Evan Quinn’s predecessor at the Minnesota Orchestra, Associate Conductor Mischa Santora, conducted the subscription concerts this past week at Orchestra Hall. This is Mr. Santora’s last season as Associate Conductor here, and these concerts were his last subscription concerts. Unlike Evan, however, Mr. Santora will not be stepping up to a co-music directorship at the Minnesota Orchestra. He built this week’s program around the Bruch First Violin Concerto (Leila Josefowicz, violin soloist), focusing on romantic stories of lovers — Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde (the ancient Celtic source material for Romeo and Juliet), and Daphnis and Chloe.
As I sat in Orchestra Hall listening, I could remember a time when this ensemble sounded rather so-so. Not bad, but also not great. This week, the orchestra’s ensemble playing was so together, so disciplined, so intense, as if Mr. Santora were playing one instrument, not an entire orchestra, concentrated, passionate, completely inside the music together. Absolutely breathtaking. The energy dazzled and took me back to the day when I knew I’d finally gotten chapter 1 of Perceval totally right — the balance between Evan’s conducting and Evan’s memories – a visceral tingling and a mental and emotional high. I’ve had “peak” experiences before listening to the Minnesota Orchestra and I welcome them.
In the selections for the orchestral suites from Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet, Mr. Santora and the Orchestra took us to the masked ball where Romeo and Juliet first meet. But first, Mr. Santora set the musical stage with the feuding Montagues and Capulets, one of my favorite of Prokofiev’s themes. Then, off to the ball, the delicate dancing, the removal of masks, and finally the two new lovers on Juliet’s balcony at daybreak. The selections contrasted the belligerence of the hatred between the two sets of parents and the fluttering, exciting and all-consuming feelings of first love. I’d never heard those particular selections from Prokofiev’s ballet in that order and that sound landscape led almost organically into the Bruch.
Max Bruch’s First Violin Concerto premiered in 1866 and represents romantic sentiment in sound at its highest level. I’d heard many recordings over the years, but had never heard it in concert. Leila Josefowicz commanded this concerto with intelligent virtuosity, equal partners with the orchestra throughout, and a rich, golden tone. This concerto also has a muscular aspect to it, especially in the demands it makes on a violinist’s stamina. Bruch gives the soloist few moments to rest.
Richard Wagner’s Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde began the second half of the concert. That amazing chord! I never tire of hearing it. I’m not a huge Wagner fan, but I was impressed with the coherence of this rich, theatrical music’s performance in this concert. Mr. Santora had saved the best for last, building up to the joyous music of Maurice Ravel’s Suite No. 2 from Daphnis and Chloe. Nobody does orchestral colors the way Ravel does them. Ravel’s musical voice sang, rising in a spectacular crescendo at the end. Bravo.
For me, sadness tinged this concert. As I’ve written before at this blog, Mr. Santora’s 6 feet 5 inch lanky frame makes him unique in the world of conductors and has given me a precedent for Evan Quinn’s height. As with Evan, Mr. Santora’s height has no effect on his superb conducting. I have enjoyed his concerts with the Minnesota Orchestra and I’m sad this is his last season with them. I hope that he is moving on to equally interesting and fulfilling endeavors in music in the years to come. And like Evan Quinn, will know much success as a conductor and musician.
One final Perceval thought: I’m saving this program for Evan to conduct perhaps in one of the later novels…..