The day will come when reviews of the Minnesota Orchestra can dispense with the phrase “locked-out” but that day is not yet here. With the lockout about to enter its eighth month, one can only mourn what has become one of classical music’s least edifying spectacles.
If the lockout has a silver lining, it’s that the musicians have now presented two extraordinary self-organized concerts led by former music director (and conductor laureate) Stanislaw Skrowaczewski. The Polish-born, Wayzata-based conductor-composer, who turns 90 in October, has long led a single annual program with the orchestra — too little to satisfy his many admirers. Hence Thursday’s Mozart-Bruckner concert, performed in a packed O’Shaughnessy Auditorium on the campus of St. Catherine University in St. Paul, felt like partial compensation for years of Skrowaczewski-deprivation.
The venue deserves notice. Concertgoers of a certain vintage may recall that Skrowaczewski and the Minnesota Orchestra opened the not-quite-finished O’Shaughnessy in the fall of 1970, and played there regularly until the mid-1980s. Although the space remains problematic for orchestral music (and for adult bodies generally), Thursday’s performance occasioned some nostalgia among St. Paulites.
Thursday’s fluff-free program paired Mozart’s tranquil, melancholic Clarinet Concerto, his last instrumental work, with Anton Bruckner’s justly popular Symphony No. 4 (“Romantic”), in the conductor’s own edition. The soloist was Burt Hara, one of the world’s great clarinetists, celebrating (under less-than-ideal circumstances) his 25th season as the orchestra’s principal.
The concerto is music of utter transparency, ruthlessly exposing any deficiency of taste or technique in its performers. It demands flawless articulation and intonation, rhythmic subtlety and liquid tone. Hara, at once soloistic and self-effacing, made it look easy. His was marvelously centered playing, unembellished but by no means plain. His colleagues supported him artfully. The ravishing Adagio glowed with an otherworldly light.
“To me,” Skrowaczewski told biographer Frederick Harris, “Bruckner is … another Mozart. His music is magical. Its message speaks about the infinite, transcendental cosmos, God, timelessness, love and tragedy.”
The conductor’s consummate realization of the Fourth Symphony spoke of all of these and the orchestra sang for him like a great celestial choir — majestic, mysterious, ecstatic, tender.
Larry Fuchsberg writes about music.