I Hold In My Hands…

Marlene’s Musings
October 26, 2015

MarleneWithScoresIt is a humbling thing to hold a score in my hands for the first time. I know it sounds a little crazy but it is somewhat akin to holding our newborn daughter for the first time. I am filled with awe of the creation but also aware of the daunting responsibility of shepherding it forward. My job, as conductor, is to try and understand, through careful study, what the composer intended. As a mother I tried to honor my daughter’s a priori intent as a human being without imposing too much of myself. A lofty goal, indeed! The ironic thing is that you cannot possibly hope to give life to the composition unless you put your heart and soul into it.

On any given page there are hundreds of details to figure out – transpositions, harmonies, phrase structures, dynamic balances, articulation nuances, rhythmic intricacies. You tear it all down for your own understanding and then put it back together for the full effect. After all that, it really does become a part of you. So, when the time comes to lift the print off the page, you really hope you are honoring the composer’s truest “self.”

This concert is exciting because we will perform three pieces, all written within the last 10 years.

  • Imagine If You Will …. by Timothy Mahr (professor of composition and band director at St. Olaf College)
  • Grand Organ Concerto by Stephen Paulus
  • Clarinet Concerto by Spanish composer, Oscar Navarro

All are accessible and thrilling to experience on both sides of the podium and if you ask, I’ll be happy to put any or all of the scores in your hands.

Out of This World!

Marlene’s Musings
September 1, 2015

OrbitPhotoKarimFBOn October 11, the WSO will be performing Orbit: A Symphonic Fantasy by Karim Elmahmoudi I found out about Karim and this piece from the cover story of The International Musician. Anyone who makes the cover of that magazine is either a big shot or a unique, rising star in the music business. On a whim, I called to see if I could convince him to come here as our visiting composer. I knew I had a 50-50 chance he’d say “yes.”

Karim’s music has been performed all over the world, including Carnegie Hall, Disney Hall in L.A., and London’s Zankel Hall. He has received many awards for his classical music, film scores and video games. Currently, Orbit is played hourly at the California Space Center – permanent home of the Space Shuttle Endeavor. Over three million people have already heard his composition.

While Karim is in the Twin Cities, we have scheduled for him to make presentations at local high schools and colleges. His journey to being a composer is really fascinating!  He was an aerospace engineering student before becoming a composer and, as you might imagine, has a keen interest in the links between science and music. He is a pilot, a certified Coast Guard skipper, a scuba diver and a trombone player!  His inspiring story will encourage young people to follow their dreams in whatever arena they choose.

Please join us on October 11 at 3:00 at Wayzata Community Church for this free performance!

Karim Elmahmoudi-Headshot“The overall felling I attempted to capture with this piece is one of vigorous heroism, evocative lyricism, and spirited adventure. The work is suggestive of this quote from Mark Twain: ‘Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.’” – Karim Elmahmoudi

Verdi Requiem – Opera in Disguise

Marlene’s Musings
January, 2015

MarlenePodiumShotWebThis is my fifth season as Music Director of the wonderful Wayzata Symphony Orchestra. I’m thrilled that a hallmark of the season will be our performance of Verdi’s Requiem at Orchestra Hall on Feb. 22, 2015.

I have been a lover of great singing since I was a kid. My paternal grandmother, though not an opera singer per se, was soprano soloist in their Lutheran Church in Austin, MN. She had the most glorious voice and would often hum as I nestled in for a cuddle on the couch. Very happy memories, indeed!

Although Verdi’s Requiem is not an opera, it cannot be performed or conducted unless one has a love and an understanding of opera. The four vocal soloists will be required to display virtuosity comparable to many of Verdi’s great arias. Our soprano will climb to a breathtaking high C at the climax of the final movement as she sings, “Deliver me, Oh Lord, from eternal death on that fateful day.” Spine chilling!

OrchHallSingersOur partners, Edina Chorale and Two Rivers Chorale, have been rehearsing for months. This is no walk in the park for singers. The Sanctus and Libera Me movements include masterful fugues that challenge the very finest of choirs. Their diction will have to be highly rhythmic in order to cut through the texture so that everything can be heard.

