Review, Carnegie Preview: Minnesota Orchestra, Hilary Hahn in Sibelius

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Two options:

  • Practice practice practice, ~OR~
  • Use the Minnesota Orchestra’s first post-lockout performance in New York City as an excuse to fly in from Minneapolis and creep out native New Yorkers with your girlish, shockingly unprofessional enthusiasm!

I chose the second option. Practicing can be a drag, and I’m good at screaming in concert halls.

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The Minnesota Orchestra and guest soloist Hilary Hahn take the stage at Carnegie Hall on Thursday, March 3rd. This past weekend, they performed the program they’ll be bringing on tour. I went on Friday and Saturday nights to get a sense of how the orchestra is sounding in this benchmark repertoire.

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The program begins with Sibelius’s underplayed third symphony. Osmo recently described the piece in a Minnesota Public Radio interview: “I love all of the symphonies, but in this context I would like to give something which is almost totally unknown piece, but great piece of music.”

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Review: Kullervo, Minnesota Orchestra

The Minnesota Orchestra performed Jean Sibelius’s Kullervo last weekend, and I still haven’t recovered.

Music is always difficult to describe, but this piece verges on impossible. It’s long, for one. Its scope rivals a DeMille-directed Biblical epic. It is a glimpse into the very heart of terror and savagery and ice. It enshrines the ghost of a young Sibelius. In Kullervo, Sibelius began to chop a road through a dark and snowy forest. He may have abandoned that road, ultimately preferring another path of tighter, leaner construction. But his decision makes the road untaken all the more fascinating. As listeners, we stand at the edge of Kullervo and peer into the vast unexplored darkness beyond.

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The Marathon

I.

A year ago today my mother was diagnosed with cancer, and six weeks later she was dead. I try to hold her hand in my memory, but it’s not working; it’s not working. Every day she becomes less human, more ethereal. I signed a lease on an apartment in St. Paul recently. It has bay windows and French doors and a glass porch. A young person’s first place has no right to be so beautiful.

The juxtaposition of the two events is jolting and sad. Numbing.

I hear you’re not supposed to “put a timeline” on grief. But I want to. Because grief hurts and whips and drains like a motherfucker, and I want to be done with it. Or at least be able to regard it knowingly, and from a great distance.

Sometimes I feel like I’m making progress. Like I’ve come through intact. But then every time I’ve caught my balance, I trip on something else.

Sometimes I don’t even know what I’m feeling until it’s too late. Then I realize I’ve been putting on a facade for other people.

Or, more likely, putting on a facade for myself.

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Hartford Symphony: What’s Next?

Today is a big day in the Connecticut arts scene. Absent major musician concessions, tomorrow the Hartford Symphony will begin the process of “clos[ing] its doors – for good.” Today’s firm deadline has been repeated in the press again and again and again.

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Less clear, however: what management means by shutting down. Not giving concerts? (A lockout?) Bankruptcy? (What kind?) Dissolving? Or destroying the old organization to create a new one in its wake? No one in the mainstream media has asked.

Here are some more questions that have been bugging me:

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A Beethoven Day

It’s a little before one o’ clock in the morning on January first. I’ve just attended the Minnesota Orchestra New Year’s concert, and I’m in the atrium at Orchestra Hall. I’ve forgotten my coat on the rack and I need to get it before heading out into the icy new year.

Just inside the door, right beyond the dissipating crowds, there is a table loaded with CDs. Staff and volunteers are packing up boxes, but there is still a Minnesota Beethoven cycle left.

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I stand and consider it. I think of the possibilities owning a complete recorded cycle would present. The Minnesota Orchestra is traversing all nine symphonies and all five piano concertos over the course of three weeks this January, and I have a ticket to every program. This CD set seems like a suitable memento.

Then I have an idea, and I step up to the table before my responsible side kicks in.

“Can I still buy this?” I ask the disassembling staff. “Sure,” they say, and they smile and hand me my change.

Looking at the set, I resolve to have my own Beethoven marathon…but as a listener. I promise myself I will find a day free from distractions and listen and follow the score to all nine symphonies, first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth: all of them, straight through, no breaks, except for meals. I am inspired by the idea of a marathon. I am curious if these masterpieces speak differently together than singly.

So this morning…

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Hartford Symphony: What the Faq?

Twelve hours ago, the Facebook page Save Our Symphony Hartford posted an FAQ that is hosted on the Hartford Symphony’s website. This FAQ is available to the public, but it’s not linked to on the Hartford Symphony’s main pages, so it’s unclear at this point how widely it was meant to be distributed.

But the cat is out of the bag now, and so here is a screenshot of the first two paragraphs.

faq

If cell memory from a previous life is tingling… Here’s why.

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2015 Roundup

Well, that was a year.

That existed.

That is now over.

Thank f*ck.

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Do I get a prize for surviving??

I don’t have much time to write – I’m entertaining today, and I’m going to the Minnesota Orchestra New Year’s show tonight – but I had a few tidbits I wanted to share before the celebration starts.

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Dead Women Are Dead To American Orchestras

If you spend any time in the online orchestra world, you’ve probably seen the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s infographic about American orchestras’ 2014/15 seasons. A few days ago, the BSO released figures tracking the 15/16 season, and this year, the data net has been cast even wider. Writer Ricky O’Bannon describes the methodology:

This season we collected programming data for both major American symphonies as well as smaller regional orchestras — 89 in total — to give a more holistic view of symphonic repertoire in the United States.

