I had the great privilege this past weekend to attend one of the premiere US concerts of the Cuban choir, Schola Cantorum Coralina, brought to us through the initiation of our very own Philip Brunelle and VocalEssence.
I didn't quite know what to expect going into it. A few weeks ago I thought in my naïve, snobby Midwest "our choirs are the best" attitude, "Okay. A Cuban choir? This will be nice. Some mambo and Afro-Cuban percussion with added singing. Cute. Fun."
...No. It was so much more than that. I was COMPLETELY blown away. Of course there was rhythm, but it was a side note. It was as if they said, "Well, yeah. We're Cuban. Get over it. Now check this out!" I was taken by the tightness of their blend and expressive movement, the complexity of the repertoire, a genre seemingly lost to our American choral ears (Cuban choral music that is), and their unwavering communication. Their conductor (Alina Orraca) had enormous control of this choir who had the musical spectrum and control likened to a 1966 Pontiac GTO - beautiful, tender, muscular, fast, and sassy.
My mind has been consumed ever since, LITERALLY unable to stop thinking or talking about their performance!
A beautiful combination of high-caliber musical performance and commitment to youth education, instilling a passion for choral music in the Cuban community.
If you missed it, I am sorry. BUT, you can still check them out online. Here are some videos from their winning performance at the 2007 European Grand Prix for Choral Singing.
It is understood that Minnesota holds a very strong grip on the world of choral music, both nationally and internationally. With our world-renown professional and collegiate choirs, fabulous public school programs, and choirs with a message we have carved our name in choral history. We live in a special place, and it is our depth that is so remarkable.
Here at Classical MPR we have made an official commitment to the choral community in Minnesota. We started by creating an on-line choral stream with hours and hours of non-stop choral music from around the world. We will bring to the Twin Cities the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the King's College Choir (Cambridge), and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir with a commission by Edie Hill. In the future we will continue to nurture that relationship by creating collaborative programming and content.
This summer at the State Fair Classical MPR thought, given our choral initiative, that it would be appropriate to incorporate several vocal acts, including VocalEssence, the Minnesota Boychoir, and members of the Minnesota Opera. But something was missing...so when I was approached by Brian Newhouse and Daniel Gilliam at MPR to discuss other ensembles to incorporate, I responded immediately with the idea of a young-adult chamber choir. They asked, "Does anything like that exist?" Knowing of nothing I said, "No, but I will create it."
And so here we are, The State Fair Singers with me, Sam Kjellberg, the aspiring conductor. We will sing a short program of music by Jaakko Mäntyjärvi, Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, and a short hymn by the great Thomas Tallis. It's a simple concept – young-adults between the ages of 22 and 27 singing together, all coming from fabulous collegiate choral programs – Concordia (Moorhead), Luther, Saint Olaf, the University of Minnesota, and Yale. This project has been the seed to something we hope to continue through the next several years, or until we're too old to be considered "young-adults." (...but "youth" is a mindset, right?...)
The name seems a little narrow and constraining, and in some ways it is, but even with the name attached, this group has hopes of being a symbolic gesture for the future of choral music and classical music in general. It is my opinion that Classical Music must focus on keeping its youthful vigor and innovation alive and well. I hope that ensembles with this sort of youthful energy, determination, and initiative will continue to be heralded for years to come!
Come at check us out at the State Fair!!!
August 27-29th, 2-3pm
September 3, 2-3pm
All at the Minnesota Public Radio booth on the corner of Judson and Nelson!
To bridge the gap, to break through the translucent historical and pedestal'd barrier between the stage and the commonplace, is seen as something of a taboo in the classical world. As an artistic audience, we don't know how to handle incorporation and conversation with the stage world, the world of moral fragility, the world of the dilemma that pries us from any comfortable choice, a world perfect in its scenarios. We like to sit cozy, knowing that these experiences are at a distance, thinking that the stage world couldn't possibly portray our own daily experience and struggle with the world, meaning and purpose... But it does.
By all of this I simply mean the act of breaking character on stage, a small aside or reaction that emerges from within the production and addresses the outside world. Throughout history there has been disdain circling this issue.
Recently, Metropolitan operatic star René Pape, while acting the role of Méphistophélès (the Devil) in Charles Gounod's Faust, broke character by parting with the French language and addressed the audience with an aside in English.
Let me paint the picture: It is Act 4, a scene in Marguerite's garden. She has just sung the famous "Jewel Song" after having received a box covered in jewels, which happened to have been from Faust through Méphistophélès, who is helping Faust gain the love of Marguerite. After Marguerite's aria Faust and Méphistophélès reenter the stage and begin their recitative. Amid one of his French sighs Méphistophélès (played by René Pape) turns to the audience and says, in English, "Diamonds are a girl's best friend." The laughter that followed seemed strained with an underlying current of judgment.
You can see how this would outrage the public, and it did. The concern is duly noted and understandable; classical art should not be tampered with or tarnished. However, allow me to play the part of Méphistophélès's attorney for a moment (Devil's advocate, if I may).
The living aesthetician, Arthur C. Danto, rocked the art world in 1981 with the publication of his book "The Transfiguration of the Commonplace: A Philosophy of Art." The mission, as the subtitle suggests, was to create a philosophy of art, which he thought, up to that point, had been slightly ambiguous and undefined. (Claim to fame: That the history of art is finished. A disturbing statement likened to Nietzsche's "God is dead. And we have killed him".)
