Tuesday, November 26, 2013


On Friday evening, my parents and Joshua and I went to Saint Paul to hear a Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra concert at the Ordway.

The guest soloist/guest conductor was Håkan Hardenberger, who was the attraction for us. Josh had played trumpet in grade school, junior high and high school, and he had wanted to hear Hardenberger.

Hardenberger played the Haydn Trumpet Concerto in the first half of the program. Hardenberger played to a reasonably high standard, but he is no longer in his prime—and Hardenberger has never been an interesting musician. It was a capable performance we heard, not a brilliant one.

In the second half of the program, Hardenberger played Heinz Karl Gruber’s 3 MOB Stücke, a “fusion” piece borrowing ideas from jazz and popular music. The work was composed in 1968 for seven interchangeable instruments and percussion, and revised in 1977. In 1999, at Hardenberger’s request, the composer created a version for trumpet and chamber orchestra. It was the 1999 version we heard.

I am not a Gruber admirer, and 3 MOB Stücke strikes me as a very weak piece, a European’s idea of “hot” music. I cannot understand what appeal Hardenberger finds in the score.

The concert began with Bach’s Orchestral Suite No 3 and ended with Haydn’s Symphony No. 103 (“Drumroll”). Hardenberger is not much of a conductor, and the performances were little more than run-throughs. The concert was, more or less, a waste of our time.

For us, it was the first SPCO concert of the season. We had contemplated an earlier SPCO concert in October—Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks Concerto, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23, Ives’s Three Places In New England and Schubert’s Symphony No. 5—but we had decided to take a pass, largely because we had heard that week’s guest soloist/guest conductor, Christian Zacharias, a few times too many the last few seasons.

There are only three SPCO concerts of interest to us the rest of the season.

The first, in January, will feature Hans Graf leading the orchestra in Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 14. If that week’s concerts were to be held at the Ordway, we most definitely would go—but that week’s concerts will be held in area churches, with their poor acoustics.

The second, in May, will feature Thomas Zehetmair leading a performance of Britten’s opera, “The Turn Of The Screw”.

The third, in June, will feature Roberto Abbado, the finest of the SPCO’s regular guest conductors, leading the orchestra in a program of Haydn, Barber and Schubert.

If Milwaukee were within reasonable driving distance of the Twin Cities, we would have skipped last weekend’s SPCO concerts and instead attended one of last weekend’s Milwaukee Symphony concerts, with Graf leading the Milwaukee orchestra in Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 and Schubert’s Mass No. 6. Graf is a splendid conductor of Mozart and Schubert, and I suspect that last weekend’s Milwaukee concerts, with the rarely-performed Schubert mass, were worth going out of one’s way to hear.

The SPCO needs to engage a Music Director. If an elder statesman is the objective, the SPCO could do worse than Graf, whose tenure in Houston concluded at the end of last season.


The tenor on the boat that we chartered,
Belching “The Bartered Bride”.
Ah, how we laughed!
Ah, how we cried!

On Sunday afternoon, my parents and Josh and I went to Ted Mann Concert Hall to attend the final performance of the University Of Minnesota Opera Theatre’s production of Smetana’s “The Bartered Bride”.

Even for a student performance, the presentation was not at a high level. The production was rudimentary, the musical performance disappointing.

The opera was heavily cut, which turned out to be a blessing.

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