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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.

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June 29, 2006

Shock of the Old

Attempts at historical accuracy can at times resemble the party game ?telephone?: one person whispers a simple phrase into another?s ear, and so on?ear to lips to ear around a circle of friends?until by degrees it mutates into something far more humorous or risqué® A trace of the original may survive in what is finally spoken aloud, but the contrast between starting point and endpoint usually reveals how easy it is for fact and meaning to go astray where human beings are concerned.

The absence of such garbling is just one reason why those performances that conjure the essential sound and feel of centuries-old music can be so transporting?as harpsichordist Jacques Ogg and flutist Wilbert Hazelzet remind us this week with works of Telemann and Bach. When artists with an exquisite grasp of early performance actually play instruments that could have been the composers? own, we hear something very close to what those composers? own audiences heard as well. (How their audiences listened relative to us is probably a different thing altogether.) It?s the aural equivalent of seeing once sooty frescoes restored to their former brilliance.

Except that in inspired performances of even very early works we find the original colors undimmed and the lines of communication unfrayed. The music just connects?as it always has?without the veils that can come to obscure other art forms over centuries. And when masters like Jacques and Wilbert offer it up, the experience can be just as exhilarating as hearing freshly composed music, taking us to zones where the ?shock of the new? might more precisely be called the shock of the old.

Posted by Vaughn Ormseth at 6:32 PM


June 21, 2006

"Time Unknown to Time Unknown"

Over the past several weeks, I’ve had the happy task of perusing all twelve of the Dale Warland Singers’ past Saint Paul Sunday appearances—from No. 001 (our very first program, etched for posterity onto three heavy quarter-inch reels) up through this week’s sublime No. 553, which you can hear here. We’re in the process of digitizing them for the SPS archive and other future projects, including a retrospective program that will draw from all of them, so stay tuned!

Each of the programs reveals this choir’s power to enthrall, whether the music being sung is quite early or freshly composed. And however worn the term “timeless” may be, it fits the music on this week’s program especially well—music that will outlive (or has already long outlived) its creators, or that, in different sense of the word, lifts us out of time altogether.

No music can achieve either, of course, unless it's brought to life by performers as responsive and inspired as these singers are. I won’t even try to describe the peculiar musical physics that conspire to make their time-suspensions possible, except to point to them and say they're miraculous. One opens up in the endlessly serene G-major conclusion to Howard Hanson’s “Prayer of the Middle Ages” (not too long after the choir sings “from time unknown to time unknown”). Morten Lauridsen’s “O Magnum Mysterium” is suffused with awe from beginning to end, sounding paradoxically centuries old and unmistakably of our own place and time. And when the Dale Warland Singers perform Carol Barnett's reimagination of the relatively straightforward Sacred Harp tune "McKay," it builds into an ecstatic celebration of creation's “rocks and hills and brooks and vales.”

These are just a few instances that especially captivated me. You’re sure to find your own...

Posted by Vaughn Ormseth at 4:56 PM | Comments (4)


June 14, 2006

Soul Music

Paul Coletti first visited Saint Paul Sunday in late October 2000. A few months earlier, I'd heard his luminous CD of little-known viola works by English composers, which I passed on to Bill. After hearing it, he wanted to get Paul on as soon as we could, too.

Even before he began to play that day we sensed something wonderful about this Scotsman of Italian descent. His warmth as a human being shone through right away, and when he spoke and played he was not only passionate about the many artistic and historical facets to his program, he was just as acutely responsive to the music"s emotional currents and undercurrents, which he communicated masterfully.

You'll hear what I mean again this Sunday when Paul revisits the studio with another returning friend, pianist Lydia Artymiw. Like Paul, she shares a deep communion with the composers whose music she performs. Nowhere in today's program is this truer than in their performance of Robert Schumann"s "Scenes of a Fairyland."

The work comes "straight from a higher power, as I see it," Paul says. "Whatever your belief in things, this is music that comes from deep deep deep inside the soul."

Posted by Vaughn Ormseth at 10:47 AM | Comments (7)


June 9, 2006

Happy Reunions

As Brian Newhouse, our guest host for this program, mentions, Ani Kavafian (violin), David Shifrin (clarinet) and André-Michel Schub (piano) all came up with the idea to form a trio while sitting in an airport coffee shop. This friendly camaraderie is one of my favorite elements of the chamber music world. Friends say to each other, "Wouldn't it be fun to play Bartók together?" and away they go. At the same time, each musician is working on other collaborations. In the six degrees of separation for the KSS Trio, Ani is an active soloist and a member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center; David has also worked with the CMSLC and is currently a professor at Yale; and André -Michel, a fellow CMSLC veteran, has been the artistic director of the Virginia Arts Festival Chamber Music Series since 1997.

And I spent the early years of my life in Virginia! Granted, I lived there long before 1997, but the game 'six degrees of separation' requires only tenuous connections, not accuracy. And I do feel a special connection to this program because this is my last program as a Saint Paul Sunday blogger and associate producer. I'm going to start an exciting new endeavor, and this theme of friendship is the perfect note to end on. Like these musicians, people who love classical music become friends though they live in distant places, and are happily reunited again and again because of this music they love.

I hope you enjoy the program with the KSS Trio and here's to musical friends yet to meet and friends reunited!

Posted by Suzanne Schaffer at 12:26 PM