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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.

« October 2006 | Main | December 2006 »

November 17, 2006

"...and your little dog too!"

Every ensemble that I have had the pleasure of meeting through Saint Paul Sunday has had a hidden talent, hobby or interest that makes them all the more engaging and adds nuance to their character. Be it Helene Grimaud's connection to wolves or Claude Frank's playful reenactment of the 1940's film Song of Love, it seems like all our guests have something more to offer to than just music. OPUS ONE is no exception. Its members are jokesters, story tellers and purveyors of knowledge who kept us listening, eager for more insights into their world.

There's another little tid-bit of information about OPUS that I almost forgot to mention - Anne-Marie's cuddly white dog, Samantha. Throughout the session, Little Sammy sat with her ears perked up, appearing to enjoy the music just as much as the Saint Paul Sunday staff.

It's funny how observing that little dog's self-discipline as she sat still through the recording session made me realize what a dedicated group of musicians this is. There is no question that Samantha is Anne-Marie's pet, because she embodies the quiet grace and discipline of Anne-Marie and the rest of the group. Each piece OPUS ONE takes on, whether it's new music by Tsontkakis or a classic work by Mozart, is as full of character as OPUS ONE's members, and is executed with great attention and discipline that only they can give it.

Posted by Chris Danforth at 11:04 AM | Comments (3)


November 8, 2006

From the heart

When I go back and listen through past Saint Paul Sunday programs it takes me a little by surprise to find how warmly I respond to programs featuring (or embracing) violists. Just scratching the surface several come to mind—Paul Coletti, Kim Kashkashian, Paul Neubauer, Michael Tree—and certainly this week's program with Helen Callus.

In the right hands, there's something about the viola's directness that makes it hard to resist. It's an exceptionally faithful medium for human music-making, perhaps because of the timbre and range of its voice, perhaps its friendly size. It makes sense that Mozart, a supreme unifier of the human and the divine, prized the viola over other instruments, even picking it up from time to time to play with friends.

In this program, Helen's splendid way with the viola is what magnetizes us and reminds us of her instrument's knack for making connections. Perhaps the uncanniest of these is the one she shares with British composer Pamela Harrison, who happened to grow up in the same tiny Kent village she did and whom she's helping rescue from obscurity.

Most of the hour's connections, though, are under the radar, where they delight or move us without our quite knowing why. Occasionally throughout Helen's performances we hear textural and timbral shifts that seem to recall a singer mid-passaggio, or the slight catch in the voice of someone speaking with a lump in his throat. The moments are always natural and subtle and yet leave little doubt that this wonderful violist has us in the palm of her hand.

Posted by Vaughn Ormseth at 2:45 PM | Comments (3)


November 2, 2006

Family Affair

"You're going to Spain? Bring me back a guitar. Nothing brings so much joy as strumming a guitar." (These are the words of Claude Debussy, who wrote so much wonderful Spanish music but only set foot in Spain one afternoon, to see la corrida - the bullfight.)

There are times when I listen to a great guitarist and think, if only I could play six measures like that, I'd gladly trade anything I've learned to do in music for the experience. But I don't play. Instead I listen to guitarists with a pleasure no less than Debussy's and never more than in the company of my favorite family of musicians, the Romeros.

Growing up in Malaga, in the heartland of Spanish guitar playing, listening from birth to their father, the celebrated guitarist, Celedonio Romero, breathing in the spirit of flamenco and classical guitar on the streets of Andalucia, Celin and Pepe Romero remind me of the origin of the word "inspire" to take in with the breath.

The Romero family, now happily playing, teaching and building guitars into the fourth generation have long been among my favorite visitors to Saint Paul Sunday and this program stands out as one of the most personal and inviting we've ever recorded.

When I asked Pepe what it is that makes the music he and his brother play so compelling, he simply said, "It's the perfume. The guitar has such magic in the sound and drama in its quietness."

Posted by Bill McGlaughlin at 4:05 PM | Comments (6)