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Digital projections by Yael Braha animated the rear wall at Orchestra Hall during a latenight concert by the Minnesota Orchestra conducted by Courtney Lewis. Photo by Claude Peck
If Minnesota Orchestra wants to attract younger audience members, it would be smart to plan more concerts like the one held at Orchestra Hall on Saturday night.
The crowd for the free 10 p.m. show -- a tie-in event of Northern Spark's all-night rain-and-art fest -- nearly filled the main level of the hall, and the concertgoers appeared a good three or four decades younger, overall, than the audience for most classical concerts by the orchestra.
Longtime subscribers heard a show at 7 p.m. featuring the Mahler 5 and a Kevin Puts symphony, his number 4. (That show is reviewed here.) The Puts alone was repeated at 10 p.m. in a 30-minute concert that also included a sophisticated ive digital projection on the hall's back wall by artist and filmaker Yael Braha and Bryant Place.
The just-turned-30 conductor was Courtney Lewis, who is leaving Minnesota for posts in New York City and Jacksonville, Fla.
The full orchestra performed the Puts symphony, and they still wore their black outfits and tuxedos from the earlier concert. But the mood was much more relaxed than usual, with people taking cellphone photographs and late arrivers filing in. Neither of these "distractions" was any kind of major distraction.
A few people commented afterward that the music was cinematic enough that they did not need the added projections, but most people said they loved the combination. Braha used the familiar tumbling-dice back wall to good effect, with projections that seemed to spiderweb between them and to outline them and "fill" the cubes with dots and orbs in a state of color and motion. Only occasionally did the rear wall become a flat screen for larger, overall moving images, including one that resembled wind-whipped prairie grasses seen from a great height.
The fact that Braha was doing it "live" was demonstrated when the system crashed briefly and had to be rebooted. Lewis tried to hush the applauding crowd and sought the thumbs up from the back of the hall to restart the music.
Puts is a contemporary composer unafraid of writing lush pages for the string section, or of giving a piece some tutti crescendos. His full-throated, brass-heavy ending brought multiple standing ovations from the young crowd. A nervous looking Braha took several bows alongside Lewis and the musicians.
The night was far from over at 10:30 p.m., as bands were programmed into the off-lobby room until 3 a.m.
Violinist and conductor Thomas Zehetmair, an SPCO Artistic Partner, has withdrawn from three weeks of concerts marking the centenary of composer Benjamin Britten. Photo courtesy of SPCO.
The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra has been scrambling this week after news that conductor Thomas Zehetmair was suffering from "exhaustion and fatigue." Zehetmair is under doctor's orders to withdraw from all travel and performing commitments until he recovers, said Stephen Sokolouski of the SPCO.
Zehetmair was scheduled to lead concerts over the next three weekends to celebrate the centenary of British composer Benjamin Britten.
The Britten festival begins Thursday at Temple Israel in Minneapolis, and will go on, but with changes to the program and players, as follows:
Britten: String Quartet No. 2 (Steven Copes, Kyu-Young Kim, Maiya Papach, James Wilson)
Britten: Lachrymae (Maiya Papach, viola and director)
Haydn: Symphony No. 101, "Clock"
The new program, to be played Saturday at the St. Paul UCC and Sunday afternoon in Arden Hills, will be led by SPCO musicians. " Although it’s unfortunate that Thomas can’t be with us, we’re excited that our musicians are once again taking the lead on this weekend’s concerts, as the concerts that they have led this year have been some of the best of the season," said Sokolouski.
Britten's chamber opera "The Turn of the Screw" remains on the program for weekend two, (May 23-24, at Ordway Center) with Jayce Ogren stepping in to replace Zehetmair as conductor.
The third weekend (May 29-30) has been changed, and includes no music of Britten. Instead, the SPCO will perform Stravinsky (Danses concertantes), Haydn (Cello Concerto No. 2, with Julie Albers, cellist) and Brahms (String Quintet No. 2), with SPCO musicians leading the orchestra.
“So I got my lyric sheets up here because I tend to forget lyrics,” Bobby McFerrin said Saturday night at Orchestra Hall pointing to a music stand in front of him. “I don’t sing words all that often. It’s unfamiliar territory.”
No McFerrin, Grammy-winning vocalist extraordinaire, usually sings wordless sounds. On Saturday, he sang lots of words, mostly from spirituals, a couple of famous rock hits and a couple of made-up songs on the spot – and he did spot-on conversational impressions of Truman Capote and John Wayne.
In short, this was probably the most conventional musical performance McFerrin has given in the Twin Cities. Not that it was ordinary. It was special – like most McFerrin performances.
He’d always wanted to borrow a page from the playbook of his father, opera singer Robert McFerrin, who in 1957 recorded an album of, what were then known as, Negro spirituals. Last year, Bobby released “spirityouall,” his collection of spirituals, including several his father had recorded as well as a few McFerrin originals. Material from that album dominated Saturday’s repertoire.
