Classical MPR stars!

Classical Host Mindy Ratner and Performance Today producers Kate Saumur and Jeff Bina are making beautiful music together this Sunday as part of the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana.”

Mindy Ratner has been singing alto with the Minnesota Chorale for some time. She told me she loves the words. “They’re filled with love and longing, and a fair amount of mischief. Although we sing about the unfairness of life and the cruelty of Fate, there’s a lot of fun to be had along the way!”

Her favorite part is the “hapless tale of the Roasted Swan…poor guy!”

That ‘poor guy’ has his own solo movement that begins with one lone bassoon played by PT’s Kate Saumur who says “just before he sings, the first bassoon has a very high, kind of comical/lamenting solo, and then one obnoxious low note. I call it my ‘dead swan on a stick’ solo. The scary part is not the high stuff, but resetting your embouchure and pulling that down-in-the-basement low C from out of nowhere.”

Kate told me she loves the huge gong crashes in the opening and closing choruses. They make her want to be a percussionist!

That’s PT’s Jeff Bina’s role. He is one of a whole band of percussionists playing the snare, chimes and sleigh bells. He says he loves the snare because it’s “so crisp and exacting. I play on all the boisterous outbursts and I add the exclamation mark at the finish of each song. The sleigh bells are impossible to keep quiet. I wrote in my part when to pick them up, so they’ll be covered by a loud part in the music!”

If Carmina is not enough to get your blood roiling, also on the program is one of the sweetest pieces ever written, Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Serenade to Music.”

Hilly Decorah and Fake, Life-Size Buffalo

The Parker Quartet just returned from their final “outstate” concert in the Artists-in-Residence series, playing last week in Decorah. They will perform again at the Varsity in Minneapolis on April 15. Read the quartet’s previous entry

Karen Kim, violin

Karen KimLast week, we had the last outstate concert of the MPR Artists-in-Residence at Luther College in Decorah, IA. All of our concerts in the Midwest have been so rewarding, and it was a little sad to bring the series to a close. I truly hope that we will see all of these audiences again.

Being in Decorah was a particularly great experience for me because my sister Chrissy now lives there! Chrissy is a cellist, and is teaching this semester at Luther College. She recently received her DMA from Rice University in Houston, TX.

1.jpgThis is a photo of the two of us with our father after performing the Brahms Double Concerto in our hometown of La Crosse, WI.

On the day of the concert, I had a bit of time to explore Phelps Park, which is very close to Chrissy’s apartment in Decorah. It was incredibly beautiful, and a great place to be on the afternoon of a concert–very refreshing, but not strenuous to explore. Below are some pictures from the park. And yes, that is a buffalo in the last picture. Fake, but life-size. Don’t know who put it there…




Daniel Chong, violin

Daniel ChongAs our fourth and final concert presented by MPR, we visited Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. It turned out to be a visit with many little surprises. First off, when I think of Iowa I imagine a terrain that is shameless about its flatness and where corn fields are picturesque. In Decorah, there are actually quite a few hills in the area which made it a nice drive as we entered the town. On our way Jessica and I also encountered some faithful Amish in horse and buggy on the back county roads which was a jarring juxtaposition of two completely different modes of transportation.

Other little surprises:

– The Hotel Winneshiek is a very nice, old world style hotel with a unique structure, big comfy rooms, and bathrooms elegant and large enough to be called a luxury studio in New York City. By the way jet tubs are sweeeet.

– The music department at Luther College is the largest department at the college!

– I had the opportunity to listen to an undergraduate quartet play the opening movement of Mozart’s Dissonance quartet. We spent an hour discovering how beauty reveals itself in the Adagio, and they helped me realize that the character of the Allegro is like going to a party.

– Oh what a great hall. 350 seats, good acoustics, good vibe, nice design. . . Who would of thought that Decorah would have a fantastic chamber music hall??

– Oneota food coop. A very satisfying coop.

– Jess and I visited a nice little shop called Grooves (I think). I like to sort through used CD’s and DVD’s when we are in random cities and this was a great place to do that. We walked away with 3 albums for $16. 1) Nina Simone 2) Music of Zaire and 3) the Forrest Gump soundtrack.

