Billing this week's Minnesota Orchestra concerts as "2001: A Space Odyssey" is demeaning to the music and condescending to the audience. Fortunately, the musicians did not participate in the marketers' dumbing-down of classical music.
With the orchestra's conductor laureate Stanislaw Skrowaczewski on the podium, one is guaranteed a thought-provoking and deeply entertaining event.
The concert opened with Skrowaczewski's own "Music at Night." His first major composition in 1946, it immediately demonstrated his strong compositional personality. Blending the lush sounds of late Romanticism with the atonal 12-tone style, it is an effective dramatization of the gruesome tale of an adulterous couple walled up in a dungeon by her husband and left to die.
This is highly theatrical music. From the haunting opening chords to the unrestrained emotional climaxes, Skrowaczewski makes use of the full orchestral palette to create an effective and deeply moving tone poem.
Richard Strauss was the master of the tone poem and his "Also Sprach Zarathustra" was famous long before its opening theme was used for Stanley Kubrick's film "2001." Leave it to Strauss to be able to depict Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophical tome in music.
Skrowaczewski once again demonstrated a masterful command of the orchestral forces. From the reverent lyricism of Zarathustra's yearning to the massive fugue, the musicians responded to him with impeccable and passionate playing. His handling of Strauss' self-deprecating wit in the penultimate movement's waltz brought a smile and the quiet coda was especially effective.
Frederic Chopin's delicate Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11, came between the two larger-scaled works, almost like a palate-cleansing sorbet. Skrowaczewski gave a dark spin to the music in a reading that was deeply melancholy. Even the jaunty dance rhythms of the finale sounded more edgy than vivacious.
Polish pianist Ewa Kupiec had technical assurance in the florid passages, but matched the conductor's interpretation with a performance of gentle, exquisite sadness. There was an elegance and clarity to her reading, especially in the nocturne-like second movement.
It is always good to have Skrowaczewski back on the Orchestra Hall podium. It still feels like he belongs there. He has been associated with the orchestra for 48 years now. I look forward to his golden anniversary and beyond.
William Randall Beard is a Minneapolis freelance writer.