September has arrived and with it a new concert season for the Minnesota Orchestra. They have begun with a jaw-dropping, sold-out gala concert last night at Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis. Unfortunately, because I am still recovering from major surgery, I was unable to attend. However, thanks to Classical MPR, I was able to “attend” by listening to the radio broadcast.
Soprano Renee Fleming was the guest soloist, and she has a voice that can make me cry as well as stun and amaze. (She sang the national anthem at the Super Bowl last year.) Her breath and pitch control made for some of the most beautiful moments in the concert. She began with a new work, a song cycle, written specifically for her by a Swedish composer named Anders Hillborg. He set poems by Paul Strand to astonishing music that reminded me a lot of game music — evocative, expansive with open intervals as well as strings sounding like insect wings rubbing together — and Ms. Fleming’s voice pierced through it, floated above, and fleshed it out. What a journey. I really want to hear this work again and again. This performance was only its second. Will Ms. Fleming record it? I hope so.
Next up for Ms. Fleming were two opera arias, one extremely famous and the second not. The first was Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro” from Gianni Schicchi. The second aria Ms. Fleming described as “Carmen on steroids,” “Ier della fabrica a Triana” from Riccardo Zandonai’s Conchita. She followed the arias with three songs by Leonard Bernstein — two from West Side Story and one from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. For me, these songs were the least successful of the evening. Ms. Fleming’s voice was a bit too heavy, and her technique too operatic. But she made me cry during “Somewhere.” And the tears continued when she told the audience that she would sing “Take care of this House” in honor of all of us who treasure our Minnesota Orchestra and worked so hard to save it.
Osmo Vanska conducted the Orchestra last night and chose the Overture to Maskarade by Danish composer Carl Nielsen. Between the Hillborg and the opera arias, Vanska and the Orchestra continued the opera theme of the evening with the sweet, peaceful Intermezzo from Mascagni’s “Cavalleria rusticana,” and the powerful, dramatic Overture to Verdi’s “La forza del destino.” While I totally enjoyed these opera selections, I craved more symphonic music that would spotlight the Minnesota Orchestra.
It came in the final work on the program: Ottorino Resphigi’s The Pines of Rome. Ah, the precise ensemble playing, the discipline, the true ppp and the controlled fffs. I felt like I had arrived home to the most beautiful, most familiar and beloved voice there is. This Orchestra remains at a high level of artistic excellence that I’m certain Osmo will hone until it has reached a height far above where it was before the lockout. We are in for a truly wonderful 2014-15 classical music season with the Minnesota Orchestra.
I was sorry not to be able to attend the concert last evening, but my surgery was far more extensive than any of us had anticipated (even the surgeon), and my recovery has suffered one major setback, slowing it to slower than a snail’s pace. I am inching back to my former writing schedule, starting here. As I haven’t written about the MN Orchestra for a long time, I thought it would be fun to return with it — we are both returning to our “normal” lives…..