About Scott Chamberlain

Hello and thanks for reading. I’m Scott Chamberlain, a resident of the fair city of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Welcome to my blog. It came about primarily because I was commenting extensively on the labor dispute involving the musicians and management of the Minnesota Orchestra—long-standing professional and personal ties to the organization have led me to follow the situation closely. Over time I’ll try to reprint some of my commentaries here to give them a more public airing, but I’ll try to keep current with my posts and comment on developments as they unfold. Although that’s the genesis of the blog, I like to comfort myself by believing I have other things to say. So a bit of background. For most of my life I’ve balanced two more or less equal passions: a deep fascination with the past and a love of music (mostly, but not entirely, of the classical kind). I’ve alternated between these two passions in terms of study, employment and recreation since my days as a very wee lad. On the “past” side of the equation, I’ve been an ethnohistorian working on the pre-conquest cultures of Mexico and a traditional historian specializing in Central American urban and cultural history. (I’ve been known to do people’s astrological “chart” in the Aztec manner. It’s a great party trick.) Along the way, I’ve lived or spent much time in Spain, Costa Rica and Mexico. On the “music” side of the equation, I’ve been an active classical singer (currently with the Minnesota Chorale), and an arts administrator with the Minnesota Chorale, Minnesota Orchestra, and One Voice Mixed Chorus. I’ve performed several operas, although my true calling as a performer is choral works. The blog name and cover shot are a fusion of these two trends. It’s named for Xochipilli, the Aztec patron god of music and the arts, and specifically for his public visage that hides his inscrutable true nature beneath. The illustration comes from the Codex Becker, a pre-Colombian Mixtec manuscript, and shows an ancient Mexican orchestra composed of flutes, whistles, trumpets and various percussion.

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

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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

Winter Solstice: Welcome Back the Light!

Today is the Winter Solstice!  It that time of year when we finally—and for those of us in Minnesota, usually far too slowly—start working our way back to summer’s light.  But winter has charms all its own, with fairy-tale frost, crisp air, and wonderful snowscapes everywhere.  So, let me welcome the new season with a playlist of winter-themed classical music.  Some of the following selections are delicate, some melancholy, some dramatic… but all take winter, ice, or snow as their point of departure.  Note that I have deliberately avoided Christmas or holiday music here… Christmas music deserves its own post.

Cheers! Continue reading

Music to Honor the Centennial of Armistice Day

One hundred years ago today, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, guns across Europe fell silent—an armistice had finally ended the Great War.  Germany, Austria, France and England agreed to stop the killing, which had become untenable for all the great countries of Europe.  In the aftermath, everyone began the difficult work of taking stock of what happened… and how much had changed.

Here in the United States, World War I doesn’t have the same resonance of World War II—the US only became involved toward the end of the conflict, and American soil had not come under direct attack.  But on the other side of the pond, the war was an epochal event.  Horrific casualties seemed to have wiped out an entire generation.  Venerable cities lay in ruins. Several empires collapsed, and even those that survived intact were swept by profound social changes.

Many classical composers fought in the war, and their works were instrumental in describing the horrors of the war, reminding us what was lost, and facilitating the process by which the world sought to understand what happened and move on from the calamity.

In light of Armistice Day, I’d like to share a classical playlist highlighting composers who fought in the war, died in the war, and struggled to explain it to their audiences.

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Classical Witches for Halloween

Halloween is once again here… and to celebrate, I wanted to put forth another playlist of appropriate classical music.  In years past, I’ve presented classical playlists of music depicting vampires, works based on the writings of Edgar Allen Poe, or even a collection of horror operas.

This year, let me feature one of the most archetypal images of Halloween: the witch.

Witches have long been depicted in classical music, and they continue to fascinate composers today. Sometimes these powerful women spark terror, but in other times witches inspire sympathy, or even admiration.

Enjoy, and Happy Halloween!

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South Africa: Magic in Soweto

My recap of our electric concert in Soweto is up over at MinnPost. Click here to read why this concert was so remarkable.

For me, this was one of the most important performances of my life, and to my mind encapsulates the spirit this remarkable tour.

[For my complete list of blogposts and articles following the Minnesota Orchestra/Minnesota Chorale on their historic South Africa tour, click here.]

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