His book was a reaction to the history of art, which in the decades previous to its publication brought what some might consider strange artistic developments and freedoms. He philosophically addresses these controversial pieces of art, namely Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain" (a urinal with "R. Mutt 1917" written on it), Andy Warhol's "Brillo Boxes" (a stack of boxes with the logo of the Brillo soap pad brand), among other Avant Garde works.
The pinnacle example is a short, passionate dialogue regarding the statue of a cat that was located in a rotunda on the campus of Columbia University in New York City. For a long time this statue sat there, unmoved, sitting near a staircase. He passed this everyday with little notice. However, one day as Danto walked by he noticed that the statue had been freshly chained to the stair case railing. This provided him a door into the question of where the artworld line is drawn and the ambiguity of the border between art and commonplace.
For Danto, the chained cat could have meant one of two things: an attempt to counteract possible burglaries of the statue, or an attempt by the artist to gift some morsel of artworld status into and onto the commonplace. He chose the latter.
Like the chain, the broken character is an invitation to incorporate the audience in the artistic experience, as a way for the actor to connect their own character to the audience as if to say, "Yes, I am here with you. Let us see the world together. Isn't this fascinating?"
Of course, it is easy to say that when an actor breaks character they are breaking the tradition and sanctity of that particular artwork. However, under the Dantonian lens it seems that the breaking of one's character truly is an invitation for involvement, an acceptance between the audience and the artist, a most liberating and inclusive characteristic of art.
Art speaks on behalf of culture, it follows our desires and passions, opening doors, and with such an invitation we as an audience are transcendent up and into the artworld, living, breathing and drinking every morally fragile theme.
Item: NPR, Dec 30, 2011: Opera director Claudio Del Monaco was stabbed in the chest by his wife last week. The wife is an aspiring opera singer who apparently was upset that her husband failed to promote her career.
Item: Weekly World News, at the grocery store checkout lane, May 31, 1988:
"Opera Singer Gores Director; Stunned Audience sees 300 pounds of fury charge across the stage: Thundering soprano Francine Bahr got ticked off in the middle of an opera performance, charged across the stage like an enraged rhino - and gored her director with the horned helmet on her head."
[Click on the thumbnail to read the full article]
As Anna Russell would say, "I'm not making this up you know!!!"
As we approach the coming of our special event this Friday, December 9th, the New York Polyphony Holiday Concert at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church, we will take a look at an original work that was recently commissioned for and premiered by New York Polyphony this past November.
The work is titled Missa Charles Darwin, composed by American composer Gregory Brown and was set to text edited by New York Polyphony's bass Craig Phillips. You may think this title is counterproductive and contradictory, taking a structural paradigm of the Catholic faith and juxtaposing it with the principle text of evolutionary science. However, the piece seeks to exemplify the creativity and ingenuity of the human spirit, as well as portraying the unique position humans have within our reality.
Even though the composer claims this not to be a political statement, his purpose of exemplifying human language, human's curiosity into reality and its multi-functional viewpoints is certainly a spiritual and poetic one.
Under this light, this work could be considered one of the most important musical works of our time — perhaps not in a purely musical sense, but as a statement of cooperation among seemingly disagreeable mediums, between spiritual understanding and an understanding based on facts.
As humans we question the world, whether regarding the creation and meaning of our existence or to simply understand and grasp the world around us. This work shows that there is beauty in both the spiritual and the scientific and each can assist the other in the collective human effort to grasp and understand reality!
Keefe was born in Massachussettes in 1980, studied at Curtis and Juilliard, and is a member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
She begins officially as concertmaster right away, at the Orchestra's season opening concerts September 29 to October 1. Her September 30 concert will be broadcast live on Classical MPR. Meanwhile, here's Erin talking about her life as a musician, and playing a gorgeous Sibelius Romance:
On Thursday, May 26th, if you were in Downtown Saint Paul around lunchtime, maybe headed across the Skyway bridge over 6th Street to the food court in the Alliance Bank Center, you would have come across two young buskers playing guitar. Except, as you got closer, you would have realized that both their cases were closed. Then, if you listened, you would have heard that they were good. And I mean really good.
Welcome to a Random Act of Culture, a grant initiative sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. These acts echo the Knight Foundation's efforts to "help weave the arts into the very fabric of a community" by putting the arts into public spaces free of charge, available to anyone and everyone who happens upon them. "For those brief moments," says Knight Foundation Vice President Dennis Scholl, "people going along in their everyday lives are part of a shared, communal experience that makes their community a more vibrant place to live."
The two young guitarists, Austin Wahl and Xavier Jara, were participating in Random Acts through their connection with The Schubert Club, where they have both been 1st prize winners of the Bruce P. Carlson Student Scholarship Competition in 2010 and 2009, respectively.
More recently, both Austin and Xavier participated in Minnesota Varsity, a project from Minnesota Public Radio that showcases high school musical talent throughout Minnesota. Austin, who was selected as a Showcase Artist and performed at the Fitzgerald Theater on April 17th, 2011, and Xavier, who was a Featured Artist, have been playing guitar together for years.
Sitting cross-legged in the skyway, the two soon-to-be-graduating high-schoolers played beautifully as old friends, laughing and sometimes chatting while they played. Past them streamed a steady line of lunch-goers and noontime downtowners. Some surprised individuals would stop and listen before continuing on, maybe snapping a few photos on their phones. When asked how long the duo was scheduled to perform, Austin just grinned and said, "as long as we want."
The Schubert Club is only one of the organizations affiliated with The Arts Partnership, the group overseeing the grant. Over the coming weeks and months, in public spaces across the city, you might also stumble upon performances by resident artists from the Minnesota Opera, musicians of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, or resident performance companies of the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts.
