“Music in 3D: #4” Concert Preview No. 4

Before each concert, we share “Manny’s Musings,” thoughts from our Music Director and Conductor, Manny Laureano. This is the final edition of the “Musings” for the “Music in 3D: #4” concert that will be performed on Sunday, April 2, 2017.

Berlioz and his Dream Girl(s) {part 2 of 2}

Read the first part of this Musings here.

It takes him five separate movements, each one so well-written that it could stand alone, to describe a story of passion, tenderness, anger, and chilling terror.

Estelle, the object of Berlioz’s affections

The work opens with a self-reflective raising of the curtain and a theme in the violins that actually dates back to his first love Estelle, and eventually gives way to a joyous theme of love that makes its appearance in every movement in some mutated form. This is known as the idée fixe. The theme develops and Berlioz takes us on a wild ride of passion that seeks religious redemption at the end of the movement. The waltz that follows is a first date of sorts. and we know he’s with his Dream Girl as soon as we here the idée fixe. The walk in the country that serves as he third movement is a beautiful nod to Beethoven replete with dueling double reeds, each on their own hillsides, one near, one far. Dark thoughts invade the artists mind as he rages jealously. One of the shepherds returns, only to have his song mocked by looming thunderclouds.

Those thunderclouds tell us the honeymoon’s over as the artist has been sentenced to death for killing his Dream Girl while under the influence of a controlled substance. Don’t do drugs, kids. The artist is not just marched to the scaffold, rather he is pushed to it, as the gathered public wants blood—lots of it. Just before his head goes for a bouncing jaunt down the steps in 4/4 time, he thinks of his Dream Girl one last time.

As in a bad Hollywood horror movie, our artist comes back to find that his Dream Girl is now a witch and she’s come back with a coven of friends. Berlioz goes all out with cackling sounds, bells of doom, a Dies Irae theme that shows God is NOT happy, and the wood part of bows striking strings in order to paint a frightening picture of love gone wrong.

But what of that first sweetheart, Estelle? It turns out that she and Berlioz were reunited as friends and companions very late in their lives. This welcome relationship came after all three of Berlioz’s wives died prematurely as did Estelle’s husband. A happier ending than the Symphonie!

Nygel Witherspoon, Cello

Nygel Witherspoon, Cello

Join Music Director & Conductor Manny Laureano, for the concert, “Music in 3D: #4” featuring cellist Nygel Witherspoon, winner of MNSOTA’s Mary West Solo Competition. The concert takes place on Sunday, April 2, 2017, at 3 p.m., at the Jefferson High School Auditorium (4001 West 102nd Street, Bloomington)

To learn more about the concert, click here. You can order tickets online through the Bloomington Box Office or by calling 952-563-8575.

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“Music in 3D: #4” Concert Preview No. 3

Before each concert, we share “Manny’s Musings,” thoughts from our Music Director and Conductor, Manny Laureano. This is the third edition of the “Musings” for the “Music in 3D: #4” concert that will be performed on Sunday, April 2, 2017.

Berlioz and his Dream Girl(s) {part 1 of 2}

Hector Berlioz

If love is the sickness, then composing is the cure, or such was the experience of a young Hector Berlioz (1803-1866) who, from the start, was the quintessential incurable romantic. Lucky thing, that, as France and the rest of Europe were well into the throes of the Romantic era by 1930, when the Symphonie fantastique was premiered. Berlioz discovered love and its partner, jealousy, in the form of a comely 18-year old summer neighbor named Estelle when he was 12 years old. Think about Michael Corleone being struck by “The Thunderbolt” in The Godfather and you will have an idea of how the boy felt. Estelle was amused and flattered but a relationship was out of the question… for the moment. Also, bear in mind that Berlioz began his musical studies at that very age, rather than much earlier as we are accustomed to hear about the great composers.

Berlioz was not shy about his passionate nature as he grew older, either. He was engaged to be married to a Mlle. Estelle Moke, but while he was away studying music in Italy he received a letter from his would-be mother-in-law informing him the marriage was off. Berlioz flew into a rage and plotted a triple murder and suicide plot involving elaborate disguises and double-barreled pistols. He cooled off and continued studying.

