Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra in Nazaykinskaya, Mozart, Prokofiev

For those new to SOTL, Microreviews are my thoughts on the Minnesota Orchestra subscription concerts broadcast live on MPR. I take the word count of the “official” newspaper reviews of the week’s concerts and use that as a guideline. (This week I’m using Rob Hubbard’s Pioneer Press review, which clocked in at 379 words.) You can join in the Microreviewing fun by catching the MPR broadcast along with me and then writing about it, whether on your own blog or on Facebook or in the comment section here. My mantra is: the more people talking about and dissecting Minnesota Orchestra concerts, the healthier our cultural habitat will be! (It’s a long mantra.)

So here are my thoughts on what the concert sounded like via MPR last night.


The concert began with Polina Nazaykinskaya’s Winter Bells. Nazaykinskaya is the only woman composer in the Minnesota Orchestra’s sizable 2014-2015 subscription season, and also my Facebook followers are tired of hearing me complain about this.


“Yeah, Emily, I know. The lack of female composers definitely sucks.”



“Yep, Emily, we get the message, the lack of women composers is hugely unfortunate and a downside of an otherwise brilliant 14-15 season. Agreed.”



Ah well. If women could only make one contribution to programming this year, Winter Bells was definitely a fabulous choice. How often does a work by a 22-year-old hold up against Prokofiev and Mozart? The orchestra’s treatment of the gorgeous score felt hugely confident; the lower brass blasted away with spectacular abandon. And the way the sound evaporated away at the end? Pure magic.

Soloist Jonathan Biss was a polite presence at the piano in Mozart 20. Perfectly lovely and unobjectionable. Which isn’t to say the performance wasn’t enjoyable. But it wasn’t gripping. It felt a bit like filler. And I wonder if I’m the only one idly curious how Mozart ended up in an Art of Russia program. Orchestra advertising justified it by saying that Mozart was “a Russian at heart.” O-kay. That being said, I’m not sure how well live Mozart transfers over Internet radio, so your mileage may vary if you saw it live. And the audience reaction sounded wild, so this one might be on me.

Prokofiev 5 was the meat of the program. Gleaming propulsive meat, with an earnestly, sometimes nostalgically, beating heart…and a dash of insanity. The intensity of the last few notes of the first movement was simply shattering. Said intensity carried over into the maniacally metronomic second movement. I love this music; it sounds like sarcastic skeletons dancing. (Somehow.) The spitting runs in the strings and winds were genuinely creepy, both because of the sound produced and because I didn’t know it was humanly possible. The third movement was balletic: graceful, luscious, very Russian. But still slightly odd, as if the skeletons had put on tutus. (Somehow.) These sounds are strange, maybe even slightly dangerous, but they’re so seductive, and in the hands of these players Friday night, so committed and so heartfelt. The finale began with a quiet wild-eyed mania, seizing one idea after another, before going completely batshit crazy with agitated caffeinated palpitations. Perfection.

Definitely my favorite radio broadcast so far this season.


369 words. *dusts hands*

I know I say it every week, but this week I really mean it. Buy tickets for tonight at minnesotaorchestra.org. Seriously. I’m incredibly depressed I won’t see it live.

Can’t guarantee a Microreview for next week, as I’m aiming to catch Tchaikovsky 5 in-person! So keep an eye out for an entry on that, as well as some others that are cooking on the back burner.



Filed under Minnesota Orchestra, Reviews

4 responses to “Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra in Nazaykinskaya, Mozart, Prokofiev

  1. The second of the two concerts presented by the Minnesota Orchestra devoted to (mostly) Russian music included one composition by a living composer. Polina Nazakinskaya was a member of the Composers Institute and “Future Classics” program in 2010. I remember that program and I do not believe that “Winter Bells” was the composition she presented at that time. I could be wrong, but right now I don’t have proof either way.

    However getting back to the concert that I was able to attend on Thursday morning the 13th, I was very impressed by the rather large number of people in the audience. Being both a composer and a woman myself, and the fact that I have kept in touch with Polina since 2010, I had to be there.
    Also I will admit I am a little biased as I love music by Russian composers. Either gender.

    Nazakinskaya’s “Winter Bells” is a dramatic yet subtle composition that brought out the best of the Orchestra. Her use of the percussion section was brilliant and the overall orchestration was reminiscent of the best of Rimsky-Korsakov only this was much more ethereal. Many were standing, applauding and cheering at the close of “Winter Bells.”

    After this work, the piano came out for the only non-Russian work; Mozart’s Concerto # 20 in d minor. Jonathan Biss is best known for his playing of composers such as Beethoven and Schubert. Which is probably why he performed Mozart’s Concerto # 20 as it is one of the most dramatic of all Mozart’s Concerti. I could not help but feel that his performance was oddly understated. The orchestra and conductor Hannu Lintu worked well with Biss, but there was little fire in his playing.

    Fire, however, came after intermission. Prokofiev’s 5th Symphony was composed in one month in 1944 and premiered in January 1945. Noted for his near obsession with strong rhythms, Prokofiev begins the work quietly and brings the first movement to an almost explosive ending. The second movement is relentless with rhythms, yet solo woodwinds bring clarity and relief. The war was still raging at the time of this composition and that is obvious in the Adagio third movement where the grief of the war is present yet beautiful. The final Allegro is actually faster than what an Allegro represents, yet it builds to a triumphant and very rhythmic close. Conductor Lintu brought out the very best in the orchestra and they deserved the tremendous applause.

  2. Emily,
    I wrote a review for a different “audience.” I like your review better than mine, but I had a few things to say that indicated I was there. And your review, as much as I LOVE it, would not get published in a publication!

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