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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.

« December 2005 | Main | February 2006 »

January 29, 2006


Though it’s happened just a handful of times over my 300-odd program tenure here, sometimes life or work keeps me from a recording session. It’s always a loss, especially when the artist or ensemble missed is one for whom I have as much affection and admiration as I do this week’s guest. Happily, I’ve had lots of other chances here to see and hear Garrick Ohlsson, both by himself and with the FOG Trio, a wonderful threesome he co-founded several years ago with violinist Jorja Fleezanis and cellist Michael Grebanier.

Garrick brings to mind something I read in a philosophy class about the psychoanalyst Otto Rank: “the insights seem like a gift, beyond what is necessary.” Garrick’s insights and gifts, and his sharing of them, are indeed superabundant. He spans astonishing musical (and, in the process, geographical) territory, illuminating and integrating all he adopts with outright mastery. After having recorded the complete solo works of Frédéric Chopin, he’s now undertaking a complete edition of the Beethoven sonatas (perhaps the greatest of which—the Opus 111—we hear on today’s program).

It often happens that when I do miss a session and then listen to the recording after the fact, I come away with a keener sense of how Saint Paul Sunday works on the radio—which of course is what it’s all about. Honing that sense is always at the forefront of what we do but is sometimes lost amid the weekly urgencies of producing a national series. And I think the mystical piano works of Alexander Scriabin, reconjured here by Garrick in all their peculiar and interior beauty, fit the intimacy of radio and of Saint Paul Sunday especially well.

So you might wonder with me, as Scriabin's études and poèmes wash over you this week, if it’s not possibly a case of “even better than being there.”

Posted by Vaughn Ormseth at 11:35 AM | Comments (4)


January 20, 2006

Sunshine, Baseball, and Sigur Rós

Although I’d never actually met Dawn Upshaw before the day of this recording, I felt sure, with that quasi-presumptuous familiarity great singers often draw from their admirers, that I’d known what she would be like from her CDs and performances. This is an old story, of course, as old as theater and music themselves—and way older than recording technology. Perhaps it’s also the highest praise someone who’s devoted her life to inhabiting roles and worlds through those means can receive.

Even from that lofty vantage point, though, there is in Dawn’s singing and portrayals a special clarity and presence, and I was both relieved and bit awed to discover how consistent those are with the lovely, unaffected person we shared the afternoon with.

Actually there were two lovely people, both of whom had visited Saint Paul Sunday before my time here—Gil Kalish had made two prior visits in the 1980s with cellist Joel Krosnick. (Dawn had come once before, in 1991, with pianist Richard Goode see photo) You’ll hear right how these two intrepid musical beings click, and why they continue to make such beautiful music.

This program took place in a small reverberant hall on the campus of St. Paul’s Hamline University. After it was done, we walked outside and adjusted our eyes to a beautiful June evening. Summer comes late and a little tipsily to Minnesota—so we made plans then and there to meet later at W.A. Frost, a café in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s old neighborhood known for its large tree-shaded patio, where we talked over dinner about music, politics, families, baseball (Gil and Dawn had taken Gil’s nephew to a Twins game the day before), and Icelandic rock bands (Bjork and Sigur Rós, favorites of Dawn's and mine). Heavenly.

Posted by Vaughn Ormseth at 5:36 PM | Comments (5)


January 12, 2006

Celebrating Mozart, in all his glorious complexities

We’ve arrived not only in the Mozart year but are rapidly approaching the actual 250th birthday on January 27. There are endless commemorations large and small but this week’s Saint Paul Sunday with the Brentano String Quartet give us an intimate glimpse of an elusive and deeply touching Mozart masterpiece – the String Quartet in A, K. 464. There is an extraordinary play of shadow and light in this piece, an ambiguity of mood coupled with inspiration of almost aching beauty.

It is in a major key, which should indicate a “happy key” in the terminology of rudimentary music appreciation texts. But Mozart has an ability to bring a depth and complexity of emotion so that his music eludes such stereotypes. A young quartet player once said to me of the opening theme, “that’s the saddest music ever written in a major key.” And it’s that ambiguity, the passing cloud and moment of shadow on seemingly the sunniest day, which makes us aware of the fleeting nature of that beauty. I loved working with the wonderfully thoughtful and generous hearted musicians of the Brentano Quartet in this session. They are very rare in their understanding of Mozart and, in their playing of this particular quartet, imprinted it into my awareness so deeply that I can’t get it out of my head. That’s exactly what makes Mozart matter so much to us 250 years after his birth.

- Ara Guzelimian, guest host of Saint Paul Sunday

Posted by at 9:19 AM | Comments (1)


January 8, 2006

My, how you've grown!

There was never a more embarassing moment growing up for any of us, I think, when, at a family reunion, an aunt or uncle made too much of a fuss over our growing up.

But after all these years with Saint Paul Sunday, I find it nearly impossible to keep those same words from leaving my mouth when artists return to our studio after 5, 10 or even 15 years. Don't we all hope that we continue to change, mature, grow in understanding as we, um, age? Why should we be surprised to see the same thing in our musician colleagues? Maybe "delight" is a better word than "surprise."

So it was an incredible delight to welcome Josh Bell and Frederic Chiu back to our SPS studios. We're celebrating our 25th season this year and the greatest joy of this history is discovering how our returning friends have grown in their own lives and musicianship. And, if you've been a fan of Josh or Frederic's all along and want to exclaim "my how you've grown!" today, please feel free to do so!

Posted by Mary Lee at 10:26 AM | Comments (4)