watching the pedal (seven pedals) work for the first two pieces, the music stand blocking the view of the finger work.  With a shift in the instrument placement, I got to watch the finger work for the Debussy, and it was pretty amazing to see.

For the other string instruments, you have one hand working 4 strings, and the other controlling the bowing (or occasionally plucking) of those strings (how I describe based on my observations).  But for the harp, you have both hands working a lot of different strings, often two fingers of the same hand working two different strings.  There were a few parts of the Debussy, where Marcuson seemed to be plucking three strings over and over, very quickly, with just one hand.  Add in the hands muting the vibrations, which reminds me of the timpani, and it is was just as fun to see as to hear.

Thank you SPCO for programming a harp heavy concert, and kudos to Marcuson for a great performance!



If Bush is compassionate, then I am the Pope.

You may recall, that new catch phrase that was run during the 2000 election – compassionate conservative, this was to describe the new face of conservatism brought to you about George W Bush.

Sadly, he was high on conservatism, and very lacking in compassion.  As a perfect example, which you were probably ignorant of thanks to corporate media and their crush on candidate Bush.

As Christopher Brauchli reported in Common Dreams last fall,

In 1997 Texas was allotted $561 million that it was required to spend in full by 2000. According to the Dallas Morning News, mid-way through 2000 Texas had only spent $112 million leaving $449 million unspent. By June 2000, 123,000 Texas families had applied for assistance but only 27,000 children had been enrolled. According to the Children’s Defense Fund Report, Texas ranked 45th among the states enrolling children in CHIP. Texas was one of only 8 states where the number of children with any form of health insurance declined from 1997 to 1999.

Failure to implement CHIP was not Mr. Bush’s only success in protecting Texans from the greedy needy. His other successes were described by U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice. On August 14, 2000 Judge Justice entered a ruling on a case that had been filed against Texas for its failure to live up to a 1996 consent decree involving other health care programs. The judge gave Mr. Bush a report card that looked a lot like ones he probably got in grade school. It had lots of “needs improvement” on it. He said Mr. Bush had failed to improve children’s access to Medicaid, checkups under the program’s managed care arm were inadequate and fewer than 10 percent of children were receiving immunizations. He said the state had failed to inform indigent families about the availability of health services. He said managed care plans to which some indigent Texans had been assigned were not providing the required services and 1 million eligible individuals had received no dental care. In response to the judge’s findings Mr. Bush said: “[W]e’ve got a good record in signing up children for Medicaid and we’re going to continue to do so.” He must have been thinking of something the judge had overlooked.

So his record as Governor Bush was pretty dismal in helping the poor-more conservative than compassionate in my book.

Now the reason this is important is because Bush has done a couple of things to limit access to SCHIP from the top down, as the magical unitary executive that he is.  One is that he has vetoed increased funding for SCHIP to expand the number of children that are covered.

At issue is a program that provides health insurance for children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford private health insurance. The vetoed measure would expand the $5 billion-a-year program by an average of $7 billion a year over the next five years. Supporters say that would be enough to boost enrollment to 10 million, up from 6.6 million, and dramatically reduce the number of uninsured children in the country, currently about 9 million.

The other method he used was to have the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issue a letter explaining the statutory and regulatory reason to limit SCHIP to families whose income is below 250% of the federal poverty level (FPL).  Ironically, this letter has this sentence:

In addition, section 2102(c) of the Act requires that State child health plans include procedures for outreach and coordination with other public and private health insurance programs.

It sure would have been nice if that spotlight had been directed to Governor Bush’s record.

Back to this letter, I have a huge problem with the FPL because it is a one size fits all for the whole contiguous 48 states, and do we really think that $13,690 for a family of 2 can be stretched the same in Manhattan as in Topeka, Kansas?  That is why some of the states with a higher cost of living are expanding coverage past 250% of FPL.

The bigger issue for conservatives, who rely heavily on corporate campaign contributions, is that SCHIP could cause children with current private coverage to switch to public health insurance under SCHIP, this is called “crowd out.”  Of course, this is about private insurance not wanting to compete with public insurance, guess there some doubts in the church of free market!

