Monday, January 27, 2014

Minnesota Orchestra ends lockout; recalling concerts when I lived, worked there; Grammy award for its Sibelius recording

The Minnesota Orchestra and the musicians’ union have reached a deal that ends a 15-month lockout, as the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported on January 15, 2014, here, story by Graydon Royce. .

The deal is significant to me because I worked as a caller (aka telemarketer) for the Orchestra from April 2002, until June 2013, specifically for the Guaranty Fund, and even more specifically to raise money for the Young People’s Concerts. We worked on the second floor of the Oakwood Apartments near the Symphony Hall. 

I do wonder what became of those jobs, since the public has become much more resistant to telephone solicitations, even from non-profits, than it was then.  I definitely see that in my own attitude, as robocalls have become a problem, driving out legitimate callers.  In fact, charities and non-profits may have to struggle to stay off NoMoRobo.

During that time, I got complimentary tickets.  I lived in Minneapolis from 1997-2003, and recall a few of the concerts.  Some of these may have been paid, before I had access to comp.

The Berlioz Romeo and Juliet Symphony was performed.   I vaguely recall that the Montreal Philharmonic may have been visiting.  The work is uneven, with a long moving orchestral slow movement, and a rousing finale as the families settle their feud, despite the tragedy of the story. Berlioz’s orchestral music has never been as moving to me until he adds chorus (as in the Requiem and the Te Deum).

The Mahler Symphony #3 in D Minor was performed.  This is the longest of Mahler’s symphonies, running almost 100 minutes.  It is in two parts.  The massive 35-minute first movement, with a famous opening theme in the horns that sounds like a paraphrase of the melody from the Brahms First, has an unusual form feature: the expansive Sonata allegro, actually rather strict and clear, recapitulates the martial second theme and closes the movement in the parallel F Major rather than the Picardy D Major.  A few other romantic compositions do this, like Chopin’s B-flat Minor Scherzo (not my favorite).  Part two comprises some shorter movements, starting with a minuet, a scherzo, a song with soprano, a lively movement with women’s and boys’ chorus, and finally a 25-minute Bruckner-style adagio, that, instead of subsiding, builds to a majestic climax in the Picardy D Major at the end, and sustains its final fortissimo chord for about 30 seconds.  I actually played the theme of this movement on the organ at Fort Jackson, SC for the chaplain in a service while I was in Army Basic Training back in 1968.  There are stories that Mahler planned to put the close of the 4th Symphony at the end of the 3rd, but that would not have worked, for me, at least.  It really belongs in the 4th.

I also heard the Bruckner 5th in B-flat, performed by itself, by a conductor visiting from Vienna.  The 70-minute work is known partly for the crunching first movement, which crashes to a close that makes it sound like an overture. After a slow minor introduction, it has a very catchy theme going between major and minor.  This music was played, curiously, by C-Span during the Intermission when it televised the Senate’s 2004 hearings on gay marriage!   But it goes on to a moving slow movement in D Minor, a scherzo, and then a complex fugal finale that even outdoes Reger, to end in glory with the opening theme in B-flat. 
I likewise recall hearing the Rachmaninoff Symphony #2 in E Minor, with a comp ticket, in February 2003, on a bitterly cold Saturday night in Minneapolis, and walking to “The Saloon”, the best gay disco in Minneapolis, a few blocks away on Hennepin right after the concert.  Yes, they needed a coat check.   This work may be best known for its moving slow movement in A Major.  The Finale is entirely in the the Parallel E Major with typical Rachmaninoff virtuosity, but it spins a big tune near the end.
Despite the lockout, the Minnesota Orchestra won a Grammy last night for its BIS CD recording of the Sibelius Symphonies 1 (In E Minor) and 4 (in A Minor), as reported here
The First was a favorite of mine in high school, and in those days I had the Columbia Beecham recording.  The work is said to be influenced by Tchaikovsky, and the finale is unusual in that it reaches a “big tune” climax in the dominant B Major before returning to E minor to crash and die.  I remember playing the big tune through my head on that 1961 Science Honor Society trip to Mount Washington.  A friend would call Sibelius “musically sterile”.  Maybe that is how I would feel about the strange, alien Fourth, which sounds icy and explores some strange tonal relationships.  The finale, after being in Major, comes back to minor to end with the odd designation of mF, or just mezzo-forte.  It’s usually played quietly.

The Musicians Minnesota Union has a video, above, and the Sibelius Fifth is quoted as it opens. 

Picture: A building near the Orchestra has the Ravel "Gaspard de la Nuit" in staff shown (2003 photo, mine)/  

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