All in all, I had a good time visiting Decorah and it’s nice to see that music lives strong in that town. Signing out – Dan

Kee-Hyun Kim, cello

Kee Hyun KimYesterday was our last formal concert of the Artists-in-Residence series, hosted by MPR. This last location was at Luther College, in Decorah, Iowa. I say ‘formal,’ because although there are some events left, most prominent being a show at the Varsity Theater on April 15, this was the last time we would be presented in a traditional concert setting. We were to play at the Jenson-Noble Recital Hall.

And what a great ‘traditional’ concert space! I was remarking with one of the teachers at Luther College, how fortunate the students were to have that hall as a recital space. The hall seats about 300 (i’m guesstimating), so it is not a small hall, nor is it a large one. It’s got a high ceiling, nice wood, nice color aesthetic, and overall a great acoustic, which gave everything a nice glow. It was also intimate; never at any point did I feel ‘lost’ on stage, or that we were losing the audiences’ attention.

One word about yesterday’s audience, and the audiences we’ve played for in the past month – I wish we could have audience like this all the time! Thanks in large part to the promotional skills of MPR, every concert we were playing to a full house. The demographics were varied, from young kids to college students to grizzled chamber music aficionados, and you could sense that everyone there was engaged and there to listen. During the Q&A session, a young woman asked us why we loved music, and loved playing music. My answer to her would be “for moments like this.” It may sound a little corny, but is there any greater satisfaction than knowing that this music that we play – this music that is so much greater than us, and that we spend hours, days, and entire lifetimes studying, internalizing, and presenting – is reaching out through time and space, and, in one way or another, affecting them in a profound way?

On a more personal note, yesterday was also special because it was my birthday. It is not rare for concerts to fall on our birthdays – Dan and I were griping backstage that this year both of us had ‘working’ birthdays – and it was not the first time that this had happened. I found myself contemplating that, for better or for worse, the quartet really is like a family. I don’t remember the last time I celebrated a birthday with my own family – I left home when I was 16 – and this year, not only am I not home, but my girlfriend is out of town as well. But the one thing that is constant? I know that my quartet will be there – whether by choice or not! – to commemorate another passing of a year with me. It was certainly nice, at the end of the concert, to have an entire audience of people sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me. Thanks for that.

Special thank you to Chris Cross and Steve Staruch of MPR, to Jubal and Chrissy, faculty at Luther College, to the students who played for us, and finally, to the audience, without whom none of this would have been possible.

Jessica Bodner, viola

Jessica BodnerThe drive to Decorah, IA, and Decorah itself are beautiful. In fact, as we were driving around, it reminded me of the area in Burgundy, France, where our French manager lives. There’s a peacefulness and quiet beauty that I feel when we’re in Burgundy, and I got the exact same feeling going to Decorah. I think it’s mostly the rolling hills planted with all kinds of crops (probably in this case, mostly corn and soy, I imagine). Talking about Burgundy makes me hungry – you probably would imagine for French food, but we actually had the best Argentinean cuisine in the middle of Burgundy farmland. We were in desperate search of food, and we passed this place which we thought was a Mexican restaurant, and we thought, “No way, we’re not going to venture into a Mexican place in the middle of French farmland!” However, we couldn’t find anything else, either places were closed, booked solid, or a little out of our price range, so we went back to check out the “Mexican” place. To our surprise, it was such an amazing Argentinean meal that it inspired me to try to make my own dishes based on what we had (which definitely did not turn out the same!), and we went back there again when we returned to the area the next year. It is for places like this that I love traveling! My culinary high point in Decorah was lunch at their downtown co-op. It’s wholesome and well-taken-care-of feel reminded me a lot of my favorite co-ops in Vermont. It’s so great when it feels like the people preparing your food really care, and I think you can really taste the difference. Besides enjoying the atmosphere and food, I loved seeing a different part of Iowa, hearing the students at Luther College, playing a concert for such a great audience, and once again being around such great MPR people like as Steve Staruch and Chris Cross.

Rachmaninoff's Swan Song

The Symphonic Dances was Rachmaninoff’s last complete work, composed initially for two pianos. Supposedly, the composer himself was surprised by how great the orchestrated version sounded when he attended its premiere. As he was being congratulated and patted on the back he is reported to have said, “I don’t know how it happened, it must have been my last spark.”