Everyone will be challenged by the extreme dynamic range which goes from f f f f to ppppp! One rarely sees five pianos in any score.

For Verdi, who was not religious, this work speaks about the fear of death in very human terms. He does not shy away from the thought that death and the afterlife might not be a pleasant experience. That fear of uncertainty is no more palpable than in the Dies Irae where the solo instrument is the bass drum. It is bone-crunching, terrifying music complete with 8 trumpets placed antiphonally, proclaiming the approaching day of judgment when all sins will be revealed.

This is dramatic music at its best and with Orchestra Hall as our venue, the electrifying energy in the music will be magnified onstage.

Osmo Vänskä Joins the WSO!

Marlene’s Musings
September, 2014

OsmoMarleneI’m SO excited to be starting my 5th season conducting the WSO – and what a season it will be! We open with Osmo Vänskä playing Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto! Since my first exposure as a young clarinetist, I have welcomed every opportunity to delve deeper into this beloved masterpiece. To have Osmo Vänskä in the house to perform it is such a thrill. NOT TO BE MISSED!

Two other audience favorites round out the first program. Sibelius wrote the tone poem, Finlandia, at a time when Finland was under oppressive Russian rule. The hymn heard near the end of the piece became Finland’s national anthem and continues to be heard whenever a Finnish athlete wins Olympic gold.

Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite contains some of the most recognizable tunes in the orchestral repertoire – Morning, Solveig’s Song, Anitra’s Dance, In the Hall of the Mountain King. WSO’s amazing musicians will bring their A-game to lift the music off the page.

See you on October 12th!

World Premieres by Daniel Kallman

Marlene’s Musings
April, 2014

Studying scores is a blast for me. But, studying a score that is brand new is even better. Holding a new score in your hands is a humbling thing, sort of like holding a new-born baby in your arms. You feel the wonder of a new creation and you feel the tremendous responsibility to try and nurture its path forward. The task is to figure out what is there, beyond notes, rhythms, articulations and dynamics. You try to get deeper. It takes a long time of study to begin to do that but when the desire is there, the time to do it becomes inconsequential.

Sea Creatures
DanKallmanI have known of Daniel Kallman’s music since hearing a piece he wrote years ago, performed by Plymouth Music Series (now Vocalessence) under the direction of Philip Brunelle. Since then I have heard many more of his masterful creations, performed by MN Orchestra and many other ensembles. In 1997, I commissioned Dan to write a work for Halama Wind Octet. We premiered Sea Creatures at Wayzata Community Church and it was recorded by MPR. It is a fabulous piece that has been published by Boosey and Hawkes and is now performed all over the world.

Dan and I have talked for several years about trying to procure the funding for the full orchestration. With help from the MN State Arts Board, the dream has come to fruition. Sea Creatures is a six-movement work. Prior to each movement, there is narration concerning aspects of the earth’s oceans. The four middle movements – Dolphin, Puffer Fish, Moray Eel and Shark – are musical descriptions of those remarkable creatures of the sea.

Jabberwocky
MNBoyChoirWSOAs part of the MSAB grant, Dan has also written a piece for the amazing MN Boychoir, directed by Mark Johnson. The piece, Jabberwocky, uses the text from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. The text uses lots of portmanteaus. For example, “galumphing,” “frumious,” and “huffish.” Dan’s music brilliantly ‘paints’ the made-up words. I’m certain this piece, along with the fully orchestrated Sea Creatures, will get many future performances by ensembles nationally and internationally.

What a thrill to be the facilitators of their first performances!

Inspiring Voices

Marlene’s Musings
January, 2014

Inspiring Voices – singer, Bruce Henry and composer, Florence Price

Back in 2003 I heard a podcast of Joe Carter and Krista Tippett (MPR “ON BEING”) talking about the ‘back stories’ for the Negro Spirituals. Normally I do other things while I listen but that day I sat down and listened to the entire show. What intrigued me was how VERY little I knew about those extremely familiar songs. I heard the re-broadcast of that podcast in 2010 after Joe had died and I promised myself I would find a way to get that music and the stories behind the music told to a broader audience.

