It wasn't an ideal week to visit Minneapolis for the first time.
German conductor Marc Albrecht was flying into a city mourning another Black man's death at the hands of police. He had to lead an orchestra he'd never met, shaping music worthy of worldwide streaming within two days. And the piano soloist had to cancel because of visa complications, so there would be a late substitution.
And yet Friday's live broadcast by the Minnesota Orchestra proved admirably stirring and quite well played. Opening with a chamber work that suited the city's mood, then leading the audience through agitated, electrifying Dmitri Shostakovich and richly romantic Robert Schumann, the concert (now streaming for free at minnesotaorchestra.org) was as satisfying as one could wish under the conditions.
The infusion of energy from the guest artists certainly helped. Stepping in for pianist Simon Trpceski on a few days' notice, Jon Kimura Parker eloquently articulated all of the conflicting moods of Shostakovich's First Piano Concerto, from reflective to frantic. And Albrecht proved not only a confident interpreter of Shostakovich and Schumann, but a charismatic, high-energy presence on the podium.
Like Parker, the concert's opening work was a late addition to the program. Joel Thompson's "In Response to the Madness" is a 2019 piece for string quartet that lingers in sorrow before finally erupting into a thick cluster of vigorous bowing. The emotionally involving work felt like an apt memorial for young Daunte Wright.
Miguel del Aguila's "Herbsttag" was contrastingly ethereal. Written for harp, flute and bassoon, its mystical mood was enhanced by unusual demands for the instrumentalists. Roma Duncan disassembled her flute and played part of it like a slide whistle as Marguerite Lynn Williams bent her harp strings like a blues guitarist or strummed them vigorously in flamenco fashion.
Parker wasn't the only soloist on the Shostakovich concerto, as the orchestra's principal trumpet, Manny Laureano, made a haunting soliloquy of his part on the work's wistful slow movement. Parker's interpretation often seemed a spirited debate between his two hands, here romantic vs. comedic, there funereal vs. frolicsome. His fourth-movement cadenza was a deeply involving journey from reflection to anxiety attack.
Plans are for Parker to take the helm of the orchestra's summer programming come July. His artistry, energy and enthusiasm should make him a fine face of the franchise as Orchestra Hall begins opening up to audiences again.
Schumann's Fourth Symphony brought more of the Minnesota Orchestra onstage than at any time since March 2020. Albrecht and the orchestra expressively distilled the essence of romanticism, brooding giving way to buoyant dancing, dark drama to comforting warmth.
In addition to his intriguing interpretive ideas, Albrecht is quite an entertaining conductor to watch, theatrical in his leaps, stomps and sweeping gestures.
With Osmo Vänskä departing as music director next year, Minnesota Orchestra audiences may view any guest conductor's visit as a potential audition. In Albrecht's case, I lean toward that as unlikely, as he's tremendously popular in Europe, is most renowned for his work in opera and, at 57 (granted, a youthful 57), may be further into his career than desired.
I'd love to see how he and the orchestra connect under less stressful circumstances.
Rob Hubbard is a freelance classical music critic. • email@example.com