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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.

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April 27, 2006

Music Lessons

St. Paul Sunday has provided me with twenty five years of the best music lessons in the world, but my music lessons in St. Paul didn’t start at a radio station. In the summer of 1975, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra held auditions for an Associate Conductor. Despite a resume that showed little experience standing in front of an orchestra I applied and surprised myself and my family by winning a position. We said good bye to our friends in the Pittsburgh Symphony and moved to St. Paul. My new title was Exxon-Arts Endowment Conductor and it was supposed to be a three year appointment at tops.

But one thing led to another and I wound up spending seven very busy seasons with the Chamber Orchestra, conducting close to six hundred concerts all over the country. My education as a conductor really came from my colleagues in the orchestra and an exposure to 17th and 18th century composers, new music and chamber music that had been neglected in my life as an orchestral player. In those days with the SPCO we spent close to three months each season on tour and my appreciation for the skill and passion of the players was immense.

When Minnesota Public Radio proposed a series of programs to be broadcast from their new studio, there was never any question about who the first guests would be — it would be our house band, the SPCO.

And so it was a very grand pleasure to see the SPCO in a broadcast studio again, twenty five years later. Many players have moved on, of course, but there were still quite a number who had played those first shows. Overall, the orchestra is larger now and the string playing has reached a height of refinement and power that is extraordinary. As ever, their playing touches my heart.

Posted by Bill McGlaughlin at 9:07 AM


April 20, 2006

Singular performance

Every time I think of the Borromeo String Quartet, one word comes to mind: Janacek. I was reading recently about festivals this summer and saw their name. "Oh yeah," I thought "that is the group that plays Janacek." Yes, they performed Haydn and Brahms beautifully on Saint Paul Sunday, but for me their rendition of "Intimate Letters" by Leos Janacek was out of this world. I would even venture to call it a singular performance. It had just the right balance of ferocity and delicacy. It was thrilling to listen to the quartet and realize that those two states of being—ferocity and delicacy—are actually not so far apart. I also thought Nicholas Kitchen (the first violinist) did a nice job of putting the quartet into historical context, explaining that an "affair" with younger women did not mean the same thing then that it does today. Their performance of "Intimate Letters" touched me both emotionally and intellectually.

What defines a singular performance for you?

Posted by Suzanne Schaffer at 9:16 AM | Comments (6)


April 14, 2006

Serene Alleluias

Week after week, the artists who visit Saint Paul Sunday are almost universally generous and inspired. By now, this shouldn’t surprise me, yet it still often does—movingly so. And it’s just as surprising to welcome someone whose chosen area is one I think I know (or if not quite know, at least cherish) who makes me realize that my preconceptions of it, however expansive, had barely scratched the surface of the riches within.

At 29, Paul Jacobs is one of the world’s great organists, perhaps best known for his epic performances of Bach and Messiaen, whose complete works he’s performed from memory, beginning to end, in continuous sequence. Those are near-mythic feats, to be sure, but after meeting Paul and listening to him perform, they now seem to me as much a sign of his profound love for the organ and its music as an expression of his thrilling musical powers.

In Paul’s hands, that love and those powers are infectious. He tirelessly affirms that organ music is a world unto itself—a world of great scope, beauty, virtuosity, even terror—and then beckons us inside with the charisma of a pied piper. Whatever Easter means (or may not mean) for you, I hope you, too, find this world as perfectly in tune with the astonishing promises of this day.

Posted by Vaughn Ormseth at 4:57 PM | Comments (21)


April 7, 2006

Not always 16

The name of Harry Christophers’s remarkable ensemble often provides a distraction from the heart of their work. Are there 16 members? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. For those of you counting today, it’s 18.

But I’d encourage you to move quickly past their name to their music. Today’s program is built around music inspired by the suffering of Christ, but it’s a theme that is not only limited to those who are Christian and celebrating Passion Week. The mystery of pain in our lives is a universal one and Harry Christophers has assembled some of the most beautiful music written for this annual time of reflection and growth. No matter what your own faith is or how it takes shape in your life, take a moment for yourself this week to let all of the gorgeous notes of Allegri’s Miserere fill your ears.

Posted by Mary Lee at 2:47 PM