Classical music: Dawn Upshaw with the SPCO

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 24, 2013 - 12:39 PM

The American soprano was the first vocalist to serve as an artistic partner with the ensemble.

Dawn Upshaw can hardly believe that her six-year stint as an artistic partner at the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra concludes next weekend.

“It felt like a handful of concerts, even though it was 18,” she said from her suburban New York home. “It’s sad that it feels over too soon, but life is like that.”

The celebrated soprano, a Grammy winner and vigorous champion of new music, will sing selections by Maurice Ravel and George Crumb in three concerts at SPCO neighborhood venues.

The moment is particularly bittersweet for her because an anticipated premiere of a commission from composer Shawn Jaeger, an Upshaw colleague at Bard College Conservatory, had to be shelved because of the recently concluded lockout of musicians. The piece will be rescheduled.

Upshaw helped bring six world premieres to the SPCO, and sang with the ensemble on two trips to Carnegie Hall. Her commission of Maria Schneider’s “Carlos Drummond de Andrade Stories” became part of Schneider’s album “Winter Morning Walks.”

Upshaw admitted that doing interviews is not her favorite thing because “I feel like I end up saying the tritest things.” But she was gracious and anything but trite in our conversation.

Q Does it sting to have been affected by the struggles of the classical music world?

A I’m glad you speak about it in a broader sense. I do feel it’s a challenge and a struggle that is not unique to the SPCO. Like any moment when one is right in the middle of it, it’s hard to gain objectivity and see and envision what the changes will bring. I feel similarly in outlook to when the recording business started to fall apart. What that has in common is a need for change that will need to be addressed. It has, but I get the sense there is more to come.

Q Do you have any answers?

A Just to be very attentive. I’m actually trying for myself to always learn as much as I can from the younger generation. I teach and I’m amazed at all that is exploding in terms of online services and possibilities and media. Change is hard and we’re in the middle of it.

Q When you became an artistic partner, you said you wanted to bring “joy and beauty” to the SPCO.

A (Laughing) I’m sorry I’m laughing. That’s like the “Miss America” pageant. “I want world peace.” Hopefully I said more than that.

Q No, that was the whole deal. But what moments brought you joy?

  • st. paul chamber orchestra

    Who: With Dawn Upshaw, soprano.

    When: 7:30 p.m. Thu., 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat.

    Where: Thu. at Trinity Lutheran, 115 N. 4th St., Stillwater; Fri. at Wooddale Church, 6630 Shady Oak Rd., Eden Prairie; Sat. at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, 900 Summit Av., St. Paul.

    Tickets: $5-$25. 651-291-1144 or

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