Verdi’s Mighty Requiem: A Preview

Allow me to share a story.

Some years ago, while I was still teaching at the University of Kansas, a colleague stopped by my office to chat. I was kicking back with some music on my headphones at the time; curious, she asked what I was listening to.

I explained I was listening to Verdi’s Requiem, because it had been “that kind of day.” Continue reading

Sommerfest 2019: An Exceptional Season

Minnesota Orchestra just announced its lineup for the Sommerfest summer season, a season titled Música Juntos (“Music Together”)… and first things first.  I need you to stop reading—stop whatever you’re doing—and go immediately to make plans to see the concerts on July 13, and one of the season finale concerts being performed on August 2 and 3.  Go.  I’ll wait.

No, I’m serious. Go. Right now.

I don’t care about those vacation plans you made.  I don’t care who is getting married.  Just go make your preparations. You will thank me later.

Okay… back?  Great!  Now, let me say a few words about this fantastic season the Orchestra has lined up.  I won’t cover every concert, but I wanted to share my ideas about why I’m so excited. Continue reading

Classical Music to Welcome Spring

Happy Spring!

At 4:58 local time, spring will officially be underway.  This is particularly good news for those of us in Minnesota—we are just coming off record-breaking snowfalls that have made the past couple of months miserable.

I wanted to celebrate the new season with a classical playlist of spring-themed music. It’s a diverse collection that captures the many moods of spring… enjoy! Continue reading

Classical Playlist for St. Patrick’s Day

We’re fast approaching St. Patrick’s Day—a time when everyone celebrates their Irish heritage, whether they’re Irish or not.

Ireland is justly famous for its music, and in the spirit of this festive holiday I thought I’d share a playlist of classical works with a tie to the Emerald Isle.  So, grab a pint of green beer (or better yet, some fine Irish whiskey) and enjoy! Continue reading

Lady Six Monkey: The Great Warrior Queen of the Mixtecs

Far too often, the stories of great women—or perhaps more accurately, great writers, politicians, scientists, and leaders who simply happen to be women—have been lost, forgotten, or otherwise written out of history. All of us have a duty to help reclaim these stories… to bring these voices back into the open.

With that in mind, I wanted to share the story of a remarkable woman, whose story really deserves to be better know. She was a great warrior queen of the Mixtec people of southern Mexico… a formidable empire builder who played a pivotal role in the history of the Mixtec people: Lady Six Monkey (Mixtec: Ñuñuu Dzico-Coo-Yodzo), who was born into the royal house of the Mixtec city of Jaltepec in 1073.

The warrior queen Lady Six Monkey in her element, leading an attack and capturing prisoners of war

And believe me, Six Monkey lived in a dangerous time. In 963, a century before Six Monkey was born, a clash of dynastic politics had ripped the Mixtec world apart, culminating in a ferocious war known as the “War of Heaven.” Whole cities were annihilated, and whole royal dynasties wiped out. The conflict led to a major restructuring of Mixtec power politics, with a number of new centers rising out of the ashes. One was a new kingdom centered around the city of Tilantongo, another was a neighboring kingdom based at Jaltepec—Lady Six Monkey’s hometown. Between these two kingdoms was the smaller kingdom based in Huachino. In the War of Heaven’s aftermath, Huachino was one of the last of the older, classical kingdoms left standing. It was much reduced in power, and struggled to hold its own against the new kingdoms rising around it, but its royal house was still one of the most ancient, venerable lineages in the region. Six Monkey’s story played out against a backdrop of these rival kingdoms seeking to seize power in a Mixtec-style Game of Thrones that involved communities across La Mixteca.

And for a while, no one played this game better than Lady Six Monkey. Continue reading

Mahler’s Second Symphony: Rising from the Ashes

The Minnesota Orchestra/Minnesota Chorale CD of Mahler’s Second Symphony, Resurrection, is just being released, and I wanted to share some personal thoughts and notes about this astonishing work.

Mahler is a curious composer—a bold visionary whose art is full of contradictions. His guiding philosophy was perhaps best summed up in a famous conversation he had with Finnish composer Jean Sibelius in 1907. As Sibelius recounted later,

“When our conversation touched on the essence of symphony, I said that I admired its severity and style and the profound logic that created an inner connection between all the motives. This was the experience I had come to in composing. Mahler’s opinion was just the reverse. “Nein, die Symphonie müss sein wie die Welt. Sie müss alles umfassen.” (No, the symphony must be like the world. It must embrace everything.)

That quote perfectly captures essence of Mahler’s music. It is a collision of thoughts, emotions, ideas and sensations that are constantly intersecting and interacting with each other. At times, it’s as if you were reading a story where each paragraph was written by a different author in a different style—such as Shakespeare followed by the Brothers Grimm, Emily Dickinson, William Faulkner, Herodotus and O. Henry.

In the end, the cumulative effect is stunning, touching on all parts of the human experience… and vividly recreating the totality of human experience.  It is no wonder why so many love his music.

Mahler’s music isn’t at all hard to listen to, but it is a wonderfully challenging to fully comprehend it. It rewards—if not requires—repeated listening and conversations to grasp its many layers.

The Second Symphony, Resurrection, is a magnificent example of Mahler’s achievement, and one of the easiest to get your arms around. It is a work about loss and a plunge into darkness… before finding inner strength and a renewed hope that allows you to rise to a new level of existence greater you had known before. It is about rebirth and new glory.

Let me explain a bit about why you don’t want to miss Osmo Vänskä, the Minnesota Orchestra, and the Minnesota Chorale’s performance of it… plus provide a few words about the circumstances surrounding the creation of this CD, which have been, and continue to be incredibly meaningful for me. Continue reading

My Christmas Favorites

It’s Christmas Eve, and I wanted to send along my very best wishes to all my readers who are celebrating this magical time of year! As a musical Christmas Card to you all, here’s a quick list of my favorite classical Christmas music. I don’t claim this is an exhaustive list, or that these they are the best selections, but all are of personal meaning to me.

Enjoy the holiday, stay safe, and may you have many blessings in the year ahead! Continue reading