This personality had produced a tremendous work that was based on “The Life of a Young Artist” the year before. In fact, Berlioz had single-handedly, over the early years of his composing, changed the size and orchestration of the 19th century orchestra. Imagine a piece of music from the first third of the 19th century that features two harps, an English horn and an E? clarinet, a piccolo, two cornets and trumpets, two tubas, two sets of timpani, and two Liberty Bell-style bells, in addition to the rest of a large orchestra and you have the ingredients for his Symphonie fantastique, a five-movement foray into intimate and extroverted passion.

His now-familiar relationship with actress Harriet Smithson makes more sense given what we’ve learned about his personality before and after the Symphonie. He was obsessed with her and sent letters that went unanswered and put on concerts to attract her attention. He finally woke up from his dream when he was informed of rumors involving Smithson and her manager. It was that jolt which drove him to write… and write he did.

{Part 2 will be posted on March 30}

Nygel Witherspoon, Cello

Nygel Witherspoon, Cello

Join Music Director & Conductor Manny Laureano, for the concert, “Music in 3D: #4” featuring cellist Nygel Witherspoon, winner of MNSOTA’s Mary West Solo Competition. The concert takes place on Sunday, April 2, 2017, at 3 p.m., at the Jefferson High School Auditorium (4001 West 102nd Street, Bloomington)

To learn more about the concert, click here. You can order tickets online through the Bloomington Box Office or by calling 952-563-8575.

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“Music in 3D: #4” Concert Preview No. 2

Before each concert, we share “Manny’s Musings,” thoughts from our Music Director and Conductor, Manny Laureano. This is the second edition of the “Musings” for the “Music in 3D: #4” concert that will be performed on Sunday, April 2, 2017.

Concerto for ‘Cello in B minor by Antonín Dvorák

Antonín Dvorák

Some composers find their niches quickly and write defining pieces soon in their careers. Others learn more and truly deliver the works that become associated with their names, later in life. This was certainly true of this magnificent work for ‘cello by Antonín Dvorák (1841 – 1904). He had written a piano concerto which has gone into the dustbin of musical history. His next effort, the Concerto for Violin in A minor, has become somewhat of a standard for great soloists, but has not occupied the same place as those by Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Sibelius, Beethoven, or Mozart. To be sure, when one hears the Violin Concerto, it leaves one wondering why it’s not heard with greater frequency.

The fact is that Dvorák simply didn’t believe that the solo ‘cello was a powerful or compelling enough voice to soar over the body of an orchestra. Fate took a hand, however, when he decided to go to hear a premiere by a composer and education colleague at New York City’s National Conservatory, where Dvorák served as director. That colleague was Victor Herbert, whose Cello Concerto convinced Dvorák that he had been under a misconception. Dvorák set to work for two years, and in 1896 was able to have the noted English ‘cellist, Leo Stern, play the solo part at a premiere performance in London that changed the world order for the instrument forever.

In listening to the first movement, one is truly struck by the conversational quality of the relationship between orchestra and soloist. The opening is generous and takes its time introducing the solo voice of the ‘cello. When the ‘cello enters, its voice is stentorian and poetic. It shifts from anguished to playful to thoughtful, all the while demanding the best in the soloist’s technical prowess. This movement gives us a peek at a beautiful work of art that occupies a solid place in the repertoire.

Nygel Witherspoon, Cello

Nygel Witherspoon, Cello

Join Music Director & Conductor Manny Laureano, for the concert, “Music in 3D: #4” featuring cellist Nygel Witherspoon, winner of MNSOTA’s Mary West Solo Competition. The concert takes place on Sunday, April 2, 2017, at 3 p.m., at the Jefferson High School Auditorium (4001 West 102nd Street, Bloomington)

To learn more about the concert, click here. You can order tickets online through the Bloomington Box Office or by calling 952-563-8575.

