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VÄNSKÄ CONDUCTS STRAUSS

Livestream performance without in-person audience.
Osmo Vänskä conducts only Strauss’
Metamorphosen.

Artists

Program

    • Devonté Hynes
    • Perfectly Voiceless
      • Brian Mount, percussion
      • Erich Rieppel, percussion
      • Jason Arkis, percussion
      • Kevin Watkins, percussion
    • ca. 12’
    • Richard Strauss
    • Metamorphosen, Study for 23 Solo Strings
      • Osmo Vänskä, conductor
    • ca. 26’
    • Kari Sundström
    • Four Portraits
      • Portrait 1
      • Portrait 2
      • Portrait 3
      • Portrait 4
        • R. Douglas Wright, trombone
        • Kari Sundström, trombone
        • Andrew Chappell, bass trombone
        • Steven Campbell, tuba
    • ca. 15’

Profiles

Osmo Vänskä, conductor

Since becoming the Orchestra’s music director in 2003, Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä has led the ensemble on several major international tours, including historic tours to Cuba and South Africa and six visits to Europe. His recording projects with the Orchestra have met with great success, including a disc of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony issued in summer 2020. In January 2020 Vänskä began a new tenure as music director of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra. He is also the honorary conductor of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. Vänskä, who began his music career as a clarinetist, has recorded Bernhard Henrik Crusell’s three Clarinet Quartets and Kalevi Aho’s Clarinet Quintet for the BIS label and is in the process of recording several duos for clarinet and violin which he has commissioned with his wife, violinist Erin Keefe.

More

Minnesota Orchestra

The Grammy Award-winning Minnesota Orchestra, founded in 1903 and led since its centennial by Music Director Osmo Vänskä, is recognized for distinguished performances around the world, award-winning recordings, radio broadcasts, educational engagement programs, and commitment to building the orchestral repertoire of the future. The Orchestra tours regularly throughout Minnesota and nationally, and has also toured abroad in Australia, Canada, East Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and South Africa. It performs a wide variety of music at nearly 175 concerts in a typical year, primarily at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. It will begin its 2020-21 concert season in October with concerts in Orchestra Hall featuring smaller ensembles of Minnesota Orchestra musicians performing for TV, radio and online audiences.

At Home Video Collection

Program notes

  • Perfectly Voiceless

    Devonté Hynes

    • Born
      Dec 23, 1985
      London, England

    Perfectly Voiceless

    • Premiered
      Sep 27, 2018

    Singer, instrumentalist, songwriter, composer, record producer and author Devonté Hynes has found success in numerous musical genres, including R&B, electronic, indie rock, funk and classical. A native of London, he is a former member of the dance-punk band Test Icicles, and has released albums under the names Lightspeed Champion and Blood Orange. He has also made solo appearances at the Pitchfork and Coachella music festivals. In September 2018 he collaborated with Chicago-based Third Coast Percussion ensemble and the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago to create an evening of percussion music and dance that included the 12-minute, single-movement work Perfectly Voiceless, which uses elements of minimalist music—including repeating patterns and slowly-mutating ideas—with a catchy pop melody as its core.

     

    Third Coast Percussion (TCP) describes Hynes’ process of composing Perfectly Voiceless as follows: “Hynes composed music with synthesized and sampled sounds, which he then sent to Third Coast Percussion. TCP experimented with instruments to create a live performance version of the music, which they then recorded and sent back to Hynes for feedback, then eventually to the choreographers to create the dance. Perfectly Voiceless was composed as a musical interlude between choreographed pieces in this larger program.”

     

    Perfectly Voiceless is scored for pitched percussion instruments played with mallets—including marimba, vibraphone and glockenspiel—as well as non-pitched instruments such as Chinese jing cymbal, tamborim and wood block. In some cases, the four players are directed to share their instruments with each other, playing from opposite sides simultaneously. In this performance, however, the musicians are socially-distanced and each play their own instruments. Tonight’s performance of Perfectly Voiceless marks the second time it has been featured on a Minnesota Orchestra program; it was played during the Orchestra’s outdoor performances on Peavey Plaza on August 7 and 8, 2020.

     

    Instrumentation: almglocken, Chinese jing cymbal, crotales, glockenspiel, marimba, metal pipes, tamborim, vibraphone, wood block

     

    Program note by Carl Schroeder.

  • Metamorphosen, Study for 23 Solo Strings

    Richard Strauss

    • Born
      Jun 11, 1864
      Munich, Germany
    • Died
      Sep 8, 1949
      Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

    Metamorphosen, Study for 23 Solo Strings

    • Premiered
      Jan 25, 1946

    In July 1944, Richard Strauss accepted a commission from conductor Paul Sacher to write a new work for string orchestra. Strauss was then 80 years old and in declining health, and the world was engulfed in war. Allied bombing, aimed at ending the genocidal Nazi regime, had begun to obliterate many of the symbols of German culture he held dear—the Munich Hoftheater, in which he had heard operas as a child; Dresden, with its 80,000 inhabitants and its extraordinary cultural treasures; Weimar, with the Goethehaus, which he called “the world’s greatest sanctuary.” Strauss began his new score on March 13, 1945, using as a starting point a 24-measure sketch he had written in the aftermath of the bombing of Munich, Trauer um München (Mourning for Munich). He completed it a month later, on April 12, less than a month before the German surrender.

