Sunday, February 04, 2007

Concerts By Our Two Local Ensembles

On the Saturday night before I had to go to Houston on business--Saturday night, January 13--Joshua and I attended a concert by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.

It was the first Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra concert Josh and I had attended together, and it was the first time Josh had heard the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.

The concert was the final one before the orchestra embarked on its European tour the following week, and the program featured music from the tour repertory: Rossini's "L'Italianna In Algeri" Overture, Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony No. 2, Ligeti's "Ramifications", Haydn's Symphony No. 93 ("Surprise") and Rossini's "The Barber Of Seville" Overture. The program was a long one, but it was a good one.

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra has had an unusual history. When it was founded in 1959, it was America's first full-time chamber orchestra and today, forty-eight years later, it remains America's only full-time chamber orchestra.

The orchestra has always had difficulties finding the right conductor. After the founding conductor, Leopold Sipe, retired, the orchestra was conducted by Dennis Russell Davies, Pinchas Zukerman, Christopher Hogwood, Hugh Wolff and Andreas Delfs in turn. None of those conductors possessed the necessary musicianship to keep the orchestra and its audience happy long-term, and the orchestra currently operates without a Principal Conductor.

The orchestra plays at a high level, but the orchestra does not have a special sound and the orchestra does not have an individual character or personality. It is a "faceless" ensemble.

Josh and I enjoyed the concert very much. The conductor was Roberto Abbado, and he was a good Rossini conductor and a good Haydn conductor, and he was also good in the Schoenberg and in the Ligeti.

The Ligeti "Ramifications", for twelve solo strings, was my favorite work on the program, and it received an exceptional performance. It demonstrated that the modern American orchestra can play anything with ease and flair.

Last night Josh and I accompanied my parents to a concert by the Minnesota Orchestra. On the program was Sibelius's "Night Ride And Sunrise", Beethoven's Symphony No. 4 and Sibelius's Symphony No. 5. The conductor was Osmo Vanska, the orchestra's Music Director.

Vanska tends to over-conduct, and this tendency was on conspicuous display in the Beethoven, where Vanska was unable to leave well enough alone. Vanska also plays around with dynamics far too much, and his constant (and often too-emphatic) alterations in dynamic levels quickly become tiresome. However, the orchestra's level of ensemble has improved under his stewardship, and for that he must be given credit.

The best performance of all was of the Sibelius tone poem, an oddly-constructed work that is very difficult to bring off. I thought that Vanska did wonders with the piece.

Saturday night was the first time that Josh and I attended a Minnesota Orchestra concert with my parents. We were glad that we went.

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