Friday, June 9, 2023

Review: Pride Month has classical sound as MN Philharmonic Orchestra performs ‘Prism’

Last weekend’s Pride Month was the sound of classical music as the Minnesota Philharmonic Orchestra performed “Prism,” closing its 29th season.

Yes, other classical music artists in Minnesota include musicians from queer communities, but the MPO is unique in that the GLBTA is in place as part of its mission to create “increased visibility for the community’s musical talent.” The orchestra was founded in 1993 by Kevin Ford, who died of HIV-AIDS two years later.

With music director Brian Downey conducting, the orchestra performed three acts, including a world premiere that the orchestra co-commissioned. The 65-member orchestra played the challenging program with enthusiasm.

The concert began with a 1990 piece by Michael Abels, best known for composing the scores for the films “Get Out” and “Us”. According to the program’s notes, the piece, “Global Warming”, makes reference to climate change and also looks at the “warming” of international relations occurring at the time the composer wrote it. Abels wrote this article shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the Cold War seemed to be over.

The work started with restlessness. A clicking sound, referencing the cicadas, suggests a dystopian desert landscape. A riveting solo performed by concertmaster Katherine Himerich was followed by a companion melody performed by principal cellist Kristin Snow. Abels brought in sounds from musical traditions around the world—including Irish folk music and the music of Southwest Asia. The cross-cultural juxtaposition of the sounds received a book-end towards the end of the piece, with a similar dissonant violin melody heard at the beginning. The piece caused a sense of unease.

Secondly, the orchestra played the world premiere of Marie Koumadjian’s “Walking with Ghosts”, with guest bass clarinetist Jeff Enderle. It continued the ominous spirit of the first piece, with bursts of sound fueled by rolling cellos and brass instruments. Enderle began his solo play with long, continuous notes filled with pauses. Underneath it, the rumble of brass notes rattled.

At times, the bass clarinet solo became more melodious. Then just as suddenly, it turns into screaming, then back into a rising, curved line. Throughout time, Anderle proved to be virtuoso at different sounds from his instrument. Koumadjian’s composition eventually escalated into hoarseness, progressing to a climax conclusion.

After the intermission, the MPO performed the four movements of Florence Price’s Symphony No. 4 in D minor. A black musician who wrote music in the first half of the twentieth century, Price’s talent was little recognized during her lifetime. Many of his works, including the Fourth Symphony, were almost lost until they were discovered in 2009.

Strong, melodious, and full of American vernacular sounds all at once—including African American spiritual, hymn, and jazz music—Symphony No. 4 sounded like America.

Starting with a fanfare, Price mentioned the spiritual “Wade in the Water” in the first movement. She also used call and response, creating a lush tapestry of sound. The second movement, meanwhile, sounded like a hymn. The music was pastoral and soul-filling, with a broad ethereal harp. From there, the “Juba Dance” movement added a cohesive flavor, complete with a groovy bass line. The last movement, Scherzo, contained both excitement and rising tension. Even as it swelled with Vijay, an undercurrent of uneasiness remained.

The orchestra explained how the work is an essential entry into the canon of American classical music.

World Nation News Desk
World Nation News Desk
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