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Classical Notes

Classical Notes: March 10, 2010 Archive

Rachmaninoff's Swan Song

Posted at 3:22 AM on March 10, 2010 by Ward Jacobson
Filed under: Programs

The Symphonic Dances was Rachmaninoff's last complete work, composed initially for two pianos. Supposedly, the composer himself was surprised by how great the orchestrated version sounded when he attended its premiere. As he was being congratulated and patted on the back he is reported to have said, "I don't know how it happened, it must have been my last spark."

We'll hear that last spark later tonight (12:05am, Thursday) when our weekly Euro Classic ventures to Brussels for a 2008 performance with the Toulouse Capitol Orchestra.


Hilly Decorah and Fake, Life-Size Buffalo

Posted at 3:48 PM on March 10, 2010 by Laura Ciotti
Filed under: Parker Quartet

The Parker Quartet just returned from their final "outstate" concert in the Artists-in-Residence series, playing last week in Decorah. They will perform again at the Varsity in Minneapolis on April 15. Read the quartet's previous entry



Karen Kim, violin


Karen KimLast week, we had the last outstate concert of the MPR Artists-in-Residence at Luther College in Decorah, IA. All of our concerts in the Midwest have been so rewarding, and it was a little sad to bring the series to a close. I truly hope that we will see all of these audiences again.

Being in Decorah was a particularly great experience for me because my sister Chrissy now lives there! Chrissy is a cellist, and is teaching this semester at Luther College. She recently received her DMA from Rice University in Houston, TX.

1.jpgThis is a photo of the two of us with our father after performing the Brahms Double Concerto in our hometown of La Crosse, WI.

On the day of the concert, I had a bit of time to explore Phelps Park, which is very close to Chrissy's apartment in Decorah. It was incredibly beautiful, and a great place to be on the afternoon of a concert--very refreshing, but not strenuous to explore. Below are some pictures from the park. And yes, that is a buffalo in the last picture. Fake, but life-size. Don't know who put it there...

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Daniel Chong, violin

Daniel ChongAs our fourth and final concert presented by MPR, we visited Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. It turned out to be a visit with many little surprises. First off, when I think of Iowa I imagine a terrain that is shameless about its flatness and where corn fields are picturesque. In Decorah, there are actually quite a few hills in the area which made it a nice drive as we entered the town. On our way Jessica and I also encountered some faithful Amish in horse and buggy on the back county roads which was a jarring juxtaposition of two completely different modes of transportation.

Other little surprises:
- The Hotel Winneshiek is a very nice, old world style hotel with a unique structure, big comfy rooms, and bathrooms elegant and large enough to be called a luxury studio in New York City. By the way jet tubs are sweeeet.

- The music department at Luther College is the largest department at the college!

- I had the opportunity to listen to an undergraduate quartet play the opening movement of Mozart's Dissonance quartet. We spent an hour discovering how beauty reveals itself in the Adagio, and they helped me realize that the character of the Allegro is like going to a party.

- Oh what a great hall. 350 seats, good acoustics, good vibe, nice design. . . Who would of thought that Decorah would have a fantastic chamber music hall??

- Oneota food coop. A very satisfying coop.

- Jess and I visited a nice little shop called Grooves (I think). I like to sort through used CD's and DVD's when we are in random cities and this was a great place to do that. We walked away with 3 albums for $16. 1) Nina Simone 2) Music of Zaire and 3) the Forrest Gump soundtrack.

All in all, I had a good time visiting Decorah and it's nice to see that music lives strong in that town. Signing out - Dan


Kee-Hyun Kim, cello


Kee Hyun KimYesterday was our last formal concert of the Artists-in-Residence series, hosted by MPR. This last location was at Luther College, in Decorah, Iowa. I say 'formal,' because although there are some events left, most prominent being a show at the Varsity Theater on April 15, this was the last time we would be presented in a traditional concert setting. We were to play at the Jenson-Noble Recital Hall.

And what a great 'traditional' concert space! I was remarking with one of the teachers at Luther College, how fortunate the students were to have that hall as a recital space. The hall seats about 300 (i'm guesstimating), so it is not a small hall, nor is it a large one. It's got a high ceiling, nice wood, nice color aesthetic, and overall a great acoustic, which gave everything a nice glow. It was also intimate; never at any point did I feel 'lost' on stage, or that we were losing the audiences' attention.

