Saturday, 13 October 2012

A Graced Presence

     On September 17, 2012, the Minnesota Orchestra graced the Lake Harriet band shell for the first time since 2007. Their purpose? To thank the people of Minneapolis for supporting the arts (before going on strike, that is). In the end, hundreds of bikers, young families, couples young and old, as well as those strolling around Lake Harriet stopped their adventures to listen to music on a beautiful evening. The pieces played had great variety, and aside from the classic opening of Beethoven's 5th Symphony, the program included Fanfare, Solitude, Finlandia, Dance of the Tumblers, Russian Sailors, Carnival Overture, and even the Star Wars theme. What's not to enjoy?
     When we arrived, Beethoven's famous Fifth Symphony was filling the summer air. This piece opened the hour long concert majestically, and the audience responded very positively to the familiarity. Born in 1770, Beethoven is one of the most celebrated composers of the Baroque era, and he is also considered a composer who “foreshadowed” the coming of the Romantic era (Wright, 210). Each and every violinist was completely drawn into what he or she was playing, and, as a core of dancers communicate with the lead, they followed the conductor to make the most they could out of the notated dynamics. Beethoven's 5th is unique because of the minor and major themes work together and later become resolved. It makes for a wonderful, exciting listening adventure that provokes interesting responses and thoughts.
     Fanfare for Prairie Skies, composed by Stephen Heitzeg, a local from St. Paul, reminded me of Aaron Copland's Rodeo and Appalachian Spring. The trumpets, french horns, and punctuating percussion added to the feel of being out under the skies and the sun, out in the open, on a beautiful day. It was an interesting piece; as a fanfare, it is not extensive, but short. If it were longer, many listeners would have grown tired of the blaring and the pounding. However, because it varied, had a rondo theme, and was short and sweet, it was sincerely accepted.
     Solitude on the Mountain which followed, was composed by Ole Bull, a Norwegian violinist, during the late Classical to early Romantic eras. The piece employs the use of the double bass, cello, viola, and violins exclusively. The piece is soothing, relaxing, and it was interesting to watch how it affected the audience; wild children stopped rampaging, the elderly couple next to me reached out and held hands, the blue, four month old pit-bull puppy stopped carousing with her playmate. It is a very peaceful composition, and when it ended, the humming of the violins faded out. The audience seemed to hold their breath as the end came slowly, and it made one feel content.
     Next was Sibelius' Finlandia, one of my favorite Sibelius pieces. The Finlandia Hymn is literally a musical outline of Finland's history. The beginning with the ominous brass and bass symbolizes the overbearing of Russia, but then the melody turns to a passionate theme that stands for freedom (Siren). Three quarters into the piece, flutes dominate the melody change to what is recognized as the hymn “Be Still My Soul” the violins are added subtly while the swells, cymbals, trumpets, and violins added character to a piece with a taste of folk themes. This piece impressed everyone, as it had a triumphant, majestic conclusion.
     Rapid violins followed by the brass announced something exciting, perhaps Spring? Or maybe a dance in the Spring? Dance of the Tumblers composed by Rimsy Korsakov. My favorite musicians to watch in this piece were the violins, but also the cellos. They are so full of strength as well as a certain passionate sense. The oboe had a solo with an air of mystery before the violins and brass began the ending. It is certainly an exciting piece, and being a dancer myself, I felt the urge to do a Mazurka. I noticed many young children actually ran and danced around, choreographing their own patterns and making circles around the picnic blankets. Korsakov made this piece full of energy and excitement, and no less.
     A minor piece full of tumultuous themes, its duple timing also drives one to dance. It brought memoties of Tchaikovsky's “Chardaz” dance from Swan Lake. I was able to appreciate the way Brimer added such character to the music in Russian Sailor's Dance; I imagined quite a few different sailors, each with varied build and attributes to their name. However; in this piece, they were all drunk, and they were also all dancing around in a carousing manner. I found it interesting how each musician was able to display different emotions during the variant pieces, as music has such an effect on our moods. This was a fast paced, intense expression with a flair of Russia. Do not run into one of their sailors: Cymbals will crash, and violins will wail in tune with the wind on the high seas. In essence, this wonderful piece is quite exciting.
     The second to last piece, composed by Antonin Dvorak, was the Carnival Overture. This overture started suddenly and moved quickly. The beginning does not waste time in employing almost every instrument in the orchestra, and throughout Carnival Overture, a few instruments are able to have brief chorus solos (that is, of their instrument as a group) of the theme including the flutes, an oboe, the two cellos. The texture thickened as each instrument piled on the top of another, but before it became overwhelming, everything was swept together again. People were so glad to be outside listening, so close to the orchestra; the swift changes from quiet major themes to the boisterous minor themes did not startle anyone, but rather made the audience listen for more. It was distracting, although disturbingly appropriate to the piece's name (Carnival Overture) when a man protested animal cruelty by walking around in a bright yellow chicken suit.  Nevertheless, when the trumpets sounded their arpeggio signaling that the end was about to begin, everyone listened with rapt attention while the entire orchestra blared “The End!” triumphantly.
     The last piece, I assume, was tacked on simply to close the evening in a fun way. The Star Wars theme written for the films (by the same name) by John Williams. It starts with a thrilling fanfare that lasts for the first twenty-five seconds, and then fades into the violins, who carry the theme. When the fanfare returns, more percussion is added until it slows and grows quieter with a short minor flute solo. Of course, it gives the theme for each character, the good, the bad, and the ugly, but watching it performed live was rather interesting. Though not a fan of Star Wars, I noticed I actually liked the piece and could respect it, if only for the fact that it is a forever famous composition that symbolizes each character and science fiction.
Lake Harriet and the Minnesota Orchestra should spend more time with one another, as it is not simply the bikers who enjoyed the music. People of all ages were present; because music is a great invention. The variety of the concert and the selection of the pieces played was excellent. The Minnesota Orchestra began with triumph and finished with the same. However, something had happened that had not in five years: People were able to be outside, listen to classical music, and truly appreciate it.

Siren, Vesa. "Finlandia." Sibelius. Sibelius Family, 2000. Web. 20 Sept. 2012. 
Wright, Craig M. Listening to Music. Australia: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2011. Print.
Photo Credits
 A little reflection paper I wrote after a really great evening outdoors!  The weather was beautiful, and even though we stood for the entire concert, I scratched notes hurriedly whilst simply enjoying how fun it was to be outdoors listening to a live orchestra!

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