For videos and information about Random Acts of Culture, visit www.randomactsofculture.org.
Just this morning, Cantus was at Crookston High School, singing with the 9-12 grade non-audition concert choir.
Crookston is the final stop on Cantus' tour of Minnesota as Artists-in-Residence at Classical MPR. Experienced educators (Cantus runs their own residency with local High Schools,) Cantus has made time in each town in which they have performed over the last two months to work with local junior high school, high school, and college choirs.
In Ely, students bussed in from all over the region to participate, joining forces into one area choir that stood on the risers facing the men of Cantus. After listening to the choir sing, Cantus retreated to a huddle in a corner of the stage, spent a minute in intense private conversation, broke the huddle, returned to their chairs, and then one-by-one took center stage in front of the students to work on a particular aspect of the performance.
Cantus worked on helping the students relax their faces, extend their vowels, work out the most important words for emphasis, and stretch their dynamics. As each of the men of Cantus took their turn in front of the students they were funny, engaging, and encouraging, and after 45 minutes everyone watching was gasping and whispering at the difference in the choir's sound.
The students also felt the difference. Taylor Davis, a member of the Ely High School choir, said that he attended only because his teacher had told him to come.
"When I first heard about it I thought it was going to be kind of lame," said Davis, "but now that I actually saw it I thought it was really cool. Like, it really had an effect on me."
Davis, a male singer in a High School choir, also expressed a sentiment that was echoed by several of the choir directors involved, saying that in his choir "there's not that many guys, and, like, being able to hear a lot more guys kind of makes me feel that there's actually other guys that like to sing."
Aware of the heavy attrition of 13 and 14 year-old boys in the not-so-cool art of singing, Scott Shrimpton, the choir director for the Grand Rapids High School choir, had arranged to bus in the boys from the Junior High School choir to watch the master class with the High School choir in Grand Rapids. Shrimpton wanted to expand the younger students' image of what singing can be, and expressed the hope that the opportunity to see Cantus, a 9-member professional male vocal ensemble, would inspire them to continue their singing with the High School choir when they arrived.
Cantus is performing their final Artist-in-Residence concert from the road in Crookston tonight at the Kiehle Auditorium at the University of Minnesota - Crookston (call 218-281-8266 for tickets). All of the students who sang with Cantus this morning have been invited to attend the concert free of charge, thanks to the Legacy Amendment for Arts and Cultural Heritage, giving them the chance to see the men in action, and hopefully inspire them to keep on singing.
I can't tell you how often I meet someone who wants to learn more about classical music. Usually, this revelation stems from their discovery of where I work; and, more specifically, what I do for where I work.
After meeting a few hundred people (or so) who wish they knew more about classical music, I thought, "Let's teach them."
"Learning to Listen" was born. A series of six free classes over the course of four months, held here at Minnesota Public Radio in the Maud Moon Weyerhaeuser studio, led by hosts of Classical MPR. The first class is Tuesday, March 1st from 7-8:30 p.m.
It's an opportunity to fill in the gaps of your knowledge of classical music. And if you have no knowledge at all, come to the first session, listen, and learn.
Our first session (Tuesday, 3/1) starts at the beginning, or as close as we can come to it. For centuries, not much happened. But then the French started writing secular music and the Germans followed their lead. The musicians for Notre Dame Cathedral started taking more liberties with their sacred works. After a couple hundred years and a handful of historically significant events, the Reformation rocked Europe. Then the Church of England split (for the first time).
All of these events drastically changed the landscape and course of classical music, and as exciting as it is to discuss, it's even more exciting to hear. Come, listen, and learn.
The classes are free, but please register here in advance.
It's not often that you get to see someplace as cool as the Soudan Underground Mine. And it's really not often that you get to witness a private concert performed at the 27th level of the mine, 2,341 feet below the surface. On a clear, brutally cold February afternoon the Classical MPR crew met up with their Artists-in-Residence, Cantus, and took the three-minute, pitch-black ride down to the comfortable 51-degree depths to make just that event happen.
Accessing one of the richest deposits of iron ore in the world, the mine sits just up the hill from the sleepy town of Soudan, Minnesota, just between Virginia and Ely.
The Classical MPR crew arrived early, winding past "Soudan's Only Store" towards Mine Road. A short jaunt up slippery hills, and we were at the surface of the old mine, inactive as a production mine since 1962.
There wasn't really much mine to see at the top. A few beautiful old buildings housing the giant engines and 3/4 of a mile of steel cables, a warming house (now visitor center), and the powerful A-Frame. The frame, covered in mid-winter ice, straddles the relatively small shafts that lead down, offering leverage to move the lift cars to the appropriate level.
Our guide, James, helped us load into one of the old cars, packing everything, including people, into 2 closet sized cages, one on top of the other.
With a few beeps to the engine house on the communicator, we started to drop.
Without James shining his head lamp out at the mine shaft walls there would have been no light at all. The noise was impressive - a constant, roaring clang that was so loud that James had to yell to tell us to pop our ears from the pressure change by pretending we were chewing gum.
After a 3 minute ride, we reached the 27th level at an impressive depth of 2,341 feet.
Another 5 minutes on an old mine train (think Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom - just the song that Cantus sang on their trip in an hour later) we arrived at the stope, the part of the mine last worked in 1962 when the mine was shut down.
We grabbed our gear, and started to set up.
Rob, our audio engineer, set up a DTS surround sound rig to capture the unique sounds of both Cantus and the mine.
Upon arrival, Cantus started to warm-up, setting in frantic flight a single bat who stayed with us through the rest of the recording session. We also had the company of some of the Soudan Underground Mine employees who made the train ride out to see the performance.
