Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra and Chorale, Heitzeg, Stravinsky, Orff

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

  1. I’ve never heard it before,
  2. I don’t know anything about choirs, and
  3. my two instruments have left the stage (violins! violas! come back!).

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…

Oh, you're the bad boy of music alright.

Oh, you’re the bad boy of music alright

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!
summer returns,
and now departs
cruel winter…

wretched is the person
who neither lives,
nor lusts
under summer’s spell.

***

Addendum: An earlier version of this review misspelled composer Steve Heitzeg’s name. Awkward, and my apologies.

10 Comments

Filed under Minnesota Orchestra, Reviews

10 responses to “Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra and Chorale, Heitzeg, Stravinsky, Orff

  1. Emily, I so love your writing! As a member of the Minnesota Chorale, I would add one bit of information about last night’s performance that radio listeners could not witness. When the orchestra musicians took the stage as a unit, as they have done all season, the Chorale was invited to stand with them,to be included in the audiences’ greeting of celebration. I have never felt so proud and excited!

  2. Jeanne Ellen

    It was a fantastic concert and I loved both the Heitzig and the Stravinsky. I especially loved the sparseness of strings in the Stravinsky. I’m glad I saw it live.

  3. Last night’s concert was indeed the Chorale’s moment to shine. We in the Twin Cities are very fortunate to have a world-class chorus and a world-class orchestra. Hearing them perform together on 3 distinctly different pieces was truly a tour de force. Bravi! (Thanks for your microreview, the closing poem was lovely.)

  4. John Davenport

    Emily
    I want to engage your calling out of the “review of weirdness” by STrib reviewer William Randall Beard. One really must read the review at least twice, to realize that Beard is slamming, damning and blamming [sic] the music, maybe the musicians too, but it’s hard to distinguish his points. Is he sober?. Seems that Mr Beard was having a reeelly bad night, just didn’t like it, whatever, so . . Our music community, not only the MNO, doesn’t need any Mr Beards; he might be more comfortable in NYC, and I would recommend that he look into it.

  5. Patrick Coleman

    Thanks for the suggestion (and the kind words). For O Fortuna I usually channel my inner Klingon but on Saturday and Sunday I definitely used the lockout as part of my inspiration!

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