By guest blogger Mandy Meisner
Love. The most universal human endeavor of all. We spend our entire lives chasing it, keeping it and recovering from it. Love can inspire us to accomplish feats we never thought possible and change who we are. And love’s power encompasses far more than the romantic versions. Without passion for the things we hold dear in life, surely we would be crushed by the weight of our varied obligations. Love was also the theme of the Minnesota Orchestra’s recent Guarantors’ Concerts led by guest conductor Nathalie Stutzmann.
It’s been a long time since I’ve written about music and I have missed it. A new demanding job, bold changes on the horizon and two teenagers have occupied much of my time of late. This is not what has kept me from the Minnesota Orchestra though. A little over a year ago, overnight, I went deaf in one ear with what’s called sudden neurological hearing loss. By the time I saw the right specialists, nothing could be done.
Overall, I’ve adapted well. But one of the harder aspects is how it has affected my confidence to write about and enjoy listening to music. It seems strange to say that about one of the things I love best. My lifelong love for music has given me so much: incredible studying opportunities in my youth, beautiful people to make music with as an adult—and later— being able to listen and write for one of the best orchestras in the world.
My editor at the Orchestra has been nothing but encouraging and accommodating. My hesitation is self-imposed and for I think good reason. If I can no longer hear the music, what merit do I have as an audience member—let alone as a blogger? I worried my love affair was over.
But love always finds a way in, if you let it.
So, on an overcast Fall day that held the promise of winter in its breath, I entered a crowded Orchestra Hall. I sat closer to the stage now to be able to hear better and see the music visually. I was sandwiched between two lovely women, Lois from St. Cloud, who had been coming for almost a decade first with a group, now alone. Parked next to her was a cane cheerfully painted with flowers. And Teddy from Owatonna, sporting a sharp salt and pepper pageboy, who surprised herself by loving the Minnesota Orchestra more than she expected to in her retirement.
Three of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances were a perfect short intro to the concert. Only ten minutes in length, they are delightful jewels strung together, full of joy and cinematic drama with sugared bits of sound that felt like pulls of cotton candy. The Orchestra sways and breaths as one, eyebrows raise and furrow above the stands. Guest conductor Nathalie Stutzmann had the most beautiful hands. They floated in artfully graceful movements, a subtle upturn of palm, a slight extension of elbow released whole melodic worlds.
Next was the piece I came for: Dvořák’s Romance for Violin and Orchestra. Soloist Erin Keefe, who is normally seated in the concertmaster chair, walks onstage in a brightly colored dress, splashes of orange and blue greet us. She begins quickly. The piece is memorized freeing her face and body to be expressive. The music is intimate, delicately sweet and in parts so quiet, I lose the sound altogether only to get it back in a long lush phrase that breaks my heart with its beauty.
Wagner’s Prelude and “Liebestod” from Tristan and Isolde musically depicts this complicated love story well. The build up is constant with moments of haunting dialogue that start in the woodwinds; first bassoon, then clarinet, then cellos. There is an undercurrent of agitation throughout before we are drowned in an ocean of sound.
Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 finishes the concert with a comfortable and substantial end. It starts out with a simple daydream, that evolves into something more thoughtful and energetic. Its later movements are lovely contrasts of gentle lulls and frenzied interludes, revisiting that innocent daydream. But the ending? I could not help but appreciate, for in perfect unison before the final notes were played, were spaces of complete silence. It is the silence in between that makes the music even more beloved.
I realized in those brief moments of quiet, sandwiched in between Teddy and Lois, that love never really disappears. It may change in ways we don’t like or understand, but if we’re lucky, we will have faith that love in all its complicated, cherished and unpredicted forms will always be there.
And for me, love will always reside at Orchestra Hall.