Sunday, January 12, 2014

Definition of "Sublime" -- Musicians of MN Orchestra Concert

If you were to look up the definition of the word "sublime" in the dictionary, the first thing you'd encounter is that there are two entries, one for the verb, the other for the adjective.  They are related, which makes sense.  After all, they are exactly the same word!  The next thing you'd see is the pronunciation, i.e. su-blime, with a horizontal line over the i that signifies a long vowel sound or sounds like "eye."  This is not to be confused with the "sublime" used by a large multinational hair care and cosmetics company that has pronounced this word as "su-bleem" in its TV ads (and driven me nuts!).  The definition focuses on the action (for the verb) of transforming a solid or liquid into a vapor, or transforming something ordinary into an exalted or valuable form.  The adjective: "lofty, grand, or exalted in thought, expression, or manner; outstanding spiritual, intellectual, or moral worth; inspiring awe."

Musicians of the MN Orchestra Jan. 10, 2014 (photo: Nate Ryan)

The concert last night at the Ted Mann Concert Hall given by the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra (MOMO) with the Minnesota Chorale, conducted by Hugh Wolff, was indeed sublime in every sense of that adjective.  How?  Let me count the ways....

Fierce energy and precise ensemble playing.  I had not heard Beethoven's Coriolanus Overture in many years; in fact, so long I didn't remember it.  So the concert began with Beethoven's sonic punches and the fierce energy of this music.  I'd never seen Hugh Wolff conduct in concert and was fascinated by his understated presence but amazing stick technique.  With his gesture clarity, he enhanced the Orchestra's excellence in precision ensemble playing and dynamic range and control.  Wow.  Eight minutes of pure joy listening to not particularly happy music -- it's about Coriolanus, after all, and this Roman General met a rather bad end.

Total collaboration.  I'd not heard Benjamin Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem before, and I am ecstatic that my first listening experience of it was at a live concert with this orchestra.  Fiendishly difficult music that takes the listener on a journey from despair to acceptance.  Hugh Wolff and the musicians seemed to me to be of one mind and one heart playing this music with intense concentration and control.  I was absolutely astounded by the increasing volume that rose gradually until suddenly we're in this vortex of sound (not related to a polar vortex).  I can't wait to hear this music again, the sooner the better.

The Mozart Requiem.  Mozart was working on this commission when he died, so it was unfinished.  We also no longer know what was Mozart's and what came after by several composing students and musicologists.  So you can accept the work as it is, or allow a little mystery in with the gorgeous sounds.  I'd never heard the whole Requiem in concert before.  It's most famous performance is probably in the movie Amadeus.  But there's so much more!  Remaining in the minor throughout, this music mourns, soars, resists, thunders, and rests into acceptance.  I kept waiting for that major chord of light, especially in the "lux aeterna," but it never came.  Maybe if Mozart had lived to finish it himself?   

The Minnesota Chorale.  This choir has magnificent cohesion with a warm blending of voices and such clear enunciation that I could follow them in the Mozart Requiem without referring to my program.  They are really the MOMO of choirs -- precision ensemble singing, dynamic range and control, and a depth of musicality not often found.  They embody artistic excellence along with MOMO.  I love listening to them sing with MOMO.  They complement each other beautifully.

A Sublime Quartet of Soloists. Maria Jette, soprano; Adriana Zabala, mezzo-soprano; James Taylor, tenor (no, not that James Taylor!); Philip Zawisza, baritone.  Clear tone, pure sound, well-balanced when they sang together, and a wonderful projection of the words as if narrating a story.  These four were well matched and a joy to hear.

A Moving Tribute to a VIP.  Just before the Mozart, cellist Marcia Peck gave a moving tribute to retiring personnel manager Julie Haight-Curran.  It's rare to catch a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes and the relationships the musicians have with administrative staff.  They clearly adored Julie and it was, in Peck's words, "a stab in the heart" to see her retire.  Full disclosure: Julie is a good friend of mine, and watching this tribute moved me to tears.  It's so nice to see that kind of recognition, respect, and gratitude, and Julie deserves every bit of it.

This concert's theme was "Memory and Reverence."  Despite the seriousness of the music, and the somber mood of it, there was a sense of joy to the performance that gave the music an uplifting energy and awe-inspiring aura that I am especially grateful to have experienced live, in person....   


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