The good news is that the Government Accounting Office has informed Congress that the letter constitutes a rule, and as such must be submitted to Congress and the Comptroller General before taking effect.

The August 17 letter from CMS to state health officials is a statement of general applicability and future effect designed to implement, interpret, or prescribe law or policy with regard to SCHIP. Accordingly, it is a rule under the Congressional Review Act. Therefore, before it can take effect, it must be submitted to Congress and the Comptroller General.

Hopefully this ruling by the GAO will lead the CMS to withdraw the letter.


Out of town

I was out of town on vacation in Toronto, so I am doing a little catch up on stuff from the past few weeks.  I have already posted on two concerts I saw just before leaving.  Now I will switch gear and get to some policy and political stuff that happened just before or while I was out of town.


SPCO plays the Devil’s Trill

This weekend the SPCO had a very nice concert.  So nice, that at least one of my friends that saw it three times.

The concert opened with Rameau’s Suite from Zoroastre, very much a baroque piece.  I am not sure that I have heard any music by Rameau before, but it doesn’t matter because I really liked it.  A few times it seemed like I heard some elements of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in it.  It was interesting that the violins were reduced to four musicians (from six) for each of the first and second violin sections, the violas were their usual four, the cellos were halved to two, and bass also halved to one.  For cello and bass, the principals did not play.

Second up was the very familiar by now (saw it on February 9th and April 6th), Tartini’s Devil’s Trill, arranged for violin solo, piano, and string orchestra.  I have seen this piece earlier this season with Joshua Bell and Dale Baltrop in recital, but without the string orchestra.  As before, this is a great piece and Dale Barltrop once again played it beautifully.  It was hard for me to hear the piano where I was sitting, but the strings were a really nice complement to the solo violin.  As expected (and same as Thursday at Temple Israel as reported by my friends) Dale got a very quick standing ovation from the audience which was well deserved.

After intermission we heard Dvorak’s Serenade in D Minor for Winds, Op. 44.  This was a fun piece that featured winds (no flutes) plus solo cello and solo bass played by the principals.  At the start of the third movement I really enjoyed the parts by Timothy Paradise on clarinet and Kathryn Greenback on oboe.  It was also nice to see Sarah Lewis, Sabina Thatcher, and Michael Christie (Michael was sitting one row in front of me on the aisle) sitting in the audience for it.  Steven Copes lurked in a doorway for about 2 movements.

The final piece of the night was Ligeti’s Concert Romanesc (Romanian Concerto) which took a while to start.  After the stagehands rearranged the seating and stands, the musicians came out and sat, we waited a little while for Michael Christie to take the stage and conduct this final piece.  He left his seat after the Wind Serenade pretty early in the applause, so I am not sure what happened.

The good news is that the wait was well worth it.  This was a fun, lively piece that was fun to hear.  I had heard from my friend who attended the night before that it was good, and my guest that joined me said it was her favorite piece that night.  I hope we hear it again.


Dawn Upshaw sings Schubert

On April 24th (and 26th) Dawn Upshaw sang in her final concert of the season as an Artistic Partner with the SPCO. This was the first concert I attended with a Club 2030 purchased seat, which placed me in seat 213 and row S. The view from this location was very nice, I could see the wind section for a change.

The concert started with Stravinsky’s Suite from Pulcinella which is a beautiful piece, especially the second movement-Serenata. This piece had the principal strings (excluding bass), Steven Copes-1st violin, Dale Barltrop-2nd violin, Sabina Thatcher-viola, and Ronald Thomas-cello, sitting in string quartet formation and the rest of their sections sitting behind them.

It was a bit odd to start the concert program with such a long piece (23 minutes) as often they start with a shorter piece to make it easier to seat late people between pieces, rather than between movements. However, that was probably a nod to Dawn Upshaw’s performance in the later two pieces before intermission.

As I mentioned, the Serenata is particularly nice, it features a nice opening oboe solo which was wonderfully played by Kathryn Greenbank. This movement is one of my favorite all time and I was happy to hear it live again. I have this recording of it and I recommend it highly.