My thoughts after reading that:

Oh, cool! With so many more orchestras included in the data-gathering this year, surely the proportion of living and historic women composers has skyrocketed, or at least inched upward gradually!

Hahahaha. Hahahahahahahaha.

Last season, the works of female composers accounted for 14.3% of the performances of living composers (and a mere 1.8% of the performances overall). This year, even with the wider field? 14% and 1.7%, respectively.

And then there’s this little asterisk at the bottom of the graph.

every composer

*deep breath*

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Look, I know it’s hard for orchestras to program works outside The Canon. And at this point, pretty much every orchestral work by women is outside The Canon. But no one in the bunch of eighty-nine orchestras wanted to program a single work by a female composer once? No one thought that would be musically or historically or politically or culturally interesting? No one thought that would be unique or exciting? No one thought that would be fantastic press release material? No one thought that would excite donors? No one thought that would advance orchestras’ missions to broaden audiences or educate communities? No one saw this as The Easiest Way Ever to outperform peer organizations? For crap’s sake, a random orchestra could program a dead lady’s ten-minute overture once, and wow, suddenly they’re playing 100% more historic women than any other orchestra in America! Congratulations, random orchestra! Your commitment to underrepresented demographics is palpable.

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The 2015 Song of the Lark Award for Demographically Diverse Orchestral Programming

And hell, it’s not like I’m asking every orchestra to throw an annual month-long Vagina Festival. It just would have been nice to see one orchestra play one work by one woman at one point. I thought that someone, somewhere, would throw us a pity Gaelic Symphony or Farrenc third or Clara Schumann concerto. But, nope.

Anyway. I would love to offer probing analysis. But it’s pretty f***ing hard to analyze the number zero.

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Now It’s Really Over

Yesterday I got a call from Minnesota Orchestra bass player Kathryn Nettleman. (Well, Kate Nettleman. It feels weird to call our Kate “Kathryn.”) She wanted to make sure I heard about the big news.

The Minnesota Orchestra has had a lot of big news lately. In January 2014, the sixteen-month lockout of musicians ended. The CEO and board chair departed. Former music director Osmo Vänskä, who had resigned during the lockout, was re-hired. He married concertmaster Erin Keefe, who had been a leading candidate for the New York Philharmonic concertmaster seat. She decided to stay in Minnesota. The organization hired a new temporary CEO, Kevin Smith, who quickly became a long-term CEO. Recording sessions started up again. The third disc in the Grammy-winning Sibelius cycle was finished, and we’re waiting on the release date now. There was a trip to Cuba, planned and executed in record time. Then within a few days of the orchestra’s return to America, it was announced that musician contracts had been negotiated two years ahead of schedule (with modest raises), and that Osmo himself had signed on until at least 2019. Major multi-million dollar gifts were announced. The organization just posted its first surplus in a while (using a prudent endowment draw rate, no less).

If you take a step back, you realize what a veritable barrage of good news there has been here lately. Apparently we’re living in an era of sparkly unicorn rainbows. Thanks to a spirit of collaboration and mutual respect, the Minnesota Orchestra is proving that it is an organization on the move.

But Kate was calling me with even more big news to share. I didn’t know what to expect. Some kind of series devoted to the history of women in music? The construction of the Kevin Smith Room within Orchestra Hall, from which Kevin is never allowed to leave? (He would be fed well.) The first orchestra tour to the moon? After the past two years, nothing seems impossible.

As she spoke, I realized that one vestige of the lockout still remains: the musicians’ independent 501c3. This was the organization that the musicians used to self-produce concerts during the lockout.

“We’re dissolving it,” Kate said.

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2015 Advent Calendar

Welcome to the 2015 Song of the Lark Advent calendar! Every day until Christmas Eve, a new entry will go live at www.sotladventcalendar.tumblr.com. Each includes a 2015 blog memory, as well as a piece of holiday music. (You can also go back in time and read blog highlights and hear musical selections from previous years’ calendars. Navigate through the archives by using the arrows on the left side of the calendar.)

This season’s calendar was therapeutic to assemble… The illness and death of my mother made 2015 the worst year of my life, by far. (2015, may the door hit your ass on the way out. Hard.) I apologize again for not writing more the last few months. But my mind has been cloudy.

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The other day I read through a big chunk of the SOTL archives. Some pieces I still like; some are more meh; but I was proud to see that I’ve never insulted a topic by not caring about it. Better days are coming, both in my personal life and on the blog. I think my capacity for caring is slowly returning, and I’m cautiously optimistic about the new life that awaits in 2016.

Which is fitting, I guess. After all, the idea of Advent is about looking inward, taking stock, and preparing for the arrival of new life: a New Year, and a new start.

Cheers. *raises champagne glass*

If holiday music is your thing, I hope you check out the link above every day. I’ll put up another post around New Year’s in case you want to browse the whole thing at once. And please feel free to share the names of your favorite winter / holiday pieces in the comment section! 2016 will be here before we know it, and after four years of calendars (can you believe it??), I’m reaching the outer edges of my winter-related repertoire, haha.

Happy holidays, merry Christmas, and/or a blessed New Year’s to you and yours! Thank you for giving me the greatest gift of all…your readership. It sounds hokey, but I mean it with every inch of my heart.

With deep appreciation, Emily

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