Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra, Sibelius and Mahler

Can you believe it’s the last Microreview of the season? What HAPPENED? It’s like…time passed or something!

Rob Hubbard caught the Minnesota Orchestra’s Sibelius 6 and 7, but not the Mahler, and he wrote about it in a June 4th Pioneer Press article. His report was 366 words, and so, as is tradition, mine is 363.

But before I get to that, I want to quickly extend my thanks to all those who made this season such an extraordinary one. The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, of course, and their Music Director, as well as their beloved audience, the professional and amateur writers who covered this institution this year, the readers who cared so deeply about what we said, and Minnesota Public Radio, whose broadcasts have brought so much joy into so many listeners’ lives. And a special shout-out to Minnesota Orchestra CEO Kevin Smith, who I was lucky enough to meet this season!

I’m probably going on a Microreviewing hiatus over the summer. I have lots to do in preparation for moving home base to the Twin Cities this year. But look for them again this fall, and in the meantime, feel free to contribute your own. And don’t be surprised if one fine Friday evening during Summerfest you find me yapping and #livelarking away on Twitter.

So without further ado –


This was a program of personal premieres. I’ve never sat through Sibelius six or seven or even Mahler one. Turns out I was busy the last two years. So I’m in no position to describe the fidelity of the performance to the score. But I can say what this music made me feel my first time around.

First off, I could tell instinctively that I was in good hands. Osmo knows how to pace, and this orchestra knows how to respond. Whatever technical blips might occur in any given evening (and more than one occurred last night), the grand direction, the conception of the thing, is still clear. That much is obvious to anyone, whether they know the score or not.

Sibelius six is early Nordic minimalism. This is music that is constantly flowing, flowering. It is painting with aural light. And it is enigmatic as hell. Its ideas begin – then wander off into something else.

Sometimes I get spells of vertigo. I know to stay lying down, and to let them pass. I know objectively that my eyes aren’t really rolling around, but in the moment, everything twirls. I kept thinking of that experience listening to the Sibelius. There was a sense of detached observation, compelling and eerie and mind-expanding, as I listened to the sounds swirling above and beyond. The harp strings dancing on top…

This is music to get high to.

After intermission came a hugely moving performance of Mahler 1. I noticed this back in September, and I stand by the observation: the elements that make the Osmo / Minnesota Orchestra pairing so successful in Sibelius are the same ones that make them so successful in Mahler. Prime among them, attention to detail, massive dynamic range, and most importantly of all, a unity of conception. You wouldn’t think this, since these men’s symphonies are so massively different, but I’ve found it to be true.

And then the blazingly triumphant closing horn calls signaled: that’s a wrap! What a season it was. This year we in Minnesota (and Cuba!) were lucky enough to witness the surprise of resurrection.

Now we get to go show the rest of the world.

I think we’re ready.


And, of course, no year would be complete without a season size-up. Here are my top ten most memorable moments from 2014-2015. Please share your favorites in the comments! (otherwise I look like a massive massive dork, bwahaha)

In reverse order, keeping in mind that I missed quite a few shows in the middle of the season when my mother was battling cancer…

10) The October Don Quixote. Of course Tony Ross never disappoints, and he and Tom Turner and company rocked the house in this portrait of a romantically delusional man.

9) The combination of Prokofiev 5 and Polina Nazaykinskaya’s Winter Bells. This November concert did a great deal to ease fears I had about the post-lockout quality of playing.

8) Augustin Hadelich blowing everyone’s minds in the warhorse Tchaikovsky violin concerto. We want him back!

7) Speaking of Tchaikovsky, has anyone recovered from the seasickness brought on by Eiji Oue’s wild-tempoed Tchaikovsky 5? What a hysterically fun day that was.

6) The glitz and glamour of Renee Fleming’s Starry Starry Night gala. Her voice was celestial, but for some reason the moment that sticks most in my mind about that night is the army marching along the Appian Way in a bang-up performance of Respighi’s Pines of Rome. The cheer after that was like something you’d hear at a sporting event.

5) I still haven’t processed the emotional and spiritual import of the performance that Garrick Ohlsson gave us in one of my very favorite works for piano, Brahms’s first concerto. And Stan the Man’s high-octane Beethoven 7 after intermission was an unalloyed treat to behold.

Intermission, May 22 Beethoven/Brahms show! I look forward to continuing the dual traditions of feathered hairpieces and intermission selfies in 2015-2016! :)

Intermission, May 22 Beethoven/Brahms show! I look forward to continuing the dual traditions of feathered hairpieces and intermission selfies next season. :)

4) Alisa Weilerstein killing the Barber cello concerto in the best way possible, in combination with Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. This was less a season opening concert than a religious service devoted to the power of orchestral music. What a weekend.

3) The night Burt Hara returned to Minnesota with a celestial The Swan as an encore. Phrasing rarely moves me to tears. His did. And the rest of the program was nearly as awesome: a collection of works by modern American composers.

2) The Cuba Eroica Symphony. Only a few of my readers were privileged enough to hear the performance live (lucky ducks!), but the rest of us back home didn’t let something as small as an ocean get in our way of being right in the middle of the action. We were Tweeting, Facebooking, and livestreaming up a storm, and it was just plain fun. If you’d told me at the beginning of the year that a broadcast of Cuba was going to be my number two highlight of the season, I would have labeled you certifiably nuts. But that’s an occupational hazard of working with the Minnesota Orchestra: crazy things happen. So get used to them!

1) Erin Keefe, Osmo Vänskä, and the Minnesota Orchestra musicians in a transcendent The Lark Ascending, a masterclass in grace and humanity that I will never forget.

What were your listening highlights this season? Please let me know in whatever format you like!

Three cheers for this mighty institution, and three cheers for you for supporting it. Onward, and make sure you buy your tickets for the 2015-2016 season as soon as possible!


1 Comment

Filed under Minnesota Orchestra, Reviews

One response to “Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra, Sibelius and Mahler

  1. Oh, what a year…I can’t choose, don’t make me do that!!! From the tears I shed at Mahler 2/Resurrection to the final chord of Mahler 1 on Friday, I have experienced a fill tilt gamut of all the emotions and thoughts from having heard this fine orchestra (and especially the magnificent horn section) back in the saddle. Cuba tour was an epic “WE ARE BACK, FOLKS” moment, but those of us at home knew that all through the year.

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