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Music in 3D: #4 Concert Preview No. 1

Before each concert, we share “Manny’s Musings,” thoughts from our Music Director and Conductor, Manny Laureano. This is the first edition of the “Musings” for the “Music in 3D: #4” concert that will be performed on Sunday, April 2, 2017.

La forza del destino

Giuseppe Verdi

It’s inevitable. Composers live their lives and eventually confront the events that make them who they are or prevent them from having what they want. Beethoven was forced into a life of ironically cruel deafness. Berlioz was dogged by the deaths of three wives. Tchaikovsky avoided but then could not deny his homosexuality. The Jewishness in Mahler’s background would never be accepted by the Viennese, regardless of his religious conversion to Catholicism.

It is easy to hear the frustrated outbursts in the music of these men, whether it comes in the form of a jagged motif which begins a Fifth Symphony or powerful brassy blasts that recur in an F minor symphony. Sometimes the angst is more subtle when heard as musical sighs or weeping.

When Giuseppe Verdi (1813 – 1901) dedicated an entire opera to the power of destiny, he had long since eschewed the merry romp that an Italian opera overture would often be, such as the kind Rossini would write to engage his audiences. After all, when Verdi wrote his operas, the so-called Age of Enlightenment was well upon European audiences and their respective cultures. Tragedies became synonymous with operatic plots, now that people’s eyes were being relentlessly opened to human suffering.

Verdi wastes no time in establishing the three knocks of destiny, or fate, with powerful octave shouts from the orchestra’s brass section. An intense, undulating theme rises and falls in the strings to compete in a different way with the rest of the orchestra. The tender moment that reveals the theme sung by tragic heroine, Leonora, is overcome by the gyrations of the earlier minor material. A sustained theme of hope is heard accompanied by two harps. Surely all will end well? Will the Deus ex machina appear in the form of the warm brass chorale save our heroine?

Well, it is, after all, a tragedy.

Join Music Director & Conductor Manny Laureano, for the concert, “Music in 3D: #4” featuring cellist Nygel Witherspoon, winner of MNSOTA’s Mary West Solo Competition. The concert takes place on Sunday, April 2, 2017, at 3 p.m., at the Jefferson High School Auditorium (4001 West 102nd Street, Bloomington)

To learn more about the concert, click here. You can order tickets online through the Bloomington Box Office or by calling 952-563-8575.

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BSO’s Youthful Celebration – Concert Preview No. 3

Before each concert, we share “Manny’s Musings,” thoughts from our Music Director and Conductor, Manny Laureano. This is the final edition of the “Musings” for the “BSO”s Youthful Celebration” concert that will be performed on Sunday, February 19, 2017. 

Dmitri Shostakovich, composer

Up to this point, we have featured the work of composers in their mid-30s and early 20s. Let’s push the envelope further and have as our featured symphony, the work of an older teenager, the legendary Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975), who started to write his first symphony at the age of 17 and completed it at the age of 19. It was technically a student piece that fulfilled a requirement at Petrograd University in Russia while studying with composition teacher Nikolai Malko. This symphony is significant as a first symphony because it sounds so much like the subsequent works we are accustomed to hearing later. In other words, he was developing a language that was completely his, rather than imitate the music he grew up hearing which influenced his earliest works.

The symphony is in four movements and begins in a series of conversations moving quickly throughout the orchestra. Shostakovich seems to play a game with the listener in this first movement that goes between stating themes clearly and simply (much like Copland!) and then goes into fits of self-mockery (much like one of his musical heroes, Gustav Mahler). The second movement is a romp that fairly challenges the listener to keep up with an almost cartoonish set of themes, pausing only briefly to ask the woodwinds to play an exotic and quiet melody. This respite gives way to the furious Shostakovich we know from later symphonies and chamber music. The third movement goes into its main theme without the gentle introduction we may be accustomed to in the music of other composers. Indeed, it is reminiscent of the slow movement from Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony where the oboe immediately begins a plaintive song. Listen for the rhythmic interjections by the brass and timpani, crying out for attention. In fact, the trumpets lead a transition to the whirling finale that vacillates between tornadic virtuosity to breathless moments of pained statements from varied solo instruments. But Shostakovich will not be denied, and he builds to a tremendous ending that establishes who he is and what to expect from him in the future. Joseph Stalin would have other ideas…but that’s another concert.

Karen Baumgartner, Flute & Grant Luhmann, Composer

Join Music Director & Conductor Manny Laureano, for the concert, “BSO’s Youthful Celebration” featuring flutist Karen Baumgartner, performing the world premiere of Grant Luhmann‘s Flute Concerto. The concert takes place on Sunday, February 19, 2017, at 3 p.m., at the Kennedy High School Auditorium (9701 Nicollet Avenue, Bloomington)

To learn more about the concert, click here. You can order tickets online through the Bloomington Box Office or by calling 952-563-8575.

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BSO’s Youthful Celebration – Concert Preview No. 2

Before each concert, we share “Manny’s Musings,” thoughts from our Music Director and Conductor, Manny Laureano. This is the second of the “Musings” for the “BSO”s Youthful Celebration” concert that will be performed on Sunday, February 19, 2017. Check back later this week for the final concert preview!

Grant Luhmann, Composer

It may come as no surprise, then, to learn that our featured premiere is by two alumni from the Minnesota Youth Symphonies, as well as Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. I first came to know composer Grant Luhmann (born 1994) as a talented oboist and English hornist while Karen Baumgartner developed into a flutist of great sensitivity, capable of delivering complex music with requisite pyrotechnical technique. Luhmann’s concerto begins with a short cadenza that invites the various sections of the orchestra to shadow the flute with an ethereal background. As the orchestra adds color and momentum, the flute twitters birdlike as the orchestra becomes less of an observer and more of a competitor. The pulsing in the orchestra makes it appear to breathe against the rhythmic fire in the solo flute until it’s gentle ending.

Karen Baumgartner, Flute

Join Music Director & Conductor Manny Laureano, for the concert, “BSO’s Youthful Celebration” featuring flutist Karen Baumgartner, performing the world premiere of Grant Luhmann‘s Flute Concerto. The concert takes place on Sunday, February 19, 2017, at 3 p.m., at the Kennedy High School Auditorium (9701 Nicollet Avenue, Bloomington)

To learn more about the concert, click here. You can order tickets online through the Bloomington Box Office or by calling 952-563-8575.

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BSO’s Youthful Celebration – Concert Preview No. 1

Before each concert, we share “Manny’s Musings,” thoughts from our Music Director and Conductor, Manny Laureano. This is the first of the “Musings” for the “BSO”s Youthful Celebration” concert that will be performed on Sunday, February 19, 2017.

Celebrating Youth in Music

It is my intent to one day program a concert for the BSO that celebrates the gentle beauty of maturity but for this concert I decided to take a look at the earlier attempts of composers in the primary and developing parts of their careers. So, for the seasoned members of our audience, fear not, as your day will come!

Aaron Copland, Composer

An Outdoor Overture (1935) of Aaron Copland (1900-1990) covers a few areas of today’s musical subject. Since Copland had the good taste to be born in 1900, we know that he was 35 when he received the request from the principal of the brand new High School of Music & Art in New York City to write a piece of music for its orchestra. As the principal, Alexander Richter, listened to Copland’s rendering of the piano version. It seemed clear that the harmonies and melodic contours gave it an expansive feeling of, well, the outdoors, its themes are simply stated and without regret. From the opening trumpet solo to the skittering woodwinds and strings that follow to the final triumphant and optimistic march it was clear that it was a perfect fit for the fledgling school which celebrated the artistic talents of American youth in the 1930s. It was a perfect match that would see a premiere by the students three years later, in 1938. Coincidentally, both my wife, Claudette and I, who are co-directors of the Minnesota Youth Symphonies, are proud alumni of that wonderful school, class of ’73.

Join Music Director & Conductor Manny Laureano, for the concert, “BSO’s Youthful Celebration” featuring flutist Karen Baumgartner, performing the world premiere of Grant Luhmann‘s Flute Concerto. The concert takes place on Sunday, February 19, 2017, at 3 p.m., at the Kennedy High School Auditorium (9701 Nicollet Avenue, Bloomington)

To learn more about the concert, click here. You can order tickets online through the Bloomington Box Office or by calling 952-563-8575.

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Winter/Spring Postcard

If you are not on the BSO’s snail mail list, but would like to see the Winter/Spring 2017 postcard, please click on the images below!

 

We hope to see you at the BSO’s Youthful Celebration concert on February 19 and the Music in 3D: #4 concert on April 2!

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Announcing April Soloist :: Nygel Witherspoon

Nygel Witherspoon, Cello

Nygel Witherspoon, Cello

Fifteen year old cellist Nygel Witherspoon will perform the first movement of Dvo?ák’s Cello Concerto with the Bloomington Symphony at their Music in 3D: #4 concert on Sunday, April 2. The concert will be held at the Jefferson High School Auditorium in Bloomington at 3 p.m., and will be conducted by Music Director Manny Laureano.

Mr. Witherspoon is the Grand Prize winner of the Minnesota String and Orchestra Teacher’s Association (MNSOTA) Mary West Solo Competition, which was held in November 2016. The Grand Prize is a $250 cash award and the opportunity to solo with the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra.

To purchase tickets to the concert, please visit the Bloomington Box Office online or in person. Tickets will also be available for purchase at the door (cash or check only).

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Musician’s Musing – December 2016

This month’s Musician’s Musings was written by BSO Board Member and first violinist, Kristin Brinkmann. 

Kristin Brinkmann, Violin

Kristin Brinkmann, Violin

As a fairly recent addition to the first violin section of the Bloomington Symphony (this is my third season), I have to say that it’s provided the perfect infusion of musical nourishment, which I desperately needed during a difficult time.  And it’s that continuing infusion of musical nourishment that keeps compelling me to get into my car way up in White Bear Lake, and trek all the way down to Bloomington on Sunday evenings for rehearsals.  For many years, I used to get into my car and make a similarly long trek to go and play with a different orchestra most days of the week – the Minnesota Orchestra.  Based on the various versions of my lifetime career model which used to run through my head, my car should still be driving me to Orchestra Hall and not to the Bloomington Symphony, although the BSO does feel quite a lot like the Minnesota Orchestra most of the time.  My fellow Minnesota Orchestra second violinist and frequent stand partner, Michael Sutton, is playing just a few feet away from me, and Manny Laureano is conducting, which he also did from time to time at the Minnesota Orchestra, when they would occasionally let him put down his trumpet for a few days.

Why does my car now drive me to the BSO, and not to Orchestra Hall?  First of all, it’s only a 2002 Honda Civic, so it’s technically not capable of taking me anywhere I haven’t decided to go.  It isn’t a cutting edge driverless vehicle whose computer brain got hacked and suddenly began driving me to the wrong orchestra one day.  Rather, it was my brain that got hacked over 15 years ago, and a neurobiological form of malware began running, which caused me to develop young-onset Parkinson’s disease when I was 33.  Parkinson’s is a neurological degenerative movement disorder, with some good treatments, but no cure at this time.  It is almost unthinkable for a violinist to suddenly face losing the voice we’ve spent our lives cultivating to a disease that causes you to lose motor control.  In most cases, we’ve spent our entire lives and countless hours in violin lessons, practicing, at workshops, music camps and music festivals, and have often completed multiple college degrees learning, among other things, how to consistently make unbelievably precise movements so that we have the technical ability to translate our soul, passion, musical ideas and creativity from our minds, through our bodies, and into a wooden box and a stick with some horse hair attached to it.  And Parkinson’s isn’t at all predictable.  The saying in the Parkinson’s community is, “The only thing that’s predictable about Parkinson’s is that it’s unpredictable”.

Kristin playing in nature

Kristin playing in nature

That’s what I was faced with early in my career with the Minnesota Orchestra, and I have to say that in many respects, things have gone much better than I ever imagined they could have 15 years ago.  I might be wrong, but I believe that the fact that I was already a professional violinist when I developed Parkinson’s has helped me stay as healthy as I am for so long.  But crazy things happen with no warning, and I’d be ready to walk out the door to play a concert at Orchestra Hall when my left arm and leg might suddenly go into severe tremors for no reason I could discern, and that could go on for 15 minutes to eight or more hours.  At that point, I often couldn’t really walk, much less open a violin case and pick up my violin without likely smashing it to smithereens.  After about a decade of having Parkinson’s while in the Minnesota Orchestra, the unpredictability and severe fatigue caused by the disease brought me to the point where I had to leave the job and the orchestra I loved so much, and I suddenly found myself without my “musical tribe”, and alone at home with a violin.  For about two years, I couldn’t listen to music.  At least not any of the music that I’d played before, or had hoped to play in the future.  Or music that reminded me of music that I’d played before or had hoped to play in the future.  We’ll call this my “Beatles Period.” And I didn’t practice very much for the some of the same reasons.  Add a few spine surgeries into this mix, and then the fact that there simply wasn’t anything to practice for.  No upcoming rehearsals or concerts!  This was the first time I’d ever had a calendar completely devoid of anything musical since I took my very first violin lesson!

That brings us back to the point where my car began driving me to the Bloomington Symphony for Sunday rehearsals.  I knew that I could still play really well when all things neurological and musculoskeletal aligned perfectly, and I’d had an ample amount of sleep, and when I’d taken my various Parkinson medications on the precise schedule I’d worked out over a decade earlier, and if I was just plain lucky that day.  And while some violinists in a similar situation might relish being alone to play the J.S. Bach Sonatas and Partitas for unaccompanied violin for whatever amount of time every few days that everything was working somewhat normally, I really missed playing in an orchestra!  I was already familiar with the BSO because several of my Minnesota Orchestra colleagues had been the concertmaster here over the years.  I went online to see where all of the community orchestras were rehearsing, who was conducting them, what music they were performing, and to familiarize myself with who was doing what where, and did White Bear Lake have an orchestra that I wasn’t aware of?  Once I saw that Manny Laureano was now conducting the BSO, and that Michael Sutton was the concertmaster, I knew that the BSO was where I needed to go!

I didn’t know whether I’d be able to play an entire rehearsal without some weird Parkinson’s movements starting up, and I can’t always do that.  And I didn’t know whether I’d be able to play every single rehearsal and concert, and I can’t.  But once I’ve gotten myself there and we begin to play, a part of myself I thought I might have lost forever reawakens!  I believe the first piece we played at the very first rehearsal I attended was the Wagner Overture to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg – a piece I’d played countless times since high school.  But it was as if I were playing for the very first time all over again!  Hearing the sound of the full orchestra around me again, and playing that first violin part that has you soaring up into stratosphere gave me more than anything that any of my favorite doctors or the best treatments could provide!  Another popular saying in the Parkinson’s community is “Exercise is medicine!”, and I firmly believe that to be true.  But in my case, the more important saying would be “Music is medicine”!

People ask me what it’s like playing in the BSO after having been in the Minnesota Orchestra, and I suspect that they think they know how I’m going to reply. We rehearse in a church basement instead of Orchestra Hall, we’re a far smaller group, and not everyone has had the same amount of musical training in their background.  But beginning with that first rehearsal three years ago, through to our most recent concert in the Schneider Theater on November 20, I have to say that there’s no difference at all in anything that really matters!  I feel the same rush and the same sense of accomplishment and comradery after having played well during a BSO rehearsal or performance as I did during and after my concerts with the Minnesota Orchestra!  I’m very fortunate to have found the BSO three years ago when I desperately needed musical nourishment after living in a musical desert for some time, and the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra has most definitely become my new “musical tribe”!

 

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