We spent several hours underground with Cantus singing several pieces - including Dave Matthews' "Gravedigger" and old (appropriate for the setting) union songs. The audio and video will both be available on the Sonic Architecture section of the Classical MPR Artist-in-Residence page.
After our thank you's to our gracious hosts at the Soudan Mine, we headed into Ely and made straight for dinner.
In true romantic February form, Cantus member Adam Reinwald and his wife, Trisha, our companion in the mines, shared a plate of pasta. As soon as it was set on the table they were promptly regaled by the remaining members of Cantus with This is the Night, the pasta "kissing" song from Disney's The Lady and the Tramp. The perfect end to an amazing session.
Yesterday morning Philip Brunelle, director of the VocalEssence chorus in Minneapolis, was on NPR's Weekend Edition talking with host Liane Hansen about Christmas carols.
Where did Christmas carols come from? How did they start? And how have they evolved?
Here's a link to their conversation.
And tune in tonight at 8:30p to hear Philip Brunelle conduct VocalEssence in the annual "Welcome Christmas!" concert. It's a tribute to the great composer John Rutter. Here's VocalEssence singing one of Rutter's most famous carols:
For a lot of us, it's a Christmas tradition - listening to the music from Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" or, if we're lucky enough to have a ballet company near us, going to see it.
If you're not familiar with the story, here's a very brief synopsis (with thanks to the Houston Ballet's website): It's the story of a little girl named Clara who wakes up one night at midnight to find herself being attacked by giant mice. Life-size toy soldiers come to her rescue and they are led by a Nutcracker who, after he wins the battle with Clara's help, turns into a prince.
After the battle, the Nutcracker Prince turns Clara's house into the Land of the Snow and we meet the Snow Queen and the Snowflakes. Clara and her prince jump into an enchanted sleigh and head toward the Kingdom of Sweets. When they arrive, they meet the Sugar Plum Fairy who arranges for dancers to entertain them while they feast. Eventually, Clara drifts off to sleep...and when she wakes up, she's back in her bed.
Sounds like just a lovely tale, doesn't it? And Tchaikovsky's music is beautiful. So I admit I was intrigued when I heard that director Andrei Konchalovskiy was making a movie based on the ballet, The Nutcracker in 3D. With the addition of several storylines, lyrics by Tim Rice (some set to Tchaikovsky's music) and some pretty heavy political satire, the reviews have not been great. So it brings up a question: Mess with a classic? Or just leave it alone? And if you've seen it - well, what did you think?
For the 45th consecutive year, the Minnesota Orchestra presents Handel's oratorio, Messiah this week. Three performances are scheduled at Orchestra Hall (11am Wednesday, 8pm Friday and Saturday) and one performance at Cathedral of Saint Paul (7:30pm, Thursday). For the first time, Osmo Vanska will conduct the performances that also feature soloists and the Minnesota Chorale.
As always, Friday night's performance will be heard live on Classical MPR.
For me, there are several Messiah moments that I most look forward to (nothing gets the blood pumping like a rousing rendition of the bass air, "Why do the Nations Rage?").
So what about you?
What makes this time of year feel like Christmas to you? Is it getting those tangled lights straightened out on the Christmas tree and powering them up? Maybe it's the first carol heard at the grocery store that you find yourself humming along to as you push your cart through the aisles - or the moment your kids start hauling out the Christmas DVD's like "Charlie Brown" or "The Grinch" for marathon repeat viewings.
For me, it's coming up this weekend.
I've hosted the St. Olaf Christmas Festival for the past three years and it never ceases to amaze me what a glorious and touching festival this is. From the beginning notes in a darkened auditorium, to the Christmas story read by candlelight, to the lights finally thrown on and 500 choristers processing past me as they make their way to the risers, to the moment when the "Ollie" Choir sings its first a capella tune, to at last the final hymn - sung in the round - F. Melius Christiansen's "Beautiful Savior."
Somehow that giant choral hug signals the real start of Christmas for me as I'm sent out into the cold night with warmth in my heart!
Not all commissions are created equal. Some are large, some are small. But the notion that only those with "disposable income" could afford a new piece is meeting its demise with Minnesota Orchestra's Microcommission. Announced today on the orchestra's blog, Judd Greenstein will be the first composer to be commissioned by, well, anyone!
The concept of microdonations has blossomed in recent years through websites like Kickstarter, where anyone can give any amount to a project, artist, film and other artistic endeavors. Principal conductor of pops and presentations, Sarah Hicks, thought the concept would be perfect for a commission. She writes on the orchestra's page about wanting audience members to "feel a tangible connection to the work they are helping create."
Is this the future of new music? The future of financing new art in any medium?
I'm not sure why it took out station so long to have Artists in Residence--seems like a logical enough idea. Now that the program has been in place for a year or so, we can say it's been a fantastic experience.
Critic Alex Ross went to see "The Social Network" the other day--it reminded him of, what else, Richard Wagner.
If you're looking to pursue that comparison on your own, you're in luck. The Metropolitan Opera's season of HD transmissions starts this weekend, with Wagner's "Rheingold." (NB-- radio broadcasts don't start till December.) The "Rheingold" production is by Robert Lepage, and apparently includes interactive video, puppets, shape-shifting sets-- so it should be something to behold. More info on times and venues here.
Six fabulous young opera singers from the Minnesota Opera Resident Artist Program were my guests yesterday at the State Fair. The eager crowd "bravo-ed" and "brava-ed" a selection of Rossini, Donizetti as well as a kind of barbershop styled "O Mio Babbino Caro." The three low-voiced men even sang a dueling "Toreador" from Carmen. It was a gas!
