Under the baton of artistic director and conductor Stephen J. Ramsey, the Dakota Valley Symphony and Chorus will present its third concert of the season Feb. 8 at the Ames Center in Burnsville. I spoke with maestro Ramsey to learn more about the concert and why, as I had heard, it promises to have special appeal for regular concertgoers and newcomers alike.
Q: Please tell our readers about the program.
A: It’s titled “Pure Classics,” a look at romantic music of the 19th century. The first piece is the overture to Wagner’s “Rienzi” opera. It’s his only comedy. Think about that – Wagner and comedy! It’s a rousing piece full of energy and drama. We haven’t done much Wagner, and look forward to bringing this composer’s music to the community.
The second piece is Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor,” with Elise Molina on piano. This was Beethoven’s first really mature concerto, written at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. He was just coming into his own, and was heavily influenced by politics and Napoleon. The piece is unbelievably gorgeous, especially in the hands of Elise Molina who brings an interesting and provocative interpretation to it. You should speak with Elise about it.
The program concludes with one of the most beautiful pieces of choral music ever written: Gabriel Fauré’s “Requiem” sung by our chorus which will be joined by Hymnus, a community choir from New Prague – about 80 vocalists in all plus soloists. Fauré was organ accompanist at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris for many years. He was fed up with the doom and gloom of funerals, and wrote this piece which was all about hope, resurrection and the peace of heaven.
Although the orchestra accompanies the “Requiem,” its role is incidental to that of the chorus. Our orchestra members are always supportive of the chorus, but may be somewhat ambivalent about what the chorus sings. However, they love this choral masterpiece. It sounded wonderful at the first rehearsal and just keeps getting better and better.
Q: Any other thoughts on the concert?
A: This is music that symphony orchestras and choruses everywhere dream to perform and their audiences love to hear.
A pianist’s point of view
Following Ramsey’s recommendation, I next spoke with concert pianist Elise Molina.
Q: Please tell me about your journey from childhood to where you are now as an outstanding concert pianist.
A: I am the oldest of six children – four girls, two boys. My mom had all of us into the arts at a very early age. She had us study piano and a second instrument, and frequently took us to inspiring concerts.
Q: That sounds like you didn’t have much time to watch television.
A: We didn’t have a TV, which was great because we did a lot of creative things instead, like putting on plays and ballets.
Q: Tell me about your piano studies.
A: Among others, I studied with pre-eminent professors who taught at Juilliard and the Curtis Institute of Music. I have a degree in piano performance from the University of Minnesota where I studied with Lydia Artymiw who is a phenomenal pianist and teacher.
Q: You also play violin with the symphony. Tell me how that came about.
A: I had played the piano for seven years and wanted to add an instrument that was more social. The piano is this large instrument where you sit off by yourself, whereas in the violin section you are among others with whom you develop close friendships. If the repertoire of a concert includes piano, I play piano. When it doesn’t, I play first violin.
Q: You will perform Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor” during Feb. 8th’s concert. How would you rate its audience appeal?
A: A 10 out of 10. The first movement is very dramatic, very theatrical. The second intensely emotional, and the final movement lively, light, and fun – altogether a balanced concerto that will be much enjoyed by the audience.
Q: You worked for a studio in Minnetonka for four years, teaching 60 students of all ages and skill levels, until your son was born and needed your full-time attention. Now that he is 6 years old, will you go back to teaching?
A: I will be opening a studio in my home in Eagan. Sixty students were a bit much. I would like to select about 30 intermediate to advanced students who want to perfect their skills in the classical genre.
Q: So, what if I auditioned for you playing “Chopsticks?”
A: I’d be delighted to refer you to someone else.
Jerry Goodrich is a Prior Lake resident.