     

    Metamorphosen is a remarkable work, scored for an unusual string orchestra of 23 players: 10 violins, five violas, five cellos and three basses. The full title can be misleading: Metamorphosen seems to imply a set of variations, which is not the case, and the subtitle “A Study” makes the work sound like an exercise in virtuosity, which it is not (though it is difficult enough for the performers!). Rather, this 25-minute composition gives expression to Strauss’ pain at the devastation in his home country.

     

    A dark, slow introduction for lower strings leads to the violas’ quiet statement of what will be the main subject. The four pulses and inflected descending line of this theme incorporate the theme Strauss had sketched in October 1943 for Trauer um München. Gradually the music grows more intense as Strauss introduces a number of subordinate theme-shapes, and while music for 23 parts can at times become complex, textures remain clear. Strauss reins back the tempo for the climax, which builds to a moment of sudden silence, and slowly the music winds down to its remarkable conclusion. 

     

    On the final page, in the cellos and basses, Strauss quotes the main theme of the Funeral March from Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, which he marks IN MEMORIAM! in the score. Only now do we recognize the close thematic similarity between Strauss’ main theme and Beethoven’s funeral music, and Strauss himself confessed that he had come to see the connection only in the course of composing this music. Beethoven’s theme merges into Strauss’ textures, and Metamorphosen’s painful lament fades into silence on a deep C-minor chord.

     

    a murky relationship

    Any accounting of Strauss’ life is incomplete without an examination of his murky relationship with the Nazi party. As Brian Wise and Naomi Lewin of New York’s WQXR note:

     

    “In 1933, Strauss accepted a high-profile job from the Nazis, when propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels named him president of the Reichsmusikkammer, the State Music Bureau. Strauss wrote pieces for the Nazis including ‘Das Bächlein,’ a song dedicated to Goebbels. And he even wrote at least one letter pledging his loyalty to Hitler.

     

    “But Strauss’ defenders note that he eventually lost the Nazi post for insisting that Stefan Zweig—the Jewish librettist of his comic opera Die Schweigsame Frau—should appear in the program at the premiere in Dresden, in 1935. And Strauss may have helped save several Jewish lives later in the war. He emerged from his postwar de-Nazification hearing with no official taint.”

      

    Instrumentation: string orchestra comprising 10 violins, 5 violas, 5 cellos and 3 basses 

     

    Program note by Eric Bromberger. 

  • Four Portraits

    Kari Sundström

    • Born
      1967
      Sahalahti, Finland

    Four Portraits

    • Premiered
      Sep 12, 2020

    Tonight’s program concludes with a rarity: the world premiere of a piece composed by a Minnesota Orchestra musician, trombonist Kari Sundström. Sundström, a member of the Orchestra since 1996, shares two biographical details with Osmo Vänskä, the Orchestra’s music director—both hail from Finland and played with the Helsinki Philharmonic early in their careers—but Sundström was the first to settle in the U.S., and is a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music in New York City.

     

    In recent months, with the full Minnesota Orchestra not performing together due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sundström has turned to composing as a creative outlet—picking up an interest that extends back to his Juilliard years. “In college, I began writing small works just for fun upon the encouragement of my music theory teacher Eric Ewazen,” Sundström recalls. He has since composed a handful of works, primarily for brass instruments, including a composition for trumpet, string orchestra and snare drum called Soldier’s Silent Reverie, which has been recorded by Orchestra trumpet player Charles Lazarus, as well as smaller pieces for alto trombone and piano, and bass trombone with piano. Several years ago he wrote a song cycle for his wife Eeva Savolainen, a soprano, that was premiered at Hamline University. “I also wrote the text for it—in Finnish, of course,” he adds.

     

    This past spring Sundström wrote what is now the third movement of his low brass quartet Four Portraits, played through it with his trombone and tuba colleagues from the Orchestra, and was encouraged to write three more movements. In composing the work, he found inspiration from the art world as well as the music world. “One of the most inspiring classes I took in college was Art History,” he explains. “I soon realized that music really speaks to me visually. The Four Portraits are not referring to any specific paintings; I will leave that to your imagination. The four movements—slow-fast-slow-fast—definitely have their own characters. I like melody, harmony and interesting rhythms. I guess I’m kind of old-fashioned in that sense. There are some influences by Shostakovich, who is one of my favorite composers. I like writing music I would like to listen to.”

     

    Sundström adds that he has left many elements of the work open to the interpretation of the performers—intentionally leaving out markings of dynamics, articulations and tempos. “When it comes to chamber music, I believe the musicians are the greatest assets to the composer,” he says. “The most important and fun part of playing with your friends is to work out a suitable collaborative interpretation that works for that particular ensemble. Too many times the creative freedom is taken away from the performers either by a composer or a conductor. Music speaks so differently to each one of us. I am looking for that collaborative interaction between the musicians.”

     

    Sundström is charting plans for additional composition projects, including a work for a larger brass ensemble. “So far, I know it’s going to be impressionistic in colors and character,” he says. After the premiere of Four Portraits, audiences tuning in via livestream are sure to be eager for more.

     

    Instrumentation: 3 trombones and tuba

     

    Program note by Carl Schroeder.

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