No one broke character even when a PA system took over or when a few drops of rain threatened to end the fun.
If you're planning to take in the fair, drop by the MPR booth. I should be preparing just now to introduce Cantus this afternoon - MPR's new artists-in-residence. But as I sit at my desk, I am glued to our web-cam with the three gubernatorial candidates holding forth - there is one guy talking non-stop....I won't say who, you'll have to watch for yourself!
The BBC Proms Concerts will be starting in London any day now. It's the largest music festival in the world, with dozens of concerts every summer, and it's a long-running one, too, having begun in 1895.
Any guesses what the most often played piece at the Proms is?
Thanks to their new online archive and search engine, such fascinating facts are now at your fingertips.
Hint: The way they calculate these things, every performance of an excerpt from a larger work constitutes a "play." So think of a work from which lots of excerpts might be taken. Find the archive here --- and stay tuned to MPR for lots of performances from this year's Proms, coming soon.
At least that's a tip I just received on proper harvesting of Rhubarb from my colleague Mike Pengra.
One of the many "fun facts" I just might use this Saturday when I host the Rhubarb Festival in Duluth.
It's a full day of music - including one of my most favorite, Peter Ostrouchko - a bake sale, silent auction, activities for kids and several contests.
If you're in Duluth, stop by and please let me know if it's best to tear or cut those rhubarb stalks!
Rhubarb Stalk & Leaf Contest
Join us Thursday, June 10 for a conversation with 'Playing (Less) Hurt' author Janet Horvath and Rehabilitation Specialist Jonathan Reynolds. The conversation begins at 2 p.m. CT.
You can find out more about the author and what other musicians have done to alleviate playing with pain as well as submit questions prior to the event.
To my friends out there who play an instrument, I have an informal poll:
The reason I ask is that this Friday I'll be hosting a select group of instrumentalists who have overcome pain and other obstacles, plus Dr. Jonathan Reynolds a rehabilitation specialist, and Janet Horvath, the author of the best-selling and authoritative book on the subject, "Playing (Less) Hurt."
Send me your thoughts - and any questions you'd like asked - and check back in the coming weeks for our in-depth video-taped interview and discussion.
Many of us are amazed (and envious) that professional musicians get paid to play music. We imagine careers that are stress-free, fun and joy-filled. While making music can be a joyous career, it can also be hazardous to one's health. Difficult repertoire, fast tempos, less than ideal performing conditions and non-ergonomic playing positions all contribute to stress and injuries ranging from tendinitis to TMJ.
Join me tonight at 7:30 at Common Good Books in Saint Paul when I interview Minnesota Orchestra Associate Principal cellist Janet Horvath about the new edition of her best-selling "Playing (Less) Hurt" and find out how musicians can avoid injuries (or at least lessen the risk for injury) and enjoy a long and healthy performance life.
I spent a wonderful Saturday evening as guest speaker at the Duluth-Superior Symphony Orchestra Chorus' 50th Anniversary Banquet at the Northland Country Club in Duluth.
My thanks to all involved for having me and a special shout out to Bob Ballou, a member of the chorus for all 50 years!
The celebration continues with two performances over the next two weekends. You'll get more information here , and if you're in Duluth this weekend or next, check out the DSSO Chorus.
Posted at 2:03 PM on May 5, 2010
by Kei Terauchi Furukawa
Filed under: Events
Ever wonder what classical radio hosts do on their days off? Here's what Michael Barone was up to.
Over the weekend I attended the inaugural festivities for a new pipe organ at Indiana University in Bloomington. The project, which began in 1992, suffered several setbacks. Although the delays and re-routings were frustrating, I believe the final result is superior to what would have been created in 1992. The hall is small with a capacity for 430 people. The program needed to be repeated three times, always to a full and enthusiastic audience. I even was asked to co-host a live broadcast of the final Sunday afternoon concert, spreading the PIPEDREAMS brand into another friendly neighborhood!
It's interesting how things coincidentally converge. German-born conductor Alexander Mickelthwate, the music director in Winnipeg, will replace Dennis Russell Davies in his second (cancelled) week of SPCO appearances. As chance would have it, he previously was an assistant conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Back in 2004, he led that ensemble in a concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall which featured, for the first time before a "public" audience, a performance with the hall's new pipe organ (with its festival Frank Gehry-designed façade). That concert was broadcast on PIPEDREAMS on MPR on Sunday, April 25. A fine way of introducing the community to Alexander Mickelthwate!
- Michael Barone
It never ceases to amaze me how much wonderful new music there is to share in the community around here. This past week, the oboe and bass combo Vecchione/Erdahl Duo performed at St. Therese Care Center in New Hope. I attended and participated in a concert they did a couple weeks ago at the Lakeville Arts Center, a wonderful venue which hosts theater and music events, including chamber music. The Duo and friends performed entertaining works by Morton Gould, Timothy Goplerud and others. And I had the chance to narrate the Story of Babar in a musical setting. My young niece who's just learning to read followed along with a copy of the book from her seat. Youngsters and oldsters both had an enjoyable afternoon.
- Steve Staruch
This month and next, MPR is organizing a used-instrument drive, getting old instruments out of attics and into the hands of kids. Our listeners have been contributing their own stories about their early involvement with musical instruments, and there are more attention-getting quotes than you can shake a flugelhorn at, including the headline up at the top. Consider:
"A spiritual quest of sorts"
"I was a dweeby nerd"
"I was so bad at first that. . . ."
"Band was the reason I continued my education"
Last night it was the Bach Birthday Bash at the Dakota and we heard three spectacular sets - a wonderful couple of Bach Society harpsichordists, followed by the transcendent Matt Haimovitz and then a quartet new to me, Jelloslave.
This group really rocked out - it's two classically-trained cellists, drums and tabla. A couple of highlights were a Bach/George Harrison suite, a piece by Bach-contemporary Turlough O'Carolan, a Bach Invention that morphed into Jimi Hendrix, plus a few tunes from their newest disc "Purple Orange" coming out in few weeks.
Their music is a kind of mesmerizing mix of dance and improvisation and the drums never completely take over the sound. They just give the whole feel a great rhythm and synergy. They played late into the night, but kept me wanting more.
I normally work on Saturdays, so hear the Met Opera broacasts right from the fabulous speakers in the Classical MPR booth.
But last night, a couple of my girlfriends and I went to the Carmen encore in Eagan. It was fabulous! Not only a tremendous production - with Roberto Algana and Elina Garanca as two completly believable and three-dimensional characaters - but the up-close and personal camera-angles made for a most amazing opera experience.
Don't miss this opportunity to see the Met in HD in the theatre. The next show is this Saturday, Verdi's Simon Boccanegra.
Or viola, or percussion, or piccolo. . . .
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is launching a summer camp for amateur adult instrumentalists. Brush the dust off that old bassoon, and you too could be playing Respighi and Strauss with professional members of the orchestra, under the direction of Marin Alsop.
(The music isn't necessarily that simple either. Take a look at the orchestration of one of the scheduled pieces, Also sprach Zarathustra.)
The Parker Quartet just returned from the first leg of their tour, playing shows in Bemidji and Souix Falls. They shared some of their thoughts with us about the trip and their performances. Read the quartet's first pre-tour entry
I also had a great time performing and teaching in both cities. Our experiences in Bemidji and Sioux Falls really hit home to me the power that music has to build a community. I could tell that our concert was an event that was on the community's radar, and it was wonderful to share the experience with everyone who attended. We also heard some really talented students play in both cities. I hope they keep classical music in their lives!
And now for the hardships of the trip, which thankfully were not numerous. In fact, the only real difficulty was the length of time spent in the car (4 1/2 hours to Bemidji, 6 1/2 hours to Sioux Falls, and 4 hours back to the Twin Cities). I learned some valuable lessons from this road trip, though. 1) You can never have too many snacks. If they're there, you will eat them all, and you'll still wish you had more. This first lesson is made more interesting by the discovery that, 2) during a road-trip through northern Minnesota in January, your car becomes a large, portable refrigerator. Beverages will stay cool, fruit will freeze before it can go bad...this fortuitously opens up a lot of options in the snack department. And finally, the most painful lesson. 3) Once you hit the Dakotas, if you have even the slightest urge to go to the bathroom, do so immediately at the first viable spot. Don't think that it's not so bad and that you can wait for the next one, because it will be far, and you may not make it...
What an interesting week it's been! On Tuesday, we recorded the Ravel Quartet for Fred Child, on Performance Today. On Wednesday we hit the road for our first concert ever in Bemidji, MN. The quartet took two cars - Dan and Jess with their new puppy, Bodie, and Karen and I in my car. Perhaps the most difficult part of this tour was the actual driving. From the Twin cities it was a little over 4 hours to Bemidji (google maps told us 5 and a half), and from Bemidji to Sioux Falls, it was a little over 7 hours, and from Sioux Falls back to St. Paul was around 4 hours.
Don't get me wrong - I really like to drive. Especially when I'm driving my own car. If this is the case, like it was for this trip, then packing is a lot easier too. Instead of cramming all my clothes, toiletries, suit, dress shoes, music-related stuff (music, music stand, CDs for sale etc.) and God knows what else into one small suitcase (adjusting for liquid regulations for TSA), I can just spread everything out in my car. And, especially with the flying situation the way it is these days, I am appreciating driving even more!
That being said, driving to all these places - all around Minnesota and the eastern part of South Dakota - in the middle of the winter is not something to be taken lightly! Weather was pretty bad - visibility was extremely poor for nearly half the trip. As a result, I am sure we missed a lot of the beauty of the landscape - as well as all the Paul Bunyan statues that I kept reading about. But oh well. It could have been worse. A LOT worse. It was just such a shame to be driving at barely 60 miles an hour when the speed limit was 75!
One of the most interesting things that I saw from the car on the road up to Bemidji was the ice houses on the lakes. Being the "land of 10,000 lakes," and, obviously, being extremely cold, I expected to see some ice fishing. What I didn't expect to see was what seemed to be whole fishing communities out on the lake! Instead of people swaddled up in 20 layers, fishing with a stick and with a metal bucket next to them, which was the image I had in my mind's eye, I saw what I first took to be many colorful port-a-pottys out on the frozen water - which turned out to be these 'shacks' where people build over and around the hole in the ice that they are fishing out of. Supposedly these 'shacks' can be quite elaborate - MTV Cribs, Minnesota ice shack episode anyone?
What was really fascinating about all this was that not only were there these ice shacks, but there seemed to be even roads, and on one lake, I saw what looked like a small river flowing in a crack about 5 feet across!
I am sure the whole experience is very safe, and that residents go out on the frozen ice all the time. Actually, thinking back on it now, I remember seeing these colorful "igloos" on Lake Calhoun last year. It's funny, tho - when we were driving from Bemiji to Sioux Falls, we stopped in Itasca State Park, which is the headwaters of the Mississipppi (something else I learned on this trip - I thought the Mississippi flowed out of the St. Lawrence River, or from somewhere in Canada, at least!). Someone said it was good luck to walk across the frozen Mississippi together, so the quartet made it its mission to do so - however, when I told my girlfriend, for whom this is her first Minnesota winter (or first time in the Midwest period!), she seemed extremely alarmed. Especially when I took a picture of a hole in the lake and sent it to her :)
Anyways, let's see. In my opinion, the concerts themselves went very well. They were very well attended (full house, with an overflow!!), and after both concerts, we got standing ovations. It is a known fact that it is much easier to hold and maintain an audience's interest, when the artists talk about the music beforehand. This breaks down the invisible barrier between the audience and performer, and creates a more intimate (and comfortable) environment for the listener. In this regard, we were very fortunate to have Steve Staruch, an announcer for MPR, touring with us! Steve, with his stories and personal anecdotes, and with his easygoing familiarity, set the tone for the evening (or afternoon, in Sioux Falls), warming up the crowd and preparing them to greet us and the music. Karen deconstructed the Stravinsky 3 Pieces, as well as the Concertino, for the audience, making it more accessible, and at the end of the concert, Steve mediated a question and answer session between us and the audience. A bit time consuming, but a great recipe for a successful evening of chamber music that is both informative, enlightening, and enjoyable!
To be honest, it being winter and all, I did not really get to see much of the towns. It was my first time in that part of Minnesota, and certainly my first time in the state of South Dakota! It would have been great to walk (or at least drive) around and take some pictures, buy some souvenirs, and get a feel of the local culture, but because it was so nasty outside, that opportunity never really presented itself. However, the taste of 'local culture' I was able to get was through talking to the residents of these two cities.
In Bemidji, I had the opportunity to coach a talented young cellist on the Saint Saens cello concerto. He was a junior in high school, and studying with Peter Howard, former principal cellist of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. He was extremely receptive to what I had to say, quick to adjust, and such a nice guy - none of the better-than-you attitude you get with a lot of high school students! Some of the audience members I talked to were such characters as well! I will not soon forget the man who approached me, talking about traveling, asking if I liked touring, etc. - then he said something like "I used to travel around the world myself, when I was around your age. Of course, my band was a lot bigger than yours... the U.S. Navy." Or the high school music teacher who was so enamored by our performance, especially by our Haydn, that she implored us to release some performances of our Haydn on Youtube, because "we are so isolated up here!" Or finally, the man who stated that Bemidji was one of the world's "best-kept secrets" - not only had we come to play here, but next week the Ahn Trio was coming, and a few months after that, Midori.
Sioux Falls was a slightly different experience. First of all, the weather was worse once we got there, so sightseeing was really out of the question. The masterclass we were to conduct was open to the public - this was by far the largest audience we'd had to come see us teach... ever! It was also unnerving because right before the class, I had become re-aquainted with an old friend of mine from high school! She had just finished graduate studies at Rice University, and gotten a job as associate principal viola of Sioux Fall Symphony this past September. This entailed her to teach at Augustana College as well - and here she was, after almost 6 years, listening to us teach a masterclass in front of a crowd of eager listeners! The man seated in front of me was filming the entire thing too on his camcorder - his family is going to have a recording of me dancing around stage instructing the students to play with no vibrato for eternity. Scary thought.
Funny story about the power of MPR's promoting skills. Immediately upon the completion of the class at Augustana, Kristi Booth, the regional director for MPR stood up, announcing the concert at 2pm and expressing her hopes to see everybody there. My friend leaned in to me and said "that's funny that she seems worried that people won't know about the concert. You guys have been on the radio, and they'e been announcing your concert, since, like, November."
Thinking back on it now, I don't know quite what i was expecting at these two places - I had resolved to be an informed tourist (googling these cities before we left), to keep an open mind, and most importantly, to be adaptable. Fortunately, I am happy to say that reality exceeded my expectations. First of all, the crowds were among the most diverse that I had ever seen in attendance at a chamber music concert. Not only were there the usual silver hairs in attendance, but I saw many high school and college age students, and especially in Sioux Falls, many young children, probably no older than middle school age. I certainly did not expect the level of reverence and concert etiquette that was on display! Not once, in any of the places, was there a cell phone ring, or even a watch alarm. No one clapped between movements. And despite the weather, not once was I ever distracted by hacking, whooping coughs, loud throat-clearing, or even the subtle-yet-not-so-subtle unwrapping of a cough drop. Audience members of Bemidji and Sioux Falls, give yourselves a round of applause, or at least a pat on the back, for being among one of my top 10 greatest audiences. We couldn't have done it without you.
Finally, my closing thoughts. At the beginning of this blog post, I touched briefly on the subject of acclimating; on becoming a real "Minnesotan." (or, to be more inclusive, a real "greater rural Mid-west area" resident). Driving for hours through the states of Minnesota, and North and South Dakota, I was surprised to to find myself feeling a real sense of belonging. How could you not feel at home when everybody around you is so friendly, so accepting, and so generous of their time and compliments?
The quartet moved to the Twin cities in the Fall of 2008. For me, this was after living in Boston for almost 10 years. Because of our intensive touring, and my puffed up sense of East Coast elitism, I didn't really get the sense that this was really "home" yet, even as recently as this past September. However, by traveling to these more out of the way communities, and sharing out gift of music with a reciprocating audience; this was the final step that made me feel most welcome, and a sign that I was an integral part of the community here.
A special thank you to Kristi Booth, regional manager for MPR, for all her hard work, and to Steve Staruch. This would not have been possible without you guys. And of course, to Minnesota Public Radio - please continue to support MPR! - one of the best classical stations in the United States, in my humble opinion.
As I think back on this trip, I don't quite remember things in a linear way, so I'm going to list the things that made impressions on me.
My first meal in Bemidji was at Hardees. I was pressed for time, I was hoping there was going to be a cute street full of interesting restaurants, but the closest thing I could find was Hardees. I am a vegetarian, so I had to be creative in ordering - I ordered the ¼ lb. burger topped with Portobello mushrooms and cheese€¦.hold the ¼ lb. burger, please. The cashier took $1.50 off, which I thought was very nice!
After never having seen an icehouse for fishing on the lake, I saw more than I can count.
We went to the headwaters of the Mississippi River - it's located about 40 minutes from Bemidji in Itasca State Park. I found it to be magical, especially with it being winter in a sparkling sort of way. It was so peaceful and seemed to be so well protected. It felt like an honor to be there.
It was awesome that the concerts were sold out!! It's so great to go out on stage when there's a full house. There was an excitement in the air that I think we were feeding off of and also giving back - it was a great exchange.
I loved meeting the students in both cities, at the master classes and after the concerts. They were so down to earth, sincere, and just seemed like they were there for such good reasons. The students we worked with were so receptive and musical, so it was exciting to share our thoughts with them. Some of the college students that came to the concert in Bemidji were great to talk with because they were telling us what it's like to live in Bemidji and then asking what our lifestyles are like, it was like a great cultural exchange.
It is amazing how little there is off of I-29 S from Fargo to Sioux Falls. It didn't help that there was intense fog and freezing rain the whole time, but it is really something to witness.
When we were doing a TV news interview, the person doing the interview thought our warm-up (us not playing together at all!) was what we wanted on the news! I hope she heard the difference when we actually started playing a piece together.
Bodie (Dan's and my four and a half month old Vizsla puppy) was mostly terrific. He's absolutely great in the car, which was helpful to find out, but we also found out that small hotel rooms effect dogs just like they do people - he got a little antsy in the hotel rooms sometimes. He did force us to get out and find some interesting parks, though.
Looking forward to Duluth!
So what I'm trying to say here is that it takes some time for me to properly encapsulate each trip we have. I can tell you floating thoughts in my head like I've never seen Winter more beautiful than on our drive to Bemidji; it made me realize that the concept of black and white in photography and art are not mimics of color but are as vivid and real as any shot of Spring. I can tell you that there are extremely talented youngins all over our country such as Sadie Hamrin who Karen and I had the privilege to work with. And, I can tell you that walking over the headwaters of the Mississippi River in the dead of a Minnesota winter at Itasca State Park is one of the most thrilling things I've ever done. But, the idea behind this blog is to communicate to you all the experiences I had on this trip through my very own eyes and that's exactly what's difficult. It needs to sink in for a while. It needs to sink and sink until that day comes where I'm sitting around with friends or family having a drink and somebody says something that triggers something in the pathways of my brain which leads me to say a word or two about that one time my quartet took a trip to Bemidji, Minnesota and Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Because when that moment comes it'll be straight, honest, and completely absorbed. Words trip me up sometimes. Maybe that's why music is for me.
Do you play in a high school or college string quartet? Would you like to win a trip to Saint Paul and take a master class from the Parker Quartet (currently wowing MPR audiences in live concerts all over our region)?
Performance Today is hosting a competition for young string quartets, and would love to hear from you--all the details are here.
(While you're surfing, and speaking of Performance Today ... check out their Facebook page.)
A couple PBS specials of note, tonight and tomorrow.
Tonight on Great Performances: "The Audition," a documentary about the finalists in the Metropolitan Opera's young artists competition. Here's a trailer:
By the way, the next wave of young talent in the Metropolitan Opera auditions will be in St. Paul on February 6 for this year's regional contest. Winners here go on to the semifinals at the Met in NYC.
Tomorrow night, it's Live from Lincoln Center with Josh Bell & Friends, incl Jane Monheit, Marvin Hamlisch, Nathan Gunn, Regina Spektor, Chris Botti, and Sting. It's a live concert based on his new album, based on his house concerts:
What will a classic be in 50 years? in 100 years?
The Minnesota Orchestra bets on the classics of the future with their week-long Composer Institute. Hundreds of submissions came in and seven emerging composers were chosen, their pieces performed by the Minnesota Orchestra and Osmo Vanska.
You can listen to the concert plus commentary from the composers at ClassicalMPR.org FOR ONE WEEK ONLY beginning tomorrow.
Don't miss it: atmospheric music about the seasons, a Satie-esque piece based on "The Little Prince," as well as a visceral flying experience, fire, obscure poeticals forms and more.
Going to the State Fair? Or maybe you're part of the Minnesota diaspora, and are thinking State Fair thoughts even though you won't be getting up to Falcon Heights in person?
To go with this time of year, Bill Morelock has put together a Minnesota music mix that you can listen to online. Mark Wheat of the Current and Dale Connelly of Radio Heartland have contributed their lists too--scroll down to find Classical.
Minnesota composers, Minnesota groups, Minnesota soloists. . . . (And what, you may ask, is Copland's "El Salon Mexico" doing on a Minnesota playlist? Listen, and find out.)
What is the sound of 1000 ukuleles playing Beethoven's Ode to Joy?
Well, it's quieter than you might expect.
Last Friday, the BBC Proms got underway in London. We're going to be bringing you lots of music from the Proms--in fact, today's Performance Today will include some Elgar from that First Night of the Proms. (That's not to be confused with Last Night of the Proms, which also includes Elgar, and which we'll broadcast live.)