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]
The first piece on the program was the Griffes. I could make a comment about how if we’re going to program an obscure male composer, we also have the ability to program an obscure female composer, but I’m passive aggressive that way and won’t actually say it outright. (Yeah, I have an agenda. Sue me.)
On first listen there were parts I really liked – especially the opening with all those murky colors. There were other parts, like the center section, where I didn’t know quite where we were going with all the sensually twisting wind lines. To a sunny pleasure dome with caves of ice, I guess.
Anyway. I enjoyed it, but this one’s still a mystery. It holds secrets I wasn’t able to access in first hearing.
Rachmaninoff third concerto came in a more familiar musical language. Simon Trpčeski was the soloist. His playing was fearsomely powerful and athletic. It was superhuman. So much so that I feel guilty even suggesting it, but there were moments – over the broadcast, anyway – when I felt less like I was listening to a Rachmaninoff concerto and more like I was listening to Simon Trpčeski playing a concerto. (It’s impossible for me to describe why, but there is a difference.) That being said, it came over differently in person, because the audience was completely sold. Radio broadcasts, especially Internet radio broadcasts, can do weird things to performance perceptions.
My favorite part of the night was the Rite. Even though I’ve never sat down to listen to the whole thing, I found I knew a lot of it already. This piece has seeped through the last century of music-making in a way you can’t fully appreciate unless you hear it for the first time later in life! I obviously can’t say much about the accuracy of the performance, but it felt fabulous. Very rich, very colorful, with an irresistible wallop of refined carnality. I wanted to work while I was listening, but the mesmerizing brutality of this music – and this performance – kept drawing me back, until I finally surrendered. This music, as played by this particularly group of frenetically energetic virtuosos, feels like it could singlehandedly yank spring out of the cold Minnesota earth. And given the weather forecast…
Speaking of next week, won’t you join me in person at the hall? It’s going to be a great show. Copland, Heitzeg, Bernstein, Greenstein,…plus Hara. Don’t miss it.