After the Suite was finished, I was a bit surprised that conductor Douglas Boyd, an oboist himself, shook hands with the string quartet members after the piece, but didn’t acknowledge Kathryn Greenbank until after he returned to the stage.

The next two pieces were songs by Stravinsky-Two Poems of Constantin Bal’mont and Three Japanese Lyrics with Dawn Upshaw singing soprano. Both were short, 3 minutes, I didn’t enjoy them all that much, not awful, just not my cup of tea.  In an interesting change of pace, the SPCO used supertitles and two TVs on the side of the stage (for those sitting close) to provide translations of the text.  They had done supertitles for years, then at one point switched to paper inserts to the program book.

This was the first concert I have heard for the give, not sure if they started a week earlier with the neighborhood series, but happy they didn’t do it at the April 5th concert (which in past years they would have).  This year’s theme is about people coming to the SPCO and that they want to support the organization.  As in the past they have a match from the Bush Foundation for new and increased giving.  The increased giving might be why they are giving a book on the SPCO for $150, higher than last year’s DVD (with TPT) about their tour to Europe which went to those who gave $100.

After intermission, we heard a world premiere of Schubert songs (She Was Here) arranged by Golijov. I am not really familiar with these songs, not sure I have heard them before. I really liked them, the music was very nice and we were able to see Golijov take a bow for his work as he was in attendance. In fact he was sitting 2 rows in front of me.

Last year the SPCO played a piece by Golijov, The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind for Klezmer Clarinet and String Quartet (arranged for klezmer clarinet and string orchestra) which has a very different sound (Klezmer), but also very enjoyable. I recommend this recording which I own. Hopefully we will hear more from this composer in the future.

The concert ended with Haydn’s Symphony No. 104, London. As usual, this was another great performance. If you like Haydn, you should look at subscribing to the SPCO, you will see his symphonies played with them much more often than with the Minnesota Orchestra.

For those of you who are less familiar with classical music, where I used to be until I started going all the time. Haydn really did have 104 symphonies, much more than the 9 symphonies of Beethoven, and rightfully so is called the father of symphonies.


Bryn Terfel at the Schubert Club

On April 23rd, bass-baritone Bryn Terfel performed at the Ordway.  This was the only vocal recital I saw this year at the Schubert Club and it was quite enjoyable.

Early on it became clear that Terfel is a good performer, not just his great singing, but also his comfort with the audience, his stage presence.  I have seen singers with orchestras that just stand and sing, but have no real stage personality, Terfel is not one of those singers.  Probably the best example was a few years ago when the Baldwin sisters (Christina Baldwin and Jennifer Baldwin Peden) were on stage with the Minnesota Orchestra with two male singers for the Mozart Opera concert of the Casual Classics series.  The two guys just stood in their tuxes and sang, while the Baldwin sisters demonstrated great stage craft, the best was looking through the open frame like they were looking through a mirror.

Reading the text of the songs, especially of English language songs, it seemed that a few times either Terfel or the text was a bit off since they didn’t quite match a couple of times.

During the last set of songs, Songs of the Celtic Isles, Terfel solicited some audience participation for the last two songs.  For Ar Hyd y Nos (All Through the Night) he had the audience humming with the music.  For the last song, Molly Malone, he had the audience singing with the chorus part.  At first we were pathetic and he stopped and had us stand to sing better.  The audience clearly enjoyed it, I think it is a sneaky (but fun) way to ensure a standing ovation, which he would have receive anyway.  The other strange thing with the Celtic Isles is that he skipped Cariad Cyntaf (First Love).

For an encore, he sang a nice song, can’t remember the name.  I don’t know if this was a true mistake, or part of the fun that we were lead to with the audience participation, but pianist Malcolm Martineau had the wrong music when Terfel announced the piece from the stage.  I am guessing it was planned, as Terfel went up to the piano while Martineau was off stage getting the right music and played a few notes of the music he had brought out originally and nodding it was the wrong music.  During the encore, Terfel hopped off stage and sung to women in the audience, holding hands, kissing hands, and playing footsie.  Once again showing his skills as a performer, and with his ability to get back on stage his skills at moving quickly.

It was a great performance and a nice end to the Schubert Club’s International Artist Series for the season.