An Invitation to Great Music

Alright.  I’ve posted a fair amount of criticism over the course of the Minnesota Orchestra labor dispute.  Let me shift gears for a moment, and share a story of the magic of attending a live concert.

This also has the benefit of explaining why you really, really should go the Orchestra concerts coming up.  And believe me, you have to go.

Let me tell you about the first time I heard The Planets live, under maestro Edo de Waart. To this day that concert remains in my top 3 to 5 music experiences ever.

Planets is known as an audience favorite… but for whatever reason I was fairly unfamiliar with the work before college. I had run across a copy of some bargain-label, “I Can’t Believe It’s Classical Music!” recording, which was good enough to make me aware of the work, but indifferent enough to keep me from becoming a truly passionate supporter. In college back in the 1990s I heard my hometown orchestra was performing it, and I wrangled a couple of friends together to go to the daytime Coffee Concert with a student discount.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, prepared me for what hit me that morning. “Mars” began with subdued malevolence that quickly turned into unbridled savagery. Such thundering, terrifying nihilism! The final hammer blows caught my breath, and I remember looking down at my knuckles—literally white they were grasping my chair so tight—and turning to my companions saying “I’ve never actually been scared at a concert before!”

“Jupiter” was another experience altogether, and I totally understood why at the first rehearsal of the piece way back when, the cleaning ladies in the concert hall tossed aside their mops and began dancing a jig.  Such good cheer—it was like all the warmth and universal joy of a year’s worth of holidays was embodied in music.

“Saturn” was… remarkable. As terrifying as “Mars” was for its sheer violence, it was nothing like the existential terror of this, “The Bringer of Old Age.” You could feel time running out, slipping away… and you instinctively clutching at it like a person fighting for their dying breaths. I remember groaning out loud and feeling an unnamed desperation, that in the end did quietly land on acceptance and understanding.

And of course, “Neptune.” A century after this piece was written, there is still nothing so otherworldly, so quintessentially sci-fi that captures the vastness of the cosmos. When the women’s voices come in, holding that ethereal note… it wasn’t so much that we heard them but that the walls themselves were shimmering. And that fade-out, done in the most primitive way of simply shutting a door… I cannot describe it. Minutes later you still didn’t know if you were hearing the sound….

Once again the Minnesota Orchestra is presenting The Planets, in concerts on February 14 and 15.  There are many reasons for going to these concerts, ranging from supporting the Orchestra and the Minnesota Chorale to seeing your friends on stage and off. Or even to hear how the acoustics of the Hall sound—the vast sonic range of The Planets will be an excellent test.

But most of all, go hear this astonishing work live.  Experience what I described for yourself.  There is nothing like it, and no recording can come close.

GO! Buy your tickets when you can, and GO!




3 thoughts on “An Invitation to Great Music

  1. In between my Freshman and Sophomore years of High School, I attended a Summer Music Camp in central Illinois (Bloomington, IL to be specific). I was already a huge fan of classical music as well as one who practiced my flute often and diligently. But the first week at the camp the concert band was made up of a large number of excellent musicians from high schools all over Illinois, as well as Wisconsin and other states. That is where I was introduced to “Mars, The Bringer of War” in an arrangement for band. WOW! Blown away? How about thrown through the wall away! I think every student in that band was just sitting on the edge of their seats ready to blow up! In short I was introduced to some of the very best music for concert band ever and much of it was much more difficult than what my high school band could play!!


  2. I’ve never heard the entire piece in concert, so I’m looking forward to it. I forwarded your post to the two friends who may accompany me. My favorite: “I’ve never actually been scared at a concert before!” Really? Not even “Night on Bald Mountain”? (smile)



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