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Mixed Company®

Mixed Company is written by Saint Paul Sunday staff, giving you a behind-the-scenes look at the show and the classical music they love. We welcome your online comments.

« May 2005 | Main | July 2005 »

June 30, 2005


There's something especially evocative in the harmonies and timbres of woodwind music. In the case of Imani Winds, for me the most immediate flavor of that expressiveness is joy. The Imanis' mix of instruments in combination with their finely honed artistry and repertoire elevates any room, as it did our studio when they played this program—a wonderful quilt of arrangements and works ranging from African-American hymn music to bittersweet echoes of turn-of-the-century Prague.

It's astonishing, too, how well Imani flutist and composer Valerie Coleman captures the essence of the wind quintet. The soaring spirit of Umoja and "Lift Ev'ry Voice" is palpable, but always grounded in an intimate understanding of the instruments' distinct voices and their collective ability to heighten our experience of the moment.

This accomplished fivesome isn't only joyful, of course; they conjure darker states as well. (Their performance this week of Förster's Opus 95 Quintet gleams with an Old World poetry.) But there is an infectious delight suffusing all they play. Even in their most serene passages they make you smile.

Posted by Vaughn Ormseth at 3:00 PM | Comments (4)


June 24, 2005

Various virtuosos

Here's an interesting title for a CD: "Hendrix - McCartney - Ysaye." Yep, I had to read it twice, too. This was one of the first CDs that our Saint Paul Sunday guest recorded. He's a young Canadian violinist named Alexandre da Costa and he plays with pianist Margo Garrett this week on the program. You'll get to hear their rendition of Jimi Hendrix's "Manic Depression" at the end of the show.

From start to finish, Alexandre seems wholly taken with virtuosic composer-musicians of all genres. And he handles even their most difficult musical passages deftly. Hearing him play, I found it almost spooky the way he could "get inside the music." Alexandre seemed to be composing the music as it came to him through his violin, it didn't matter if it was Ysaye, Sarasate or Hendrix.

Musicians face a unique challenge in that way, trying to communicate through the music of a diverse array of composers. Actors, I suppose, face a similar challenge, but whereas you can sometimes detect a fake accent, I didn't hear Alexandre or Margo playing "in the style of…" In the moment they completely inhabited the work of art.

Posted by Suzanne Schaffer at 3:20 PM | Comments (3)


June 20, 2005

Alive & Kickin'

In all the talk lately about how classical music is faltering, I keep finding younger artists who utterly disprove it, which gives me a lot more trust in the sheer durability of the art form and the performers who'll get us to the other side. I'm not blind to its challenges, but the great thing about classical is that it's got deep deep roots and draws from a greater palette of sources (including popular) than any other kind of music - so has wider expressive possibilities and can withstand the many different kinds of souls disciplined enough to make it their life's work...

Like Stephen Prutsman reimagining Mexican street music for Kronos Quartet one day, then channeling Bach at the piano with amazing subtlety the next...
Or the Brentano String Quartet playing Renaissance madrigals...
Or Matt Haimovitz taking his 1710 Gofriller cello into punk bars and jazz clubs and casting spells with Shostakovich...
Or Rachel Barton-Pine who plays Baroque solo music and Ravel's blues with utter panache, then goes home for a dose of Guns n' Roses.

More and more I just think of classical as the music for those who want to say the most they possibly can.

Posted by Vaughn Ormseth at 11:26 AM | Comments (8)


June 17, 2005

Shadows and Light

Though I've been immersed in music much of my life, the moments when I sense a deep shift in how I actually experience it are quite rare. When they do register, I listen differently from then on. It's usually akin to something falling into place—not unlike like the clarity you can feel the morning after sleeping on an issue that had seemed inscrutable the night before.

I knew I felt such a shift during Kronos Quartet’s remarkable recording with us in late October 2000. The country still nursed its post-9/11 terror, fall was hardening into winter; and if there was a general awareness that music was more important than ever, it also felt sapped by menacing realities.

At some point during Kronos’ program—a dark, beautiful, often provocative series of new works—I realized just how responsive to the immediate world classically grounded music could be. I must have known that before, but it had the edge of a revelation, opening me further music of our own time, with all its shadows and light. I don’t think I’ve listened to Beethoven and Shostakovich the same way since, either.

Kronos’ own David Harrington says it best: “I’ve always wanted the string quartet to be vital, and energetic, and alive, and cool, and not afraid to kick ass and be absolutely beautiful and ugly if it has to be. But it has to be expressive of life.”

Posted by Vaughn Ormseth at 3:20 PM | Comments (6)


June 8, 2005

Taking music outside the box

For me, cellist Matt Haimovitz is about thinking outside the box. One of the most beloved pillars of the cello repertoire is the set of six solo Cello Suites by Johann Sebastian Bach. The music is so mesmerizing that audiences become absolutely silent so that you could hear a pin drop. Matt Haimovitz plays Bach's Cello Suites masterfully, but with one kaleidoscope turn to the right.

In addition to playing this music in concert halls, not too long ago Matt was on the Listening Room Tour. On this tour he plays Bach all over—small halls, cafés, and clubs, incluing NYC's famous CBGB club and Minneapolis's own Dakota and 400 Bar. And the audience has eaten it up. They love it and shower him with huge applause. Matt told me after the session that he is bridging the gaps between his blue hair audience: that is, the 18-year-olds with blue hair and those who are 80 with blue hair, all of whom love his music.

We were talking after the session about whether or not musical purists have criticized him for his work, either classical music fans that think classical music should only be played in concert halls or pop/rock music fans that think only that type of music should be played in a club. Matt said it didn't matter. It's not about categorizing music. Classical or not, it's just music. And Matt's is awfully good.

Posted by Suzanne Schaffer at 1:46 PM