Tag Archives: Beethoven

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.

Continue reading

31 Comments

Filed under Minnesota Orchestra, Reviews

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.

800px-Beethoven_3

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…

Continue reading

10 Comments

Filed under Minnesota Orchestra

Review(ish): Minnesota Orchestra and Garrick Ohlsson in Brahms and Beethoven

This weekend at the Minnesota Orchestra was a love fest.

Love. What a loaded, completely inexplicable word. You can love institutions. You can love art. You can love people as friends or as lovers. Or as both. Your love can be sacred or carnal or some kind of crazy bewildering hybrid. It’s a verb with a thousand meanings, each definition, each possibility more confusing than the last.

I’ve thought a lot about the love that Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms shared. I find it fascinating. I find people’s responses to it fascinating. It was, by and large, a positive force in both their lives. Love of Clara certainly inspired Brahms, and I wonder if Clara would have retained her sanity after her husband’s break with it, had Brahms (and his brilliance) not been in her life. But because there is doubt they made physical love, many people regard their relationship as somehow abnormal or dysfunctional. It’s certainly idealized less than the love that Robert and Clara shared…I’m assuming because it didn’t follow the neat little dramatic trajectory that Robert and Clara’s did. Brahms and Clara lived with ambiguity for decades. And they managed to find a power in the messiness of it.

The emotions that ambiguity unleashed are explored in Brahms’s first piano concerto, which opened the Minnesota Orchestra’s program this weekend. Brahms struggled with the concerto’s musical material throughout his early twenties. He also struggled with a love for Clara, who was in turn struggling with mourning her husband’s sanity and eventually life. In 1856, a few months after Robert died, Brahms wrote to her the famous quote that invariably appears in this concerto’s program notes: “I am also painting a lovely portrait of you; it is to be the Adagio.”

The outer movements are flashier. The first especially has more meat. But the heart of this concerto is the movement devoted to Clara. This weekend, Minnesota’s hushed strings made this music radiate warmth and soul and…that inexplicable, indefinable word, love. This music has a very sacred air to it, and we were honored to have Garrick Ohlsson be our priest to lead us through the sacrament. The notes passed like ghosts, suspended and turning in the air.

But there is a danger in thinking of this music as solely ethereal. In an intermission interview on Minnesota Public Radio, Ohlsson shared a historical tidbit I had never heard before.

Continue reading

5 Comments

Filed under Minnesota Orchestra, Reviews

#livelarking: Minnesota Orchestra IN CUBA!: Night 1

5:35 PM. Hey guys! So excited to see you online. Welcome to my first Cuba #livelarking entry. The MPR broadcast of the Minnesota Orchestra’s historic Cuba concert starts in about ninety minutes, so set your clocks. I invite you all to join me and other fans online. Celebratory listening is just more fun when others join you!! Follow along at #livelarking on Twitter and my Facebook page, and feel free to refresh this page for updates and commentary as the night goes on.

I felt that this milestone deserved a brief video entry, so I took to my backyard to show you a bit how I’m celebrating today, and also to give a major thank you to the people who made this trip possible.

Well, before it gets much later, I’ve got to make something to eat for dinner. Turns out a tiny tiny plate of nachos doesn’t really hold a ravenous blogger. I’ll be back!

6:45 PM. What’s the funnest thing to do when you’re bouncing off the walls waiting for a historic orchestra broadcast? SELFIES, OBVIOUSLY. Tell me and show me where you’re listening!

20150515_184008

Listening and ready to go wooohooooo

6:54 PM. Just for old time’s sake…a GIF.

7:04 PM. Brian Newhouse gets philosophical with a wave metaphor, comparing the ocean waves to the waves of cultural change coming to Cuba. MPR then gets the party started with a recording of Gershwin’s Cuban Overture by (who else?) the Minnesota Orchestra.

7:19 PM. The recording of Beethoven 8 reminds me what a treasure our orchestra has been, is, and…thanks to you…always will be. Counting down the minutes until the live performance (ten).

7:29 PM. This Beethoven 1 finale is full of such verve and energy. Every chord is like a blast. I’m guessing we’ll hear some of that trademark energy tonight! (Oh yeah, Captain Obvious is in the house!)

7:38 PM. The instruments and their players arrive onstage with a welcome that sounds very wild, very Minnesotan!

7:42 PM. I will not soon forget the sheer violence of that first chord, later followed by the contrast of the melting winds. Glorious!

7:49 PM. My orchestra is back in business. *drops mic* *walks away* *comes back to listen*

7:52 PM. We’re now treated to a gorgeously sensitive opening to the Beethoven Choral Fantasy by Cuban-born pianist Frank Fernández.

