Thursday, March 19, 2009

Scott Yoo's "Young Americans"

Scott Yoo, Artistic Partner to the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, conducted and played in a fabulous concert tonight at the SPCO Center in the Hamm Building. In the first half, Scott played violin in two pieces, Jeffrey Cotton's Sextet for Two Violins, Two Violas and Two Cellos, and Dan Coleman's Sonata in Two Acts for Violin and Piano.

The Cotton Sextet (also called the Sextet for Strings) is a wonderful piece of music, beginning with a rather serpentine Dance movement, continuing on with a very moving (and rather Barberesque) Elegy for the victims of 9/11, and ending with a short Scherzo. Cotton was apparently on the scene after the first plane hit the World Trade Center, and participated in volunteer rescue work. Scott Yoo and Steven Copes did a fabulous job on the violin parts; Scott actually played in the world premiere of this piece in 2002.

Dan Coleman's Sonata is for violin and piano (played by Susan Grace), and takes its inspiration from opera tableaus and song forms (aria, recitative, cavatina, etc). The violin part is both lyrical and muscular, with excursions into 12-tone music, requiring great dynamics and a wide range of tones. The two acts are separated by an Intermezzo for solo piano that can be played as a stand alone piece. Scott played his challenging part just beautifully; again, he played in the world premier of this piece in 1996.

The second half featured the world premier of Patrick Zimmerli's Chamber Symphony for 14 Instruments, a piece inspired by both jazz and 12-tone music, with Scott Yoo conducting. Steve Copes and Dale Barltrop played violins and Susan Grace returned on piano. There was much to admire about this symphony, including some interesting jazz arrangements, but I found it clever more than anything else. Based on a single hearing, it seemed to lack the emotional appeal of the Cotton work and the energy of the Coleman work. But it's a piece I will want to hear again, once a recording is available, and I'd also like to hear some of his other recordings.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ginger Commodore; Paul Renz

On Saturday night, Sandy and I went to see the Ginger Commodore Quintet at the Dakota Jazz Club. This was a high energy show, with Ginger in great vocal form, with Mark Weisberg on six-string bass, Clay Blaske on piano, Kathy Jensen on sax, and Bobby Commodore on drums. What I love about this band is the way they know how to build a song, taking familiar standards to a whole new level. Ginger has this fabulous ability to connect with the audience, and generate real excitement, even among Minnesotans! Kathy Jensen's playing is just awesome, very aggressive, but always well-balanced. Emma Weisberg and Debbie Duncan also wowed the audience with guest appearances.

On Sunday night, we went to Brit's Pub to see the Paul Renz Quintet, with Paul on guitar and special guest Anders Bostrom on soprano, alto and baritone flutes, Nathan Fryett on drums, Brian Ziemniak on keys, and Eric Graham on fretless bass guitar. This was a good gig in a great upstairs space, the Clubhouse Room by the rooftop bowling green. Paul's playing is always inventive and risk-taking, and the flute sounds are always intriguing. Very competent backing and soloing from the rest of the band on a strong collection of original compositions. I studied guitar and bass with Paul for several years, playing alongside him in student ensembles out of the West Bank School of Music, so I have great respect for him as a player and a teacher.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Weekend concerts, Friday 13th and Saturday pm

Friday night, Sandy and I went to the Ordway to hear the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Scott Yoo conducted a great programme of Ravel, Lutoslawski, Mozart and Couperin, beginning with Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin, inspired by the composer's experiences in WW1. I have always been a huge fan of Ravel, and this is one of his most captivating works. Scott Yoo and the SPCO caught all the delicate harmonies as well as the stateliness of the Couperin influence.

On Saturday afternoon, the faculty of the MacPhail Center for Music gave a short concert in the Antonello Hall. Highlights for me were the Miniatures for Flute Oboe and Piano by William Grant Still (Julie Johnson, flute), Carrie Vecchione (oboe) and Jason Alfred (piano), For Takako by Sarah Miller with Sarah Miller (piano) and Takako Seimiya Senn (trumpet), and three movements from Souvenirs by Samuel Barber, with Susano Pinto and E. Pinar Basgoze on pianos.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Quick catch up on concerts

I got to two concerts in recent weeks, despite a heavy travel schedule: McCoy Tyner at the Blue Note in NYC and Claudia Schmidt at the Dakota in Minneapolis. Tyner's set was a strong performance in a quintet setting that kicked off with "Moment's Notice" and kept up a fast and furious pace. He looked and sounded much better than the last time I saw him about 5 years ago; he is still a monstrous piano player and, of course, a jazz legend. It was a special pleasure to see him at a legendary venue.

The Michegan-based singer Claudia Schmidt also performed in a quintet setting, with Bryan Nichols on piano and Dean McGraw on guitar. I really liked her songs, her stage presence, and her tendency to read poetry on stage. Her eclectic mix of jazz, blues and folk was very engaging. The only number that didn't quite work for me was "Skylark"; I've heard Tierney Sutton and Shelly Berg ace this complex song too recently. But overall a pleasant evening in a fabulous venue, our own Dakota Jazz Club.