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.
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.
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.
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.
The last time I was in Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis was in March 2012 to see the premiere of Judd Greenstein’s Acadia. This is a work for full and fabulous symphony orchestra, and it explores a narrative of change, loss, and redemption.
I left the hall that night happy – and completely oblivious to the fact that I’d be living those themes for the next two years.
Eight weeks after that concert, the Minnesota Orchestral Association (MOA) quietly fired the first shot in its aggressive PR battle, months before the work stoppage they were planning for even began. This shot at audiences and donors was completely unprovoked and completely indefensible. Presumably assuming that the wider world would never discover their dirty underhanded trick, somebody at the MOA authorized the purchase of a variety of domain names based on variations of the phrase saveourminnesotaorchestra.com. Why? During the Detroit Symphony strike, audience advocates there had created headaches for the board and management by creating an organization named Save Our Symphony to protest the direction the DSO was going. And consequently, the power players at the MOA wanted to make it harder for any Minnesota-based upstarts to start a similar group. This paranoid purchase proves that they were afraid that Minnesota audiences might try to derail the plans they had to choke the organization and remake it in their own image.
I can confirm that their fears were well-founded.
But there was no time to reflect on any of that as I stepped for the very first time into the Rorschach test of a new lobby. (Do you see a brand new $50 million boondoggle symptomatic of a dysfunctional organizational culture that values bricks and mortar over world-class orchestral music-making, or a badly needed remodel that will strengthen the Orchestral Association in a myriad of ways and foster community engagement and goodwill? Your answer will remain confidential between you and your therapist!) I immediately was in the arms of a musician friend, tearing up on a tux shoulder. Screw reflection; we’ve been to hell and back and we survived, so let’s celebrate. His words came out in a rushed tumble. We’re playing well, he said. Each week we’re sounding better. We need him back.
Of course, “him” is Osmo Vänskä: the beloved Finnish music director who brought the already great Minnesota Orchestra to even greater heights during his ten year tenure. He’d resigned during the sixteen-month-long lockout, and it is obvious he won’t bother to return unless and until the MOA board of directors demonstrates a renewed commitment to world-class orchestral music-making…a goal they, to be blunt, didn’t show any commitment to in 2012 or 2013. (Thankfully, 2014 is going a little better. So far.) What exactly that commitment might consist of, and what their terms might be, I don’t know, and of course it’s none of my business to know. But now that the lockout is over, there are at least some board members who want Osmo back. They’ve taken the first step to getting him back by overseeing the…completely voluntary resignation of the orchestra’s controversial CEO, Michael Henson. Osmo and the Orchestral Association are now in negotiations to see if they share enough of the same goals to make his return worthwhile. If the stars align, part two of our beloved Osmo’s tenure could be on its way. Plus, so many audience members are relieved to see the architect of the lockout packing his bags. Hence the electric buzz in the lobby.
Speaking of the audience…