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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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October 26, 2006

A Marvelous Instrument

When the Guarneri String Quartet recently stopped by, the ensemble's second (and sometimes first) violinist John Dalley joked with Bill McGlaughlin about John's literal game of musical chairs within the group. Bill went on to crack a great off-the-cuff comment that John's violin is "one of those rare and marvelous instruments that can go high as well as low." If you take that line and remove it from the context of their light-hearted repartee, it becomes the perfect description for the Guarneri's visit. The moment their bows hit the strings, they become one rare voice sounding from a marvelous instrument as they perform an engaging repertoire that has both brilliant highs and soft tragic lows.

From the jokey atmosphere at the start, the Guarneri moved straight into the dark, somber beginning of Mozart's Dissonant quartet. That's another impressive thing about them—their ability to be so comfortable, casual, even modest at times and then turn to their instruments and express such strong emotions. With each performance and each conversation I was drawn further in. At one moment, Bill and the quartet would be casually chatting with each other, and the next I heard music played with such varied dynamics that I swayed with sadness and, moments later, was carried away on a joyful romp (that was the Ravel quartet).

The Guarneri's playing carried me away and its memory will stay with me for a long time. I'm curious to hear how you respond to their visit. I hope you enjoy the ride. I know I did.

Posted by Chris Danforth at 2:54 PM | Comments (2)


October 11, 2006

Fall Phantasy

As a member of the Saint Paul Sunday staff, I have the delightful task of auditioning the week's show before it's broadcast. This week's undertaking was to attend to a Phastasm. As the temperature dropped and the leaves changed color, I found myself thinking of the 70's horror film by the same name, now a cult classic. Having never heard the ensemble Phantasm's music before, I wondered if I was in for a scary ghost tale from our resident bard, Bill McGlaughlin. I powered up my CD player and put on my headphones prepared for anything. It was a splendid listening experience—more like a soundtrack to the French film Tous les matins du monde than a horror movie.

In this week's show, the English viol consort Phantasm resurrects Baroque and Renaissance music in performances of works that sound as fresh and new as contemporary masterpieces. That's the thing that strikes me most about Phantasm—its sound is both rhythmically and harmonically complex, more modern than medieval. So take a listen, and let Phantasm set the tone for your own autumn reverie.

Posted by Chris Danforth at 4:15 AM | Comments (2)