Remembering Rautavaara and His Music

Today I learned some sad news—the passing of Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara at age 87.  I’m saddened by the loss, as he was not just a brilliant composer, but one of my favorites.  Long-time readers may remember that I’ve referenced his music many times here on my blog, and included his Angel of Light symphony on my list of the greatest works of the 20th century.

I first ran across his music through a recording of his breakout hit, Symphony No. 7, Angel of Light.  It was one of those gripping works that, while thoroughly modern, was written in a thoroughly approachable manner and contained a profound, palpable spirituality.  I started tracking down other works, which was made easy by the heroic efforts of the Finnish label Ondine—a company committed to releasing recordings of his new works nearly as soon as the ink was dry on the page.

As I’ve mentioned before, I had the good fortune to hear the world premiere of his Harp Concerto in 2000, performed by none other the Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra.  It was Osmo’s first performance with the Orchestra, some years before being appointed Music Director.  The inclusion of a world premiere by one of my favorite composers, coupled with a performance of Sibelius’s Sixth Symphony (one of my all-time favorite works of music) sealed the deal for me; even though I was living in Kansas at the time, I drove eight hours each way to hear the concert, and felt it was more than worth it.

Rautavaara’s career spanned many decades, and encompassed many different styles. To honor his life and music, allow me to share a few recommendations, for those who might wish to know him better. Continue reading

The Minnesota Orchestra Conquers Carnegie Hall

This week, the Minnesota Orchestra, along with superstar violinist Hilary Hahn, played at Carnegie Hall under the direction of Osmo Vänskä… and days later it’s still difficult to get my head around all that happened and what it all means.  As a teaser, let me free-associate a few words: brilliant, shattering, thrill-ride, fire, partnership, joy, pride, triumph.

And now, for a slightly longer account.

Please note that this is not exactly a review (for real reviews, please see those in the New York Times and New York Classical Review), but rather a sense of the occasion and some thoughts for what it all means.  Enjoy! Continue reading

Sibelius’s Kullervo

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Sibelius’s Kullervo is an undoubted masterpiece… but boy, is it a quirky one.  By all conventional rules of classical musicdom, it simply should not be.  Consider:

  • It was the first significant orchestral work Sibelius ever wrote.
  • It came from Finland, which at the time was distant corner of the Russian Empire that did not have a particularly strong or well-developed classical musical infrastructure.
  • It featured singers singing in Finnish—a language that was looked down upon as being low-brow at the time.
  • It chronicled the adventures of a decidedly unconventional hero from Finnish mythology.
  • It was only performed five times before Sibelius withdrew it and banned all future performances of the work; it was only after his death that his heirs authorized the work to be performed again.

In short, Kullervo is an oddity, an enigma… much like the legendary figure upon which it is based.

But make no mistake, it is a masterpiece that is as startling today as it was at its premiere in 1892. It is the work that created Sibelius’s reputation. And it is a work I love to distraction. Continue reading

Recording With a Great Symphony Orchestra

The Minnesota Orchestra just finished (…or perhaps “Finnished”) recording its CD of Sibelius’s Third, Sixth, and Seventh Symphonies for the Swedish label, BIS.  Principal Trumpet Manny Laureano posted his thoughts on the recording process over on his Facebook page; it was such a good piece, I asked if he’d allow me to cross-post it here on my blog.  He agreed!  Please enjoy—I think it gives a fantastic insider look into the creative process.  I’ll keep you posted on when the CD is released! 

–Scott

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Lots of you know this past couple of weeks has had the Minnesota Orchestra recording in addition to playing our season finale and “Inside the Classics” concert. But precious few really know the inside baseball of putting out a memorable recording with a great orchestra. Here’s your chance. I hope I do the process justice. Continue reading

Season Finale, Season Review

It’s been a week since the finale of the Minnesota Orchestra’s 2014-2015 season… a season filled with remarkable achievements that I don’t know I could have imagined at this time last year. And of course, things didn’t end with that final concert… the Orchestra jumped right into a week-long, monster recording session to finish up their album of Sibelius’s Third, Sixth, and Seventh Symphonies.

But before it gets any later, I wanted to share my feelings on the final concert, as well as the season as a whole. Continue reading

A Concert Ascending

My introduction to the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams came when I was 17. A recent convert to vocal music (back in the day, I was more of a pianist and oboist, in that order), I was looking for music to compete with at an upcoming competition.

“You know,” my teacher at the time said, “I think this one would really suit your voice… and your entire personality. Give it a shot”

That is how I came across “Silent Noon.” Continue reading

A New Season with the Minnesota Orchestra!

Earlier today, the Minnesota Orchestra announced the lineup for its 2015-2016 season. In truth, “announced” seems far too prosaic a word for such an incredible, bursting-at-the-seams extravaganza.

Perhaps “unleashed” is a better description.

Well, I’m falling all over myself with excitement, but let me take a few minutes to share my highlights, and explain why you will simply have to see each and every concert. (For reference, the season calendar is here.) Continue reading