We’ll hear that last spark later tonight (12:05am, Thursday) when our weekly Euro Classic ventures to Brussels for a 2008 performance with the Toulouse Capitol Orchestra.

Philip Langridge, 70: famous English tenor, comic genius

Tenor Philip Langridge died Friday, age 70.

He one of the leading singers in English opera and oratorio, and sang at the great opera houses around the world. Among his specialties were his interpretations of Benjamin Britten’s operas, in particular Peter Grimes.

His last performances were at the Metropolitan Opera last January, where he played The Witch in Hänsel and Gretel. Dressed in fat suit, complete with giant bosom, wide-load butt, and jiggling flabby arms, Langridge’s Witch strutted around her gingerbread kitchen, a prep-cook in drag joyfully readying Hänsel and Gretel for the roaster. It’s a brilliant comic turn, and his performance was released on DVD. Here’s a little taste of Philip Langridge’s comic genius:

Exploring Iowa

The Parker Quartet continues their Artists-in-Residence tour with a performance in Decorah, Iowa tonight. Read the quartet’s last tour entry.

Jessica Bodner, viola

Jessica Bodner Further exploration of the Midwest… Growing up in Houston and going to school in Boston, I honestly never dreamed I would be living in the Midwest. The Midwest was not a place I really visited with my family, and it was just a general unknown to me. Therefore, it was a huge coincidence and shock to my family when both my brother and I moved to the Midwest at the exact same time, me to St. Paul and he to Cedar Falls, IA. The first time I visited him, he showed me all around – the one street downtown, how if you drive out of town you are immediately in corn fields that stretch far beyond your eyesight and imagination, and the quilts that are painted on the sides of barns as a “visitor’s attraction” (he has since been invited to have the honor to help paint a barn quilt after getting to know many of the local people. He wrote a piece about barn quilts, something you might, out of the whole world, only be able to do outside of Cedar Falls, IA). He has since moved to Iowa City, where he is getting a Master’s degree in creative nonfiction writing. Therefore, after never having been in IA before a year and a half ago, I feel quite an appreciation and connection to the state. I am very much looking forward to visiting Decorah and deepening my understanding of Iowa even further.

Prada, Huns, and the Walker Arts Center at the Opera

The Devil wears Prada — and so do the Huns this Saturday at the Metropolitan Opera.

The Met’s new production of Verdi’s Attila includes costumes designed by Miuccia Prada.

The sets are designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron, who also created the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis.

Notice any resemblance?



Attila stars Ramón Vargas, Carlos Álvarez, and Samuel Ramey as Pope Leo.

Conductor Riccardo Muti makes his long-awaited Met debut with the production.

You can hear it this Saturday at noon Classical Minnesota Public Radio.

Violin Not a Diva

Today’s the birthday of a certain composer, very well-known and frequently played. Google is honoring this person with one of their customized logos.

Go to their page and see if you can figure it out from the artwork. (As always, you can float your cursor over the logo to see the answer.)

Carmina in Duluth

The Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra presents Carl Orff’s masterpiece “Carmina Burana” this Saturday at the DECC. I’ll be there to host a pre-concert lecture “Behind the Music” at 7:00.

Love, lust, the joys of drinking and the madness of Spring are all in ‘Carmina’ and Orff catches the mood right from the top with his pulsating “O Fortuna.”

O Fortuna has appeared in just about every conceivable commercial, movie, talk-show, professional sport, you name it.

Here’s a partial list:

1. The soundtrack for the 1981 film “Excalibur.”

2. The 2008 Milwaukee Brewers games as the home-team went up to bat.

3, Fox’s Sean Hannity show.

4. In several commercials where one political party makes fun of another (was it the Democrats or the Republicans?)

5. Sung every year at graduation ceremonies at the University of Oslo.


Oh, and here’s a parody of “O Fortuna” in case you also can’t quite make out the words.

Ah, Spring

The last couple of days replete with sunshine and warmer temperatures have made the promise of spring all the more legit. Stay up late tonight (12:05am, Thursday) for another blast of spring – our weekly Euro-Classic comes from Luxembourg (where, appropriately, it was also supposed to be sunny and around 40-degrees all this week!). In a performance recorded live a year ago, the Luxembourgh Philharmonic Orchestra plays Claude Debussy’s Spring Symphonic Suite (Printemps) – a work where, for the first time, the term impressionism was applied.