The Minnesota Orchestra will report a balanced budget for FY 2015.
I’ve got one phrase for this:
Some excerpts from the press release, accompanied by reaction gifs.
Not a single professional reviewer discussed the concert this week, so I’ll throw out my word count limit.
This week the Minnesota Orchestra’s program featured three pieces I’ve never sat down to listen to in their entirety: The Pleasure Dome of Kubla-Kahn by Charles Griffes, Rachmaninoff third concerto, and…the Rite of Spring. I know. You’re allowed to crucify me. It’s probably the single most unforgivable blind spot I have.
Conductor Michael Stern was on the podium. I have to transcribe what he said in his brief pre-performance address because I don’t want his words vanishing into the Mists of Time. He was talking about how the works on the program had the force of tradition behind them, yet all three struck out on new paths of their own…
And ladies and gentlemen, I must say publicly, this is the way I see the Minnesota Orchestra: with its long tradition, with its great history, yet now they are on the precipice of inventing something new. And there is a very good reason for that. They have great leadership. You have a great music director. You have a community that believes in music. But you also have these incredible musicians who, despite the recent past, exhibit a kind of bonding solidarity and a commitment to craft and art and a devotion to making great music happen for this city and for the entire region which I know, from my personal experience, and from all my colleagues, is nothing short of inspiring. And you are lucky to have them in your city.
[applause] [applause] [applause]
I need a coat nowadays when I go outside, and we all know what that means:
The Minnesota Orchestra subscription series has begun.
Therefore: it’s Microreview Time!
For those of you who are new (and quite a lot of you are, so hey!), a Microreview is a type of entry I write on Saturday morning after listening to the MPR broadcast of the previous night’s Minnesota Orchestra’s subscription concert, with a word count equal to or lesser than that week’s newspaper review. Microreviews are meant to hone my short writing skills, provide an alternative perspective to the official critics, promote the official critics, and frankly to provide filler when I’m too busy to write my traditionally novel-length articles on other topics. *thumbs up* Readers are welcome to contribute their own thoughts or Microreviews.
This week’s program was the opening to the Strauss Oktoberfest. Tony Ross the Boss starred in Don Quixote, with the Dance of the Seven Veils and the Suite from Der Rosenkavalier after intermission; the only review in the metro this week came from Rob Hubbard over at the Pioneer Press, and clocked in at 355 words.
The beating heart of the Minnesota Orchestra’s program this week was Don Quixote, the story of the original tilt-er-at-windmills. This orchestra excels at conveying narrative, and that strength was put to fabulous use here. DQ felt less like a tone poem and more like a one-act instrumental opera. At the Adventure of the Windmills, you could practically see Don Quixote lunging about with his lance. “The victorious struggle against the army of the great emperor Alifanfaron) [actually a flock of sheep]” variation cracked me up with its juxtaposition of heroic theme with rambling brass bleating. Tom Turner portrayed to perfection the earnest squire Sancho Panza, especially in his recurring and-that’s-that up-and-down arpeggio. The Ride in the Air was fricking airborne. The death scene was genuinely haunting, even after all the comedy that preceded it. And through it all, Tony navigated the multitude of mood changes with honesty and aplomb. Given that this is less a cello concerto than an orchestral showpiece, I wonder if the best performances might come not from traveling soloists, but rather from principals who know their band. This performance bore out the hypothesis; it was certainly one of the best I’ve ever heard.
After the heart of Don Quixote, the delicious corny schmaltz of Dance of the Seven Veils and Der Rosenkavalier felt…odd. I might have tweaked the program order. Salome’s dance was masterfully done. There was one marvelously performed skittering pianissimo string passage in particular that just made my violin-loving heart marvel. The Suite from Der Rosenkavalier started off with a few dance-heralding blasts in a tempo brisker than I’ve heard before; I loved it. Since the Mahler performance, I’ve been thinking about sarcasm in performance. I heard a bit of it here. Not in the slow tender heartbreaking moments, but in the more…decadent portions. The snarky vibe might have come partly from the fabulously flexible tempos; Andrew Litton and his players milked those for all they were worth, and to glorious effect.
In conclusion, I hadn’t realized how badly my life needed Erin Keefe playing vaguely snarky waltz solos.
There’s still one more performance left tonight at eight, and I recommend you take advantage of it. As always, tickets at minnesotaorchestra.org.
Edit at 3:30pm: And if you’re interested, here’s the Strib review, which was published after mine.
H/t Drew McManus, a great Peter Gelb quote:
“Once the dust settles,” he added, the musicians “don’t have to love me to play well.”
The public has to love you.
Not just major donors. The great unwashed public. Y’know, the people you need to fill that gargantuan 3800-seat cavern week in and week out. The paying customers you’re now so eager to lock out, disrespect, and condescend to.
2014 has shown that bad things can happen to hated music CEOs, and we’re not even seven months through! Things like screams of “fire Henson!” emanating from Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, or the crowd heckling San Diego Opera head Ian Campbell after he announced he was shutting that company down. The actions and attitudes of both of these men led to widespread public anger and decreased support of their respective institutions. (Until their departures, of course.)
So some friendly advice:
You’re thinking of your labor dispute as a two-way tug of war. Surprise!: it’s a three way. The third team is the public. They’re just coming on the field now. If you keep screwing up your PR, two of those teams will be pulling against you.
Time for the last Microreview of the season! *gets weepy*
Catch this fabulous program tonight at 8pm and tomorrow at 2pm at Orchestra Hall; tickets at minnesotaorchestra.org. SOTL Microreviews will return this fall as we all embark on the Best Season Evar! Feel free to contribute a Microreview of your own, too.
My word count comes from this week’s enjoyable Rob Hubbard Pi-Press review: 429. I think it’s best for everyone if we forget the Strib’s review of weirdness ever existed, so 429 words it is. Here goes!
This week the sacred and the sexual mix unabashedly in a program of Stravinsky, Orff, and Minnesota composer Steve Heitzeg.
I’m not so familiar with Heitzeg, although I love his soundtrack for Death of the Dream, the TPT documentary about abandoned Midwestern farmsteads. It was sparse and devastatingly effective. So it was interesting to hear his voice in this new context. “Now We Start The Great Round” has the flavor of movie music written for a Copland biopic, and it serves as a sweeping curtain raiser. But it finished before it started, especially when the stage change took half as long as the piece itself.
After the Stage Change of Interminability came Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. Way too late I realized: maybe it’s irresponsible to write about a performance of this piece, especially when
So I put the critiquing ears away and just soaked in the ambiance. From that perspective, the Symphony was all melancholy angularity, lit by the glow of the sound of the Chorale. It sounded like candlelight flickering in an Escher cathedral. Lush, sacred…and very odd. Last night I didn’t grasp the narrative. It was all very lovely, but meh. Then again, I don’t find much Stravinsky seductive, so…
The narrative for Carmina Burana, on the other hand, hit like an anvil to the head. From the first notes it felt like straight-line winds were blowing over the radio. O FOR-TUN-A, indeed. I think the Minnesota Chorale put every single emotion of being locked out of Orchestra Hall for sixteen months into that opening phrase. The bitter sneer of those consonants! My takeaway? Do not get on the wrong side of the Minnesota Chorale. Damn.
It was immediately clear that members of the Chorale could not only sing Carmina in their sleep, but under general anesthetic. That familiarity could easily lead to a bored performance, but of course they’re above that. Their effervescent joy at being back on that stage was contagious, and so deeply satisfying to hear. The Orchestra supported them all the way, but – dare I say it? – it was the Chorale’s show last night. And deservedly so.
As for the baritone in Ego Sum Abbas, I wish I sang that well drunk.
To sum up the 2014 season:
Away with sadness!
and now departs
wretched is the person
who neither lives,
under summer’s spell.
Addendum: An earlier version of this review misspelled composer Steve Heitzeg’s name. Awkward, and my apologies.
This week’s Microreview is of the Minnesota’s Orchestra Mozart 39 – 40 – 41 concerts. Apparently the Strib was too exhausted from kissing Richard Davis’s tap shoes to send a critic to this week’s Minnesota Orchestra concert, so my word count standard for this week will come from Rob Hubbard’s Pioneer Press review, which clocked in at 359 words. As per usual for Microreviews, I wasn’t in the hall: I was on my couch listening to MPR. So the suspected disclaimers apply.
I like Mozart. I respect him. I don’t love him.
But if more people played Mozart like the Minnesota Orchestra did last night, my heart would reassess.
Every section shined, but to me, this was the strings’ night. Rob Hubbard mused in his review that the string complement might have been too large, and I can understand the concern, because the string sound was certainly big. But strings are my things, so I didn’t mind one whit.
Endless tiny moments to savor, all night long. The ringing of the open strings at the end of descending scales in 39. The unfussy phrasing of the opening of 40. The batsh*t crazy tempo of the finale of 41 (how did the back of the firsts and back of the seconds stay in synch at this tempo from across the stage?).
