Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra, Mendelssohn, Wagner

We all know I can write long. Even Alex Ross knows this.


I remember when this happened… *dreamy sigh*

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?)

This guy

This guy

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.

Or….maybe not.


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!



Filed under Minnesota Orchestra, Reviews

9 responses to “Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra, Mendelssohn, Wagner

  1. John Davenport

    Good to hear from you again Emily! I too wish I had the opportunity in my schedule to hear Erin in person after reading about her performance. Knowing next to zilch about her before I was challenged to read she had favorably auditioned at the NY Phil. Her relationship with Osmo notwithstanding, I think she will stay here to support and play with ‘his’/’our’ orchestra.

    • Karin

      Flawless indeed and very in tune with eye contact with the orchestra….Friday night she was in strapless multicolored flowing gown. Exquisite,
      I don’t care how many words you use, I like reading you always, and I agree about Wagner.

  2. Emily Dearest, Could I ask a favor? Under your list of favorites, would you be adverse to adding a certain festival in the wine country of Napa Valley CA? I’m always looking for ways to promote! It is Music in the Vineyards, [www.musicinthevineyards.org]

    It is our 20th anniversary this year and we have a lot of special programming planned. Thanks Best regards, Michael Adams

    Date: Sat, 17 May 2014 17:38:46 +0000 To: michael.daria@hotmail.com

  3. paugust

    Well here’s a different take. I love Wagner, – always have. I was really lookeing forward to Friday nights concert for that reason. Yes, the Orchestra played wonderfully, even amazingly. But, there’s something about listening to one Wagner climax after the other for 70 minutes that wares one down, – well wore me down. My reaction at the end was relief. That’s not to say there were not thrilling moments on the way, there certianly were.
    Now about Erin. No other way to say it, – I’m in love. I’ve heard many a supurb violenist at Orchestra Hall over the years, but Friday night was magical. Flawless, elegant, beauty of tone, caressing, restrained but in a way the that entices. Please don’t leave us Erin, – It’s only New York, after all.
    Oh, did I mention? She’s gorgeous to watch as well.

  4. I love Wagner as well. I listened on the radio in THX neural. The performance of the Mendelssohn Violin concert was superb. I was not impressed with the Wagner I’m afraid. The opening was frankly a shambles. It took them until the Gotterdammerung to find their stride. I will say that they played that section with passion. I committed this to a hard drive and have listened to it several times.
    For a hilarious analysis of the Ring Anna Russell’s from 1953 can’t be beaten.

    Emily, if you could link the embed data to this, I think your followers will have a really good laugh.

    • JKM

      At the end of the concert, and again listening to Anna Russell, I thought of Woody Allen: “I just can’t listen to any more Wagner, you know…I’m starting to get the urge to conquer Poland.”

  5. Terry

    Given the number of horns, trumpets and trombones in “The Ring”, I guess there’s a reason (musical balance) that Wagner placed them “underground” and out of sight at his Festspielhaus in Bayreuth, while allowing open-air above the strings! :-)

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