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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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August 31, 2006

Silver and Gold

Over the past 25 years, Saint Paul Sunday has hosted numerous artists and ensembles who approach or claim "household name" status. That level of celebrity is a feat in any field, but perhaps especially in classical music. And we welcome any chance to bring our listeners artists with whom they're likely to be familiar. Sir James fits certainly fits that bill.

Given the extra fizz of adrenaline these programs carry, though, we're never quite sure how they'll turn out. We're reflexively prepared for curve balls...

Invariably, the intimacy and warmth of the series' format—and the generosity of the guests, whether they're newly emerging or superstars—take over. At that point it's just a few people making wonderful music in a studio. It's a magic Sir James tuned into in a heartbeat, one he and his millions of fans know well.

Today's program is a truly impromptu sampling of some of Sir James's favorites, chosen on the spot and performed with the elan and celebrated sound that make him beloved the world over.

Posted by Vaughn Ormseth at 5:38 PM | Comments (6)


August 24, 2006

Viele Danken

I first heard of Milan Turkovic from Chuck Ullery, the solo bassoonist of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, who returned from a European tour with a suitcase full of records (yes, Virginia, it was that long ago.) and delighted tales of this masterful bassoonist he'd met in Vienna. We listened to the records and I had to agree pretty fearsome bassoon playing. And beautiful. And elegant.

As time when on and I kept spotting Milan's name on recordings (especially those of Musicus Concentus Wien, under Harnoncourt), I resolved to make the acquaintance of this demon bassoon player. He was touring with Ensemble Wien-Berlin, the superstar wind quintet made of soloists from the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics but we never seemed able to make the dates work.

Finally I just asked Milan's manager if he would consider coming to Eugene, Oregon to play with the orchestra I was leading there. He would, it turned out and delighted us all with his Vivaldi and Mozart and extraordinarily deft coaching and lovely story telling. Here was the complete package it seemed.

I had to leave Eugene on the morning after the concert but left my car keys and directions to Hobbit Beach, a favorite secluded spot on the coast. When I got back from L.A., there were my car keys and a snapshot of the beach signed "Viele Danken, Milan." We've been friends ever since and it has been a special pleasure to invite Milan Turkovic to play on Saint Paul Sunday.

Posted by Bill McGlaughlin at 3:03 PM | Comments (6)


August 16, 2006


We recorded this program, Hélène Grimaud's second for Saint Paul Sunday, at our favorite New York City space, the concert hall at the American Academy of Arts and Letters. It seemed especially fitting for her. The daughter of linguists, Hélène Grimaud's first artistic explorations were with writers and books (the German Romantic poet Novalis in particular); music came a little later.

I'll never forget a quiet few minutes she and I had after the recording. With her beautiful performances still ringing in my ears, a young assistant at the institute gave us an impromptu tour of some adjacent manuscript and meeting rooms. He showed us a sheaf of handwritten scores (one by Copland) as well as a high majestic library space where Academy fellows gather in the silent presence of countless first editions.

You can hear Novalis's searching poetry in Hélène's playing...there are no doubt many other writers and musicians humming with life there too. For me, there's a delicious paradox to her artistry. On the one hand, her vision is uncompromising—she seems to know exactly where she'll take us and does so with great daring. On the other hand, she?s remarkably free—liberated of preconceptions and faithful to her own voice. The combination is exhilarating.

One of the works she performs this week embraces this paradox wonderfully: John Corigliano's "Fantasia on an Ostinato," which uses the contours of Beethoven's seventh symphony as the outer structure for free-form candor within. In Hélène?s hands, it's spellbinding.

Posted by Vaughn Ormseth at 10:50 AM | Comments (5)


August 8, 2006

There's no place like home...

For me, one line really stands out about this Saint Paul Sunday program with the Takācs Quartet, of which two members are Hungarian: right before playing the piece by Béla Bartók, a Hungarian composer, one of the musicians said that the melody really reminds him of home. At that moment, playing a movement from Bartók's String Quartet No. 6, he felt homesick for Hungary. It reminded me what personal meaning a piece of music can carry, even if it's something the composer never imagined. It also reminded me that being a professional musician is not easy.

When I tried to think of a piece of music that really reminded me of home, I realized I've never been out of the country long enough to be that homesick. I do remember, though, listening to Ravel's string quartet while I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed the woodwork in my first apartment. What piece of music, or even type of music, reminds you of home?

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Posted by Suzanne Schaffer at 9:13 AM | Comments (3)