And this ascending line in 40. What the hell kind of magic is this? It’s a simple ascending line, for God’s sake. It shouldn’t make me want to squeal in bliss like some kind of Mozart-loving pig.
And the breathlessly gorgeous phrases just kept coming. One phrase would end, and an equally luscious one would spin in to take its place.
This is a strange analogy, but I’ll make it anyway. The Minnesota Orchestra sounds like a splendid grande dame. She has the wisdom of decades combined with all the mischief of youth. She may be impeccably dressed, but fashion is only important to her within the context of self-expression: her motivations are pure, always. She knows when to be bold and brassy and when she can underplay her hand. Her sense of humor is sharp and biting and more than a little black and snarky. She can stay out later and party as hard as any twentysomething. She has been through more triumph and tragedy than anybody, and accordingly, she won’t stand for bull. She is an amazing 111-year-old lady.
And I love her.
There’s no doubt in my mind: this was the best played concert since the lockout ended.
341 words. Ha. I’ll cure you yet, wordiness.
If you don’t have your tickets for tonight, go! Buy them at minnesotaorchestra.org.
We all know I can write long. Even Alex Ross knows this.
But can I write short? Uh… Not really.
So to practice, I’m going to take the Strib’s review word count and work within that limit. This week’s Minnesota Orchestra Strib review belonged to Michael Anthony and clocked in at 456 words, so I’ll try to stay under 450. I do like to go long when I’m actually in the hall – in-person, I always see and hear a lot I want to write about – but when I’m just listening over the radio, I don’t see any harm in going short. I’m calling these micro-reviews. For lack of a better term.
If anyone wants to join in on the micro-review fun, do. The more the merrier when it comes to discussing concerts.
You know the best way to listen to a Minnesota Orchestra concert?
Livestreaming on a laptop!
Well, it’s better than nothing. After a fashion report from Brian Newhouse (apparently Erin Keefe was wearing a “beautiful dark blue sleeveless gown”), Friday’s concert began with the Mendelssohn violin concerto. It was disorienting to jump into a concerto without an overture, but there was a 70-minute ~WAGNER EXTRAVAGANZA~ after intermission to consider.
The orchestra played with fine, elegant understatement. And I’m not sure I cared for that. I usually like my Mendelssohn with icy aristocratic soloists and wild-eyed accompaniment. It was the opposite dynamic here: Erin was providing all the fire, and the orchestra the cool restraint. Maestro Wigglesworth was completely justified musically, historically, and philosophically in taking this approach, but I need more time to decide if I liked it or not.
Lest you think I’m bitching, I thought the orchestra played beautifully, and the wind section in particular made some of the most stunning contributions I’ve heard in any Mendelssohn, ever. The single bassoon note linking the first and second movements startled me with its character.
And need I say that Erin Keefe played flawlessly? Silver tone, searing vibrato, character to burn… She’s perfection.
Next came the Wagner adaptation and its attendant harps and horns. Also, horns.
I admit that when it comes to opera, I’m a philistine. I find it hard to take this music seriously. Any story that goes remotely like this…
…has me skeptical before a single note is played.
But of course the performance was first-rate. The wild, Romantic, edge-of-your-seat quality I was missing in the Mendelssohn was here in spades. (Possibly because there were a lot of players literally on the edges of their seats. Don’t think I haven’t seen those string parts. What kind of sadist writes four nights of that?)
There were times when the arrangement was successful. The Ride of the Valkyries, for instance, took on a whole new meaning inserted into a larger narrative. Here the character of the strings almost stole the show from the brass. (Almost.)
But after a while, it all turned into a bit of a…blur. Albeit a heavy, horn-y, supremely well-played blur. I had two antithetical impressions: certain ideas seemed truncated, yet everything was so long. Call this the “Paradox of the Orchestral Adventure.”
Hey, did I mention there was brass? There was, and they played gorgeously, majestically, with a rich, plummy sound.
But one detail made it tough for me to truly enjoy this piece: namely, it was by Wagner. Apparently the Minnesota Orchestra has played this extravaganza every ten years since 1994. Maybe in 2024 I’ll go see the next performance.
453 words. *dusts off hands*
Just because I’m wary of Wagner doesn’t mean you should be. You can still buy tickets for tonight at minnesotaorchestra.org. Erin’s Mendelssohn is worth more than the price of admission. If I was in Minnesota this weekend, I’d be going in a heartbeat. Enjoy yourself!
Michael Henson will be leaving the Minnesota Orchestral Association at the end of this fiscal year. Here’s the MinnPost story.
Perhaps surprisingly, I find I don’t have much to say.
In some ways, our relationship, such as it was, felt like a weird chess game. (Albeit one Mr. Henson never acknowledged he was playing. Or believed he was playing.) Nonetheless, moves were made…and a lot of people ended up watching. He’d testify in front of the legislature; I’d write a blog entry dissecting his testimony. He’d quote talking points in an outrageously misleading press release; I’d send him a sparkly homemade Advent calendar (as you do). And later, once Save Our Symphony and other groups and other writers got in on the game, the chessboard, along with the number of pieces, expanded exponentially. Action, reaction, etc., for eighteen long hard-fought months.
As the game begins to wind down, I survey the chessboard. In an appropriately bizarre ending to an equally bizarre game, I find I have approximately zero interest in complaining about Michael Henson today. At this point, his record speaks for itself. Quite loudly. And heck, truth is, I owe a lot to this man. More than he’ll ever know, certainly. I owe my attendance at a lot of great lockout concerts to him. I owe a lot of new firsthand knowledge about how government and non-profit processes work to him. Without Michael Henson, Alex Ross would not know I exist (please note: I am still extremely pumped about the fact that Alex Ross knows I exist). But most importantly of all, I owe readers – and therefore friendships – to him. I’m so lucky to have you, my readers, as my friends. You are irreplaceable, and to be honest, I don’t remember what life was like without you. Without him, I wouldn’t have you. Michael Henson may be leaving Minnesota via golden parachute, but I walk away from the game the richer woman. By far. So thanks. Seriously. Bon voyage, Mr. Henson. I’ll be watching your career with ~great interest.~
So. Where do we go from here?
Mr. Henson’s departure is a big step in the right direction, but there is still a lot of work left to be done. I feel an odd kinship to the poor besieged Concorde in Airport: 79. We’ve evaded drones, dodged F-15s, and the landing strip is now in sight. On the other hand, there are gaping holes in the plane that have caused explosive decompression. But! This week’s news, and the potential change of organizational direction it could possibly theoretically maybe? signify, means that despite everything we’ve been through, we still might be able to land this thing. That’s not nothing. I’ll continue my volunteer work behind the scenes. I hope you continue to do what you can, too, whether that means writing comments online, sharing information with friends and family, buying tickets, etc. Even just staying informed is an important thing to do.
I think the moral of the saga is: Minnesota Orchestra leaders, listen to your audience and to the community both. Listen closely. Because we’re watching you, every little thing you do, and if you try taking any step that we feel goes against this organization’s best interests, forgive us when we trip you up. And if you do the right thing? We will help you. With everything we’ve got, 100%. A community of passionate people is a lot easier to work with than against.
So. Onward to the Grammy celebration concerts! What celebrations they’ll be, too! (Remember to wear blue and white, as per the instructions of Save Our Symphony Minnesota’s Finnish It Campaign!) Of course nothing is guaranteed, but my fingers are crossed that another big announcement might come soon. It would be quite the surreal ending to an extraordinary chapter of American music history…
It’s New Year’s Eve, so it’s time for some sentimental naval gazing.
Well. 2013. You wanted soul-crushing disappointment? You wanted dizzying ecstasy? You wanted proof that arts activism is alive and well? (You wanted proof that orchestral music is alive and well?) You wanted proof that improbable, impossible things are, in fact, quite possible? Then 2013 was the year for you.
Here were the year’s most popular SOTL stories in reverse order…
I know I’ve deposited Michael Henson in the bin of irrelevancy. And trust me, I’ve enjoyed leaving him there. But occasionally I can’t resist peering into the bin, especially after Bonusgate…and I want to take another peek now.
I was doing some research for a friend the other day when I came across this article from the Strib.
It’s from May 9, 2012. In it, the Minnesota Orchestral Association announced the axing of nine full-time positions (thirteen percent of its administrative staff) and seven part-time positions. In all, sixteen people received the soul-crushing news that their jobs were disappearing. Yes, it was acknowledged that some part-timers might come back after the hall reopened in “the fall of 2013” (how’s that workin’ for ya?), but the full-time position reductions were apparently permanent.
But on the plus side, the MOA was going to save $450,000 over the course of the 2012-2013 season!
Of course the November 2013 reader says, “Hey, wait a minute…”