BruceHenryWebsiteIn Bruce Henry, I found the perfect singer for the concert.

Bruce’s energy is infectious, his range of 3-1/2 octaves amazing and his musicianship truly inventive and engaging. And he is an educator, sharing his thorough knowledge of the history of black music with young people in schools here and in Chicago.

The hidden historical meaning of the texts will fascinate and the wonderful orchestral arrangements created for these concerts by Paul Gericke will surely enhance Bruce’s inspiring renditions.

Florence Price was the first African American woman composer to have a work performed by an American Orchestra (the Chicago Symphony premiered Symphony #1 in 1933). In the spirit of nationalism of the 20s and 30s, Price’s primary goal was to incorporate Negro folk idioms – spirituals, blues and characteristic dance music – into the symphonic form. The symphony achieved wide acclaim, catapulting her onward to write hundreds of other works including 100 songs, many of which were made famous by Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson.

I am thrilled to have the opportunity to conduct Florence Price’s Symphony #1. With the resurgence of interest in her music, a recognized place among the finest American composers is hers.

Mozart and Brahms

Marlene’s Musings
November, 2013

Marlene_ErinKeefe_2013WebsiteAt the age of 13, Mozart became concertmaster of the Salzburg court orchestra. Responsibilities for that position included conducting from the chair (Conductors, as they are today, were not a part of the orchestra) and performing as soloist. In 1775, between April and December, at age 19, Wolgang composed 4 violin concertos for that purpose.

We’ll be playing the 4th with Erin Keefe, new Concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra. Fiendishly difficult, it is the Mozart Concerto that violinists choose to show off.

The apparent ease with which Mozart created masterpieces was not a characteristic of Johannes Brahms but how could anyone follow in Beethoven’s titanic footsteps? When asked why he had not written a symphony, Brahms lamented, “You have no idea how it feels to hear behind you the tramp of a giant like Beethoven.” It took twenty years of trial and error before he completed his first symphony at age 43. Embracing and expanding upon Beethoven’s symphonic expertise, Brahms created a masterpiece which garnered him a spot in the 3 Big Bs – Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, each with a singular voice reflective of the changing world around them. Brahms symphony is a brilliant example of the extroverted emotionalism of the period of Romanticism.

Combining Mozart and Brahms in one concert will reveal a study in contrasts and musically illuminate the dramatic changes for humankind during the hundred-year-period from 1775 to 1875.

A Concert You Don’t Want to Miss

Marlene’s Musings
September, 2013

It has been a fabulous summer!

I have been to a few music festivals, conducted lots of repertoire, met fantastic musicians and learned a ton. But, I miss the WSO and really look forward to getting back on the podium in front of those great musicians who are also some of the greatest people on the planet.

TonyMarleneWebsiteOur first rehearsal is coming up on September 22, 2013. ALL DVORAK! Antonin and Tony – that’s our title for this concert. Tony Ross, principal cellist of MN Orchestra, will play Dvorak’s cello concerto – arguably the most famous of the genre. I can’t wait!

I’ve wanted to program The Noon Witch for a long time. The music tells the story of an unruly little boy whose mother scolds him and threatens that if he doesn’t cease and desist his annoying behavior, the noon witch will take him away. The boy’s behavior is portrayed by agitated and dissonant oboes, and 12 chimes signal the coming of the witch. I don’t want to reveal too much but even without the story the music is brilliant!

Dvorak’s 16 Slavonic Dances were the pieces that made him a household name. We will be doing #9 which opens with the sounds of a raucous party in the Bohemian countryside. The middle section, in the minor key, presents a reflective, mournful melody. Then we return to the fun of the folk music for which Dvorak was fiercely proud.

This is a concert you don’t want to miss.

2012-13 New Season!

Marlene’s Musings
August, 2012

MarleneWithClarinetI am excited about another WSO season, having been fueled by a wonderful summer of conducting and playing. For 25 years I have spent summers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming performing as part of the Grand Teton Music Festival. It’s a place where superb music making and majestic mountains inspire me to feel gratitude for the life I have. Musicians come from all over the country – New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, Detroit, Milwaukee, Colorado, just to name a few – to make music with life-long friