Category Archives: My Writing

Hartford Symphony Hornbook

It strikes me I should just automate my autumn blog entries using a contract dispute MadLib.

[NAME], the CEO of the [CITY OR STATE NAME] Orchestra, has recently threatened [ASTONISHINGLY HIGH NUMBER] percentage cuts in musician compensation, because of [THE ECONOMY / “THE NEW MODEL” / A LACK OF SUSTAINABILITY]. In his role as CEO, he earns [ASTONISHINGLY HIGH NUMBER EXPONENTIALLY HIGHER THAN PREVIOUS ASTONISHINGLY HIGH NUMBER] every year, and yet has puzzlingly few symphonic accomplishments to show for it. In the run-up to the dispute, [CEO NAME] has given public indications that he is more interested in the [NAME OF HALL THE ORCHESTRA PLAYS IN or PARENT ORGANIZATION THE ORCHESTRA HAS BEEN ABSORBED INTO] than in the [CITY OR STATE NAME] Orchestra, and also has an undeniable weakness for pops shows. [INSENSITIVE QUOTE DEMONSTRATING A LACK OF UNDERSTANDING OF THE ISSUES]

In 2012 (…and 2013…), the star of the MadLib was the Minnesota Orchestra’s Michael Henson. In 2014, we all enjoyed the antics of Atlanta Symphony President Dr. Stanley Romanstein, Ph.D. (Both have since moved on from their respective organizations.) Now American orchestra lovers have a new name to learn: David Fay is the man in charge of the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, as well as the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.

The Hartford Symphony, however, is a more….recent acquisition.

*ominous thunderclap in distance*

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IV. Eaux Claires Festival: Starlight

Eaux Claires, Saturday, after sunset. The ticket stand was close to abandoned; the workers were joking around as I paid cash for a second ticket. The murmur of the crowd echoed in the valley. Walking down into the field, parts of the path were so dark I couldn’t see my hands.

“Here?” I asked my friend. Close enough to see, far enough away to watch.

“Sure.”

She took off her sweater and spread it across the grass. People around us sat, then stood, then sat again. Some were laughing. A few were smoking. The heat had finally broken. Muggy, expectant starlight now.

The crowd shrieked itself into ecstasy as a figure took the stage. It was festival narrator and beautifully talented local author Michael Perry, lit up from behind like a rock star. “Good to see you here. Everybody’s gathered round for…” and his voice sharpened: “vespers.”

Perry offered a brief meditation on the nature of neighbors, of the valley, of music. “And so here we are, cradled by a river in a sanctuary of sound, craving consecration, exultation, on bended knee, seeking benediction.” About halfway through, electronic noises began spattering away behind his baseball cap. New Bon Iver backup singers The Staves listened, their arms around each other. Everything felt tuned to a higher pitch. In more ways than one, the stage was set.

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III. Eaux Claires Festival: Twilight

We don’t talk about Bon Iver’s name enough. A homonym of “bon hiver,” or “good winter” in French, the words recall a wooden Wisconsin cabin, probably with the chimney puffing and snowbanks heaped outside. But this Friday and Saturday in that very state, the average high temperature was much hotter: the heat reached around 90 degrees, plus humidity. Far from the icy grip of winter, a July audience enjoyed a rare Bon Iver set from musician Justin Vernon. The occasion? None other than the inaugural Eaux Claires festival, which Vernon founded and co-curated with the National’s Aaron Dessner. It kicked off on Friday; read a recap here. Eaux Claires’s second and final day of music featured extra genre-blurring excitement, a fun Indigo Girls set, and Vernon’s first Bon Iver performance since 2012….

[Sufjan] Stevens also shared some of his personal feelings about the show: “Great to be here and have this view…beautiful and happy faces. It’s a picture of abundance.” He looked out from stage. “I never play festivals — I have such a fear of crowds — agoraphobia, social anxiety. The last two days have been proving all my fears wrong. It’s been like a 48-hour episode of My Little Pony.”…

Billboard, July 19

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Is Twin Cities Business Publishing Clickbait About Our Orchestra?

Two weeks ago, Twin Cities Business ran an article about the Minnesota Orchestra called:

Does The Minnesota Orchestra Have Sustainable Labor Contracts?

Okay, Twin Cities Business: you’ve immediately pulled my Pissiness Pulley by using the words “Minnesota Orchestra” and “sustainable” in the same sentence. Much like the ideas of American exceptionalism or precooked meat products, the concept of sustainability in the orchestra world has been used to justify some truly terrible stuff. Twin Cities Business should know this, and tread carefully.

Next comes a worrying, intestine-twisting subheadline:

The orchestra’s finances might not be as stable as they seem

worried 2

we’re gonna die; we’re ALL GONNA DIE

Okay, let’s back up.

First off: the finances have recovered enough to seem stable? I missed that. The fact there’s even a perception of stability is news in and of itself.

Second, why the passive-aggressive tone? Is it sunny outside? I don’t know; it seems like it, but the weather might not be as stable as it seems.

Well, seeds of doubt as to the purpose and seriousness of this article have already been planted in the headline and sub-headline, so the actual article itself should be fun!!!!11!11!

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II: Eaux Claires Festival: Afternoon

On a cold March night, I found a video of The Staves and Justin Vernon singing Make It Holy.

It was early in the month: the time of year when spring seems both impossibly near and far. My mother and I were living at my grandmother’s farm, sleeping in my dead grandfather’s bed. There was nowhere else to put us.

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I. Eaux Claires Festival: Morning

Her family owns a woods, and like a girl in a fairytale, she disappears between the trees. Leaves murmur above her. Sun dapples her face. Brittle twigs snap beneath her feet.

She is in her mid-twenties, tall and fine-boned and long. Her eyes are piercing. They have a touch of skepticism in the corners. She has a sharp tongue, and a crippling insecurity. She is oblivious to her own strength.

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Introducing the US BANK STADIUMMMMMM!

Thrilling, not-at-all-appalling news today out of Minneapolis! Read all about it:

yep

Either those are fireworks, or the entire city is orgasming.

I never saw this one coming. No one else did, either… Not even US Bancorp CEO Richard Davis, as recently as February 2012:

I caught up with U.S. Bancorp CEO Richard Davis on Friday to ask about a rumor that had the Minneapolis-based lender offering to pay for naming rights to a new Minnesota Vikings football stadium. The catch, my tipster said, was that the stadium would need to be in Minneapolis…

But it didn’t check out. Davis, speaking as a past honoree at the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal’s Executive of the Year event in Minneapolis, told me that neither he nor his bank has made any such offer.

Davis said the opportunity makes sense for the bank, but that such discussions would be premature since there’s no stadium location or financing plan yet.

And I definitely did not, day before yesterday, have dinner with friends at Brit’s and swear on the patio that it was only a matter of time before this announcement happened. I was completely, utterly blindsided.

Obviously my first thought is: “this really speaks to the quality of US Bank’s corporate leadership.” This is, after all, the same Richard Davis who brought us the popular Minnesota Orchestra lockout (Mr. Davis, in fact, was chair of the management’s negotiating committee for months, months, and months). And I remember during his tenure there, back in 2012, when regional finances were deemed so tight that the Minnesota Orchestra’s deficit of a few million dollars a year was rendered completely unsolvable by the combined wealth of the state. But since that “very painful time“, US Bank’s fortunes have apparently improved…so much so that they now have $220 million to invest in naming rights for a stadium. O, what bold and intrepid leadership! From dredging the lowest depths of poverty to buying a stadium name in a mere three years! That is some “fortitude and consistency of planning,” right there. Indeed, every Minnesotan taxpayer is in US Bancorp CEO Richard Davis’s debt.

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On Extinction Quotes and Watermelon Ballers

As many of you know, this weekend the League of American Orchestras is hosting its 2015 conference. Or, as it’s known in the biz, “Conference.” Yo.

Definite articles are overrated.

Definite articles are overrated.

It’s no secret that lots of people, especially musicians and rabble-rousing audience types, are wary of the League. I am, too. Everyone has their own reasons. Mine are complicated. I think it’s mainly because their organization provided a total vacuum of leadership during the Minnesota Orchestra meltdown, and that vacuum sucked. I understand that their responding would have come with a steep price. But if the organization’s mission is indeed “to help orchestras meet the challenges of the 21st century,” shouldn’t they have played a major role in addressing…I dunno, the biggest challenge of the 21st century? (That biggest challenge being, of course, the recent wave of lockouts, and in particular the organizational arson set at the Minnesota Orchestra.) Maybe I’m expecting too much. Or maybe they expect too little. Regardless, someday I’d like to go to a conference to get my own idea of what this group is, what it’s seeking to do, and how effective it is at doing it. I don’t know if I’ll make to Baltimore next year, but I do have dear Save Our Symphony friends in Detroit, and so I’d love to crash Conference 2017. (And I bet a ton of attendees will be just thrilled I’m doing so. /SARCASM FONT) But alas, until I actually go to Conference, obviously my perspective will be limited, so take this all with a grain of salt. This is very much the view of an outsider looking in.

Anywho. Like a good little orchestra nerd, I’m following the official Conference hashtag #orch2015. I noticed yesterday in the Twitterverse that two quotes were uber-popular:

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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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#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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