Backed by five splendid, simpatico musicians and his daughter Madison on vocals, McFerrin, 64, gave his interpretations of “Swing Low” (slow and minimalist), “Joshua” (with a hot-jazz groove) and “Glory” (which started nice and easy and then boom-choka-locka transformed into a tent revival).
“25.15” was a gospel-blues stomp, drawing inspiration from Psalm 25, verse 15. “Rest/ Yes, Indeed” started like James Brown and ended up like a front-porch gospel hoedown.
Throughout the evening, McFerrin gave ample opportunities for solos by his musicians, most notably keyboardist/accordionist Gil Goldstein, guitarist Armand Hirsch and guitarist/violinist/mandolinist David Mansfield. Madison McFerrin also was featured on a version of Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t Worry Bout a Thing.”
But the emotional highlights of the 130-minute performance were when McFerrin went off script – improvising a song about a kid named “Joey” in the front row, improvising a verse about late-arriving concertgoers, dueting on “Whole World” with three women from the audience (one of whom is pro, Judi Donaghy, and one of whom, Ariella, sounded like one), spontaneously breaking into Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” and then doing it Broadway-style, and answering questions from fans as an encore (and accommodating a request to sing the falsetto-dominated“The Star Spangled Banner”).
The 10-minute Q&A was a disarmingly intimate touch in a usually formal setting, not that McFerrin was very formal in his jeans and untucked dress shirt.
Here are some highlights of the Q&A:
* What do you think of the remodeled Orchestra Hall? He didn’t really have an opinion but talked about players in the violin section in the past could only hear other violinists.
* What advice do you have for a 6-year-old? “Dream really big – and act as if you’re already in it.”
* What is your current dream? To sing backup for James Taylor and then he broke into “Fire and Rain.”
* What’s the best thing about having your daughter Madison sing in your group? “I get to watch her grow onstage.” He added that she’s graduating from Berklee College of Music next month.
*Why don’t you sing your huge hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” anymore? “I haven’t done it in concert since November 1988. By the time you’d heard it, I’d sung it 300 trillion times.”
* Is there any way to get you to conduct the Minnesota Orchestra? “Just call my management. I’d love to. The whole time I was here, I worked over in St. Paul,” he said referring to his five-year stint in the ‘90s as creative chair of St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.
Burt Hara, the principal clarinetist, has resigned from the Minnesota Orchestra. Hara had led the clarinet section in Minnesota since 1987 until he took a position as associate principal with the Los Angeles Philharmonic last May. He grew up in California.
Orchestra musicians apply for a year's leave of absence when they go to another ensemble, in case they wish to return. For example, Hara took a position as principal with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1996 and returned to Minnesota after a year.
Hara, 51, had requested, and was granted, a one-year extension from Minnesota in February. He told the orchestra at the time that he expected to make a decision sooner than 2015. He notified the orchestra this week and the players were informed on Thursday.
When he took the L.A. position last May, Hara said he was looking forward to working with conductor Gustavo Dudamel, the charismatic leader of the Philharmonic. "It's time to look to the next chapter," he said at the time.
In a letter to musicians, Hara said he decided not to return because he believes "the current leadership does not have the vision to restore the Orchestra to its place among the great orchestras of the world."
In a statement, the orchestra said: "Burt Hara is an outstanding clarinetist and we thank him for his many years of service and contributions in Minnesota. He will be greatly missed. We wish him and his family the very best on their new lives in southern California."
Orchestra spokesperson Gwen Pappas said that of eight musicians who requested leaves of absence in 2012-13, four have elected to return to the orchestra -- Ken Freed, David Pharris, Robert Dorer and Tim Zavadil. Three still have time left on their leaves -- Tom Turner, Michael Gast and Peter McGuire. Gina diBello resigned to take a position with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Stephanie Arado left outright for a teaching position at Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan.
Jill Gardner as Tosca in a still from Boston Lyric Opera. Photo by Jeffrey Dunn.
For its third season of outdoor, summertime opera, Mill City Summer Opera has chosen to stage "Tosca," the Puccini tearjerker, with Jill Gardner in the title role. Artistic director David Lefkowich will direct a staging set in the 1940s, and Brian DeMaris will be the show's music director.
Other cast members include Jake Gardner (Scarpia) and Dinyar Vania (Cavaradossi).
As usual, Mill City will stage the opera outdoors in the Mill City Museum's Ruin Courtyard. The past two seasons ("Pagliacci" and "The Barber of Seville") have mostly sold out, so this is a hot ticket. Tickets to the opening night are on sale now; tickets for six scheduled performances July 12-22, go on sale in mid-May at 612-875-5544, or the opera's website.
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