Tag Archives: Stravinsky

Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra in Griffes, Rachmaninoff, and Stravinsky

Not a single professional reviewer discussed the concert this week, so I’ll throw out my word count limit.

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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]

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Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra in Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Stravinsky

The Minnesota Orchestra launched its Russian festival this week with concerts devoted to the works of Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Stravinsky, led by Courtney Lewis. Both local papers were impressed. The Pioneer Press wrote 340 words of praise, the Strib 465.

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The performance began on a somber note with the addition of Stephen Paulus’s “Veil of Tears” from To Be Certain of the Dawn. Paulus passed away on October 19 at the heartbreaking age of 65. Words don’t suffice, and I hope this moving musical tribute brought a measure of peace to the family and friends who have lost so much.

After the moment of reverent silence, excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s The Snow Maiden began. This music sounds as if it belongs in a snow globe: the Nutcracker minus the “oh no not again” baggage of the omnipotent warhorse. Warm horn calls, silvery woodwinds, rich and shapely lines in the strings… I craved a bit more forward motion at certain points earlier in the piece, but the Dance of the Tumblers finale more than made up for that with a truly dizzying propulsion. I’d never heard The Snow Maiden before, but it’s going on my playlist of winter favorites for sure.

Pianist Kirill Gerstein took the stage for Shostakovich second concerto and Prokofiev first, performing with clarity, nuance, and sensitive, exciting musicality. Moments in the interior of the first movement of the Shostakovich were absolutely explosive, and the songfulness of the andante was almost vocal. He brought similar intensity to the spiky Prokofiev first. What manic, electric repertoire, and what manic, electric playing!

The program officially closed with Stravinsky’s Symphonic Suite from The Fairy Kiss. Tchaikovsky practically deserves a co-writing credit here, as Stravinsky used bits and pieces of Tchaikovsky as subjects. To put it in bloggy terms, this is Stravinsky writing fanfiction in Tchaikovsky’s universe. My relationship with Igor is one based in ambivalence, and that’s likely why I wasn’t particularly grabbed by this piece or performance as a whole. That being said, there was some brilliant orchestral playing going on (as there always is): some beautifully blended contributions from the woodwinds, and strings full of power and character. But I do agree with the Pioneer Press that the program order would have worked better with the Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky reversed.

The encore was the finale from the Firebird: a piece that will forever have a place in the heart of Twin Cities audiences as one of the anthems of the lockout. Good news: the phoenix has risen from the ashes, and you can hear it sing this program once more tonight at 8pm at Orchestra Hall.

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And I came right in the middle between the two newspaper reviews, at 397 words. Were you at the concert? Leave your thoughts below and contribute a microreview of your own! The more people talking about the Minnesota Orchestra, the better.

Tickets for tonight here. Be sure to check out the collection of Russian art on display in the lobby, on loan from the Museum of Russian Art.

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Microreview: Minnesota Orchestra and Chorale, Heitzeg, Stravinsky, Orff

Time for the last Microreview of the season! *gets weepy*

Catch this fabulous program tonight at 8pm and tomorrow at 2pm at Orchestra Hall; tickets at minnesotaorchestra.org. SOTL Microreviews will return this fall as we all embark on the Best Season Evar! Feel free to contribute a Microreview of your own, too.

My word count comes from this week’s enjoyable Rob Hubbard Pi-Press review: 429. I think it’s best for everyone if we forget the Strib’s review of weirdness ever existed, so 429 words it is. Here goes!

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This week the sacred and the sexual mix unabashedly in a program of Stravinsky, Orff, and Minnesota composer Steve Heitzeg.

I’m not so familiar with Heitzeg, although I love his soundtrack for Death of the Dream, the TPT documentary about abandoned Midwestern farmsteads. It was sparse and devastatingly effective. So it was interesting to hear his voice in this new context. “Now We Start The Great Round” has the flavor of movie music written for a Copland biopic, and it serves as a sweeping curtain raiser. But it finished before it started, especially when the stage change took half as long as the piece itself.

After the Stage Change of Interminability came Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. Way too late I realized: maybe it’s irresponsible to write about a performance of this piece, especially when

  1. I’ve never heard it before,
  2. I don’t know anything about choirs, and
  3. my two instruments have left the stage (violins! violas! come back!).

So I put the critiquing ears away and just soaked in the ambiance. From that perspective, the Symphony was all melancholy angularity, lit by the glow of the sound of the Chorale. It sounded like candlelight flickering in an Escher cathedral. Lush, sacred…and very odd. Last night I didn’t grasp the narrative. It was all very lovely, but meh. Then again, I don’t find much Stravinsky seductive, so…

Oh, you're the bad boy of music alright.

Oh, you’re the bad boy of music alright

The narrative for Carmina Burana, on the other hand, hit like an anvil to the head. From the first notes it felt like straight-line winds were blowing over the radio. O FOR-TUN-A, indeed. I think the Minnesota Chorale put every single emotion of being locked out of Orchestra Hall for sixteen months into that opening phrase. The bitter sneer of those consonants! My takeaway? Do not get on the wrong side of the Minnesota Chorale. Damn.

It was immediately clear that members of the Chorale could not only sing Carmina in their sleep, but under general anesthetic. That familiarity could easily lead to a bored performance, but of course they’re above that. Their effervescent joy at being back on that stage was contagious, and so deeply satisfying to hear. The Orchestra supported them all the way, but – dare I say it? – it was the Chorale’s show last night. And deservedly so.

As for the baritone in Ego Sum Abbas, I wish I sang that well drunk.

To sum up the 2014 season:

Away with sadness!
summer returns,
and now departs
cruel winter…

wretched is the person
who neither lives,
nor lusts
under summer’s spell.

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Addendum: An earlier version of this review misspelled composer Steve Heitzeg’s name. Awkward, and my apologies.

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