Can’t wait for the new season of the SPCO

I just received my season tickets for the 2009-2010 for the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.

Some of the highlights for the season.

  • New world premiere commissioned for soprano Dawn Upshaw – Nov 7
  • Stravinsky Festival – Jan 8-24
  • Cantus – May 20-23
  • Joshua Bell – May 27-39

I am a bit disappointed that the Nov 7 concert is one night only.  The Stravinsky Festival will be nice to see, and I think is the first time they will play with the Minnesota Orchestra since Britten’s War Requiem a few years back.  Cantus is a great choral ensemble, and worth seeing.  Former SPCO artistic partner Joshua Bell is back after performing a recital with the Schubert Club in 2008 and Minnesota Orchestra earlier this year.

Looking at the program for the six chamber music series, which is really blind faith for subscription as they are rarely programmed at renewal time, I am pretty happy.  Not only that, but I am very glad that I increased my subscription to two tickets on Friday nights.

Here is the program.  Dates are Friday nights at 8 PM and Sunday afternoon at 2 PM.

Oct 2/4 – Haydn String Quartet

  • Program to include:
  • Haydn: String Quartet in G
  • Kodaly: Serenade for Two Violins and Viola

Oct 23/25 – SPCO Winds

  • Villa-Lobos: Bachianas brasileras No. 6 for Flute and Basson
  • Piston: Three Pieces for Flute, Clarinet and Bassoon
  • Beethoven: Wind Sextet
  • Enesco: Dixtour for Wind Instruments
  • Wilder: Woodwind Quintet No. 2

Dec 11/13 – Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto

  • Bach/Sitkovetsky: Goldberg Variations
  • Bach: Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 4 and 5

Feb 5/7 – Boccherini, Leclair, and Borodin

  • Boccherini: String Quintet in C
  • Leclair: Sonata for Two Violins, Op. 3, No. 4
  • Borodin: String Quartet No. 2 in D

Feb 19/21 – Dvorak and a World Premiere

  • Telemann: Quartet in A Minor
  • Telemann: Trio Sonata in A Minor
  • David Evan Thomas: New Work for Recorder, Oboe, Bassoon, Violin, and Harpsichord
  • Dvorak: String Quintet in E-flat, The American

May 14/16 – Mozart, Beethoven and More

  • Dohnanyi: Serenade in C for Violin, Viola and Cello
  • Beethoven: Sextet in E-flat for Two Horns and String Quartet
  • Mozart: Horn Quintet in E-flat
  • Martinu: Nonet for Winds and Strings

The only regret with the programming is that I wish they were doing all six Brandenburg Concertos in one evening like they did in the 2007-2008 season.

-Josh

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SPCO concert review – Sept 13, 2008

I feel like I finally got my fix, it has been two months since I have seen live classical music performed.  I think I was going into withdrawal.  Looking at my schedule next week, I have to say that I am going to look like a junkie with 4 days in a row of live music!

So on to tonight – the artistic partner for this weekend’s program was Robert Abbado and the featured soloist was pianist Peter Serkin.  Here is the program:

  • Stravinsky – Concerto in D for Strings
  • Stravinsky – Movements for Piano and Orchestra
  • Wuorinen – Flying to Kahani
  • Haydn – Symphony No. 103, Drum Roll

I really like the bookends to this program, the first Stravinsky piece and the Haydn Symphony.  To my ears, the Concerto in D was not as conventional as much of the classical repertoire, but it was still very enjoyable.  The second Stravinsky piece was very similiar to what you would hear in 12 tone by Arnold Schoenberg.  The piece by Wuorinen is another 12 tone work and neither of these were as pleasing to my ears.

At intermission I chatted with my friend Egil (or Bravo Man) and he thought the Movements for Piano and Orchestra wasn’t played very well, and he enjoyed the Wuorinen.

After intermission it was just the Haydn Symphony.  It was very enjoyable from beginning to end.  This particular symphony is on of the 12 London Symphonies composed by Haydn.  It opened with a very distinctive timpani solo, the reason it is called Drum Roll, and continued on from there.  I was a bit suprised that the concertmaster, Steven Copes, was acknowledged as a soloist before the timpanist, but from my vantage in the left back corner of the orchestra I didn’t have good view of Steven’s solo work (thinking quantity).

It looks like Abaddo and Serkin have combined on the Wuorinen piece before.  You can see reviews of the SPCO concert program in the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press.

Besides the actual concert performance, I have some other comments on the experience and musicians.  First, I used Club 2030, but it was a bit more complicated than last time.  A friend of mine who happens to be in a wheelchair was to join me.  The SPCO holds tickets for concertgoers who are in wheelchairs and their companions.  However, because the spots are locked, you need to call the ticket office to access the tickets with the Club 2030 discount, rather than on-line.  At first the ticket office staff wanted to direct me to the on-line ordering, but I was persistent, pointing out that the seats I needed to purchase were not available on-line because they were locked.

I also noticed the both Shane Kim and Kathryn Bennett were back playing with the SPCO.  Shane had played with the Minnesota Orchestra all last season, and Kathryn seemed to be with Minnesota Orchestra for most of the end of last season.  I ran into to Shane on the street after the concert and he informed me that he will be performing with both Orchestras this season.  I also ran into Bernhard Scully, principal horn, after the concert.  I have never talked to him before, but he was very personable, introducing himself, asking if I go to other concerts, and telling me to say hi next time I see him.  I also remember hearing from someone that he was a Minneapolis South High graduate (like myself) and he confirmed it – class of ’95.

Speaking of fellow South High alums, my sister’s friend Sarah was sitting down the row from me.  She is in her early 30s and really enjoyed her seats via Club 2030 (and the music) and looks forward to the free Enso Quartet concert next Saturday that was offered to Club 2030 members.

Question of the Day – August 17, 2008

Is Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires the most passionate classical music in the world?

Question of the Day – July 11, 2008

Will Osmo Vanska show more composure if there is pre-mature applause tonight at the Day of Music than he did on June 12th?

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!

-Josh

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.

-Josh

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.

-Josh

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.

-Josh

MN Opera performs Rusalka

This week the Minnesota Opera has been performing Rusalka by Dvorak.  The plot is adapted from the Little Mermaid, although not with a Disney ending.

The overall story is a little light, and a bit bizarre, but the music is outstanding.

Coming from my worldview of an atheist, I found it interesting that in the opening act, that Rusalka wants to be human, become mortal so her soul can go to heaven when she dies.  Not sure if that is the original translation or just the translation that we saw, but it strikes of trying to convert people to Christianity from a pagan belief system.

We also have the prince falling for the mute (just to humans) Rusalka in less than a week, and then falling for the more passionate foreign princess.  Rusalka’s dress in this second act was well designed to convey the image of being a fish, but the red color, which looked very nice, didn’t match the words or concept of her being cold and that being the reason the prince left her for this foreign princess.

At the very end, the prince commits suicide, basically sacrificing himself for the curse that befell Rusalka when he rejected her.  I wonder how that balances out theologically and ethically, I mean he isn’t really sacrificing himself as much to help Rusalka as to get over his guilt.

The set was really nice, it worked well, especially with the projected images.  Other than the red dress for Rusalka in the second act, I really thought the costumes fit well with the theme of the opera and the set.  The chorus was pretty minimal, but the use of dancers was really nice and enhanced the production.

I really enjoyed the signing and I thought all the roles were well sung.

I brought my friend Egil, who really enjoyed it.  He thought there was a lot of Wagner in this opera.  He also shouted out a lot of bravos and bravas, and got thumbs up from some of  the cast as they walked on stage, so clearly they appreciated his enthusiasm.  I know that staff at the Minnesota Opera know of him as bravo guy, and last year I talked to one that wondered what had happened to him as he hasn’t been able to go for the past few years, they will know that he is back now.

There are two performances left, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.  I would highly recommend them if you are free.

-Josh

Want deals, get on e-mail lists

As I have previously mentioned, Club 2030 with the SPCO is a great deal. SPCO is not the only good deal in town and I will list a few more.

If you know of other good ones, post them in the comment section.

Last night I had a 2 for 1 offer from Dakota to see the Somi who isn’t well known. They are trying to fill the house.

Tuesday, Landmark Theater had a free preview offer for Young @ Heart for Wednesday.

I saw the Dale Barltrop recital as part of the Club 2030 program and have had offer for 2 for 1, not often, through the general e-mail program for SPCO.

Guthrie will often give you discounts for mid week shows.

Riverview Theater doesn’t really have deals, unless you count it a deal every time you go like I do. But if you like the theater, which I do a lot, then it is great way to get information about upcoming schedule. They also use it to ask for advice on things like showing Tour de France and World Cup, or to let you buy their old seats (last December) as they replaced them (new ones are nice).

So if you like good deals, get on these lists. I am on all of them so I speak from experience.

-Josh

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