Sunday, May 25, 2008

Memorial Weekend Music

Sandy and I kicked off the weekend with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra at the Ordway Theater: a program of Haydn and Beethoven. Pierre-Laurent Aimard was indisposed, so he had to be replaced by a conductor and a pianist. I am not normally a fan of Haydn, but I really enjoyed the "Clock" Symphony (No. 101 in D) as it was played on Friday night. This is one of his London symphonies, dating from his visit in the waning years of the 18th century, and it's quite charming. I had a harder time warming to the Beethoven Triple Concerto (Op. 56), despite inspired playing by the soloists. I find Beethoven pompous at the best of times, and only seem to like the very late piano works (> Op. 100).

Then we caught a jazz session by Laura Caviani (pno), Gordy Johnson (bs) and Phil Hey (dr), where they played a mix of awesome standards (Brubeck's In Your Own Sweet Way, Miles Davis's Solar) and some really nice originals (Laura's Going There, and her arrangement of This Is My Song). This local trio is a powerhouse of good music, with three A-list players and a fresh take on everything they do. We also caught the R-Factor with Aimee Fischer at Arizona's, who were playing to a full house down in the southern suburbs where we live. Sandy and I dropped in for a couple of drinks and danced to a few of their funkier offerings, before heading home to watch Apocalypse Now on cable, featuring the music of the Doors.

Monday, May 12, 2008

SPCO at Carnegie Hall

Last night, I attended the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's sell-out concert in the Zankel Hall at Carnegie. The program began with Dvorak's Serenade in D Minor for Winds with cello and bass, which proved to be a robust and muscular opening to the evening. Then came Dawn Upshaw's performance of 5 short but exquisite vocal pieces, by Stravinsky (Two Poems of Konstantin Bal'mont) and Ravel (Three Japanese Lyrics). Then more Ravel songs, in the form of "Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé", with ensemble accompaniments that managed to be both lush and spare. This was my favorite moment of the concert, and I thought that Dawn Upshaw's voice really sounded much warmer and more live than a previous performance of this work I had heard at the Ordway. This may have had something to do with the extremely clear and focused sound of the Zankel Hall, which is a relatively recent space, opened in 2003. Then followed the ambitiously arranged (by Osvaldo Golijov) Schubert song cycle "She Was Here", which required very skillful handling on the part of the full orchestra and the conductor, Dougie Boyd, who did a masterly job. The concert ended with the orchestra playing Stravinsky's Pulcinella Suite, in which musical play combines with pastiche to create much animation and many amusing moments.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The First Emperor at the Met

Last night I went to the Metropolitan Opera House in New York to see "The First Emperor", a two-act opera conducted by the composer, Tan Dun. Placido Domingo sang the role of the Emperor Qin, and Sarah Coburn the role of his daughter, the Princess Yueyang. This is the Emperor who set about unifying the country (by conquest) and building the Great Wall; he also left behind an army of terra-cotta soldiers to guard his tomb.

The opening of traditional chants by Wu-Hsing Kuo in the role of the Yin-Yang Master (the court geomancer) was perhaps the most striking musical moment, coupled as it was with dance, some of which involved wearing a mask on the back of his head while moving as if he were facing the audience. The sets were splendid, especially the third scene, where snow appears to fall as the Princess seduces her father's captive nemesis, the musician Gao Jianli.

The cast played to a full audience, and the building is magnificent, of course. However, the house was hot and stuffy and the seating was a bit cramped, so it was also pleasureable to leave the theater for the New York night and stroll past Central Park back to my hotel, the Parker Meridian. Here I was too cold, since they had turned off the heating for the summer, so the only place I was truly comfortable during this trip was out in the street.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

James Galway and Tiempo Libre

On Monday night, Sandy and I saw James Galway with Tiempo Libre at the Dakota Jazz Club in downtown Minneapolis. This performance was something of a rehearsal for their forthcoming album, called "O'Reilly Street." Sir James played his golden soprano and alto flutes, while the band romped through the set, showing great energy and virtuosity.