8:04 PM. I’m not familiar with the Choral Fantasy – so feel free to pull my Critic’s Credibility Card (c) – but I’m enjoying these sounds very much. I can just hear the passion dripping from them.

8:11 PM. There is such a beautiful quality of ethereality (is that a word? well, it is now) to the Cuban National Choir and Coro Vocal Leo. Really affecting.

8:15 PM. The crowd sounds hugely excited and appreciative! Deepest gratitude to Havana for welcoming our musicians with such wide open arms.

8:22 PM. MPR’s report on how the Minnesota Orchestra worked with students yesterday is really amazing. If you missed it, it’s worth your while to find and listen to. If I can get a link, I’ll share it. Support MPR!! Edit: here’s a link to a story, although not the full-length one featured on the broadcast.

8:33 PM. I’m really enjoying the auxiliary musical selections, which so far have included the Bernstein Divertimento and movements from the Minnesota Orchestra Vanska Beethoven 1 and 8 recordings.

8:38 PM. We’re back from intermission. For those of you who were taking bets what time I would start crying, it was at 8:40 CST, at the opening couple minutes of the Eroica. This orchestra and this piece have featured profoundly in my life recently, and I’m feeling a weird combination of overwhelming pride, sadness, excitement, and sheer unadulterated joy. It is a miraculous thing when old music intertwines with your modern life, as it has intertwined with the lives of so many generations before us.

8:52 PM. I’m needing the Kleenex now. The performance was great before but something has just entered another sphere of intensity. I don’t know if they can feel it in the hall, but I feel it over the airwaves.

9:00 PM. I’m sorry to keep raving, but this performance has a depth and beauty that is beyond words. So every description I come up with feels completely inadequate. The political significance of this, the emotional significance of this, the historical significance of this, the musical significance of this… It’s almost too much to handle. Like many others, I’ve devoted my life to this orchestra, and performances like these are why. I’m not sure if people who haven’t been in the trenches like we have get how truly significant this moment is, but trust me: it is. This is a rebirth, a resurrection, the likes of which this industry has never seen before. We are so blessed.

9:14 PM. Such subtlety to the funeral march, with so many details to enjoy and absorb. And now such exacting saucy triumph in the scherzo.

9:24 PM. I am having SO MUCH FUN on Facebook and Twitter I’m neglecting the blog. Stop by!!! You still have a few minutes before the show ends!

9:30-ish PM… Victorious ecstasy.

9:45 PM. Um…I think…it’s over. I’m exhausted by the excellence and the emotion. I don’t know what to say. I’m afraid if I gush too much more I’ll lose all credibility.

So let me end with: This orchestra is back, baby.

I’ll see you tomorrow, same place, same time, for the Minnesota Orchestra’s second concert live from Havana!

And if you want to reread my REAL TIME REACTIONS, take a peek at my perhaps too overly enthusiastic Twitter page and this Facebook thread!

Love you guys!

***

4 Comments

Filed under Minnesota Orchestra, Reviews

Nine Symphonies

Earlier today I posted CK Dexter Haven‘s nerdy symphony challenge on Facebook. I wasn’t going to share my list publicly because my tastes feel so prosaic they didn’t seem worth writing about. (Plus, I know a lot more violin repertoire than I do symphonies.) But then Scott Chamberlain called me out in this entry and gah; hey, look what I wrote this evening.

If there ever was a time and place on the Internet for orch dorks to completely out-nerd each other, Here It Is: your chance to show off your music knowledge feathers like a displaying wild turkey.

Us

Us

The rules as stated by CK Dexter Haven:

If you had to pick nine symphonies — no more, no less — by different composers to include as part of a proverbial desert island survival kit, what would they be?  I asked myself this question just for grins over the recent Christmas & New Year’s break…

  • You can only pick one symphony per composer
  • You must choose numbered symphonies 1 through 9 only.  No Symphonie fantastique, Symphony of Psalms, Symphonic Dances, etc.
  • Once you choose a numbered symphony, you cannot choose another similarly numbered symphony by a different composer (i.e. no choosing both Beethoven’s 7th and Sibelius 7th).

So yeah. Here are my picks. What are yours? You don’t need to explain why, unless you want to. Just throw a list in the comments.

***

Continue reading

28 Comments

Filed under The Orchestra Business

Advertising Beethoven’s Crotch

Whenever I need a break from music, I log on to Tumblr, scroll down, and zone out.

Then the other day in the midst of mindless scrolling I saw this.

...

……..

Of course I immediately wondered if this was the work of a trickster with too much time on his hands and a grudge to bear against the Dallas Symphony, so I opened a new tab and Googled “dallas symphony beethoven festival brochures.”

Continue reading

42 Comments

Filed under The Orchestra Business