One word about yesterday's audience, and the audiences we've played for in the past month - I wish we could have audience like this all the time! Thanks in large part to the promotional skills of MPR, every concert we were playing to a full house. The demographics were varied, from young kids to college students to grizzled chamber music aficionados, and you could sense that everyone there was engaged and there to listen. During the Q&A session, a young woman asked us why we loved music, and loved playing music. My answer to her would be "for moments like this." It may sound a little corny, but is there any greater satisfaction than knowing that this music that we play - this music that is so much greater than us, and that we spend hours, days, and entire lifetimes studying, internalizing, and presenting - is reaching out through time and space, and, in one way or another, affecting them in a profound way?

On a more personal note, yesterday was also special because it was my birthday. It is not rare for concerts to fall on our birthdays - Dan and I were griping backstage that this year both of us had 'working' birthdays - and it was not the first time that this had happened. I found myself contemplating that, for better or for worse, the quartet really is like a family. I don't remember the last time I celebrated a birthday with my own family - I left home when I was 16 - and this year, not only am I not home, but my girlfriend is out of town as well. But the one thing that is constant? I know that my quartet will be there - whether by choice or not! - to commemorate another passing of a year with me. It was certainly nice, at the end of the concert, to have an entire audience of people sing 'Happy Birthday' to me. Thanks for that.

Special thank you to Chris Cross and Steve Staruch of MPR, to Jubal and Chrissy, faculty at Luther College, to the students who played for us, and finally, to the audience, without whom none of this would have been possible.

Jessica Bodner, viola

Jessica BodnerThe drive to Decorah, IA, and Decorah itself are beautiful. In fact, as we were driving around, it reminded me of the area in Burgundy, France, where our French manager lives. There's a peacefulness and quiet beauty that I feel when we're in Burgundy, and I got the exact same feeling going to Decorah. I think it's mostly the rolling hills planted with all kinds of crops (probably in this case, mostly corn and soy, I imagine). Talking about Burgundy makes me hungry - you probably would imagine for French food, but we actually had the best Argentinean cuisine in the middle of Burgundy farmland. We were in desperate search of food, and we passed this place which we thought was a Mexican restaurant, and we thought, "No way, we're not going to venture into a Mexican place in the middle of French farmland!" However, we couldn't find anything else, either places were closed, booked solid, or a little out of our price range, so we went back to check out the "Mexican" place. To our surprise, it was such an amazing Argentinean meal that it inspired me to try to make my own dishes based on what we had (which definitely did not turn out the same!), and we went back there again when we returned to the area the next year. It is for places like this that I love traveling! My culinary high point in Decorah was lunch at their downtown co-op. It's wholesome and well-taken-care-of feel reminded me a lot of my favorite co-ops in Vermont. It's so great when it feels like the people preparing your food really care, and I think you can really taste the difference. Besides enjoying the atmosphere and food, I loved seeing a different part of Iowa, hearing the students at Luther College, playing a concert for such a great audience, and once again being around such great MPR people like as Steve Staruch and Chris Cross.

Applause, Applause

Posted at 4:17 PM on March 10, 2010 by Rex Levang (1 Comments)
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media

When to applaud at classical concerts . . . when not to applaud . . . are there rules, and where did they come from--all this makes for an recurrent and robust theme of discussion in the classical world.

Critic Alex Ross has given this some thought, and in this recent speech, gives some history, some personal observations, and some suggestions.

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Classical MPR stars!

Posted at 4:20 PM on March 10, 2010 by Alison Young (3 Comments)
Filed under: Concerts, Musician stories

Classical Host Mindy Ratner and Performance Today producers Kate Saumur and Jeff Bina are making beautiful music together this Sunday as part of the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra's performance of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana."

Mindy Ratner has been singing alto with the Minnesota Chorale for some time. She told me she loves the words. "They're filled with love and longing, and a fair amount of mischief. Although we sing about the unfairness of life and the cruelty of Fate, there's a lot of fun to be had along the way!"

Her favorite part is the "hapless tale of the Roasted Swan...poor guy!"

That 'poor guy' has his own solo movement that begins with one lone bassoon played by PT's Kate Saumur who says "just before he sings, the first bassoon has a very high, kind of comical/lamenting solo, and then one obnoxious low note. I call it my 'dead swan on a stick' solo. The scary part is not the high stuff, but resetting your embouchure and pulling that down-in-the-basement low C from out of nowhere."

Kate told me she loves the huge gong crashes in the opening and closing choruses. They make her want to be a percussionist!

That's PT's Jeff Bina's role. He is one of a whole band of percussionists playing the snare, chimes and sleigh bells. He says he loves the snare because it's "so crisp and exacting. I play on all the boisterous outbursts and I add the exclamation mark at the finish of each song. The sleigh bells are impossible to keep quiet. I wrote in my part when to pick them up, so they'll be covered by a loud part in the music!"

If Carmina is not enough to get your blood roiling, also on the program is one of the sweetest pieces ever written, Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Serenade to Music."

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