We recently received ticket offers in the mail from both the Minnesota Orchestra and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. The Minnesota Orchestra excitedly announced a special limited time ticket price of $49. Meanwhile, the SPCO quietly offered tickets starting at just $11.
The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra isn't just an incredible bargain: it's one of the best and most exciting groups of classical musicians in the world. Their playing is brilliant, passionate, and quite often edge-of-your-seat exciting. Their concert programming is adventurous, challenging, sometimes perplexing, and always revelatory. Their concerts over the past year have given me a new appreciation of the music of Igor Stravinsky, have exposed me to unfamiliar and thought-provoking new music, and have shown me new sides of familiar favorites.
Last night, at Carleton's Skinner Chapel, the SPCO performed Stravinsky's Concerto for Strings in D, Mozart's Fifth Violin Concerto ("Turkish"), and Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. The violin soloist and conductor was Nikolaj Znaider—a tall, dynamic, personable-seeming Dane whose performance of the Mozart was scintillating. In the Stravinsky, there was a surprise guest solo by a Union Pacific train whistle that brought a bemused smile to the face of associate concertmaster Ruggero Allifranchini. I have to admit that I spent most of the evening watching Allifranchini and concertmaster Stephen Copes, who play together as if they share a special psychic connection.
The special beauty of a live concert is the opportunity it gives the listener to see how the music moves through the orchestra, to experience the music as spatial as well as tonal relationships between instruments. In the Stravinsky, it was fascinating to watch the melody move from the violins to the cellos, like a musical shell game. And in the Beethoven, too, the musical ideas moved through the orchestra as if by mental telepathy. The seventh is my favorite Beethoven symphony. It shows what a genius can do with the even simplest musical building blocks: scales, single repeated notes. The opening of the colossally brilliant second movement sounds like the end of the world announced in Morse code by violas, cellos and basses. (My late father-in-law remembered it as the musical soundtrack to a combat training film he watched in boot camp before going off to fight in the Battle of the Bulge.) Brilliant and incredibly moving, and something I heard last night with fresh ears, a quickened pulse, and a new appreciation.
My poem " Phrasebook " has been published online in Ergon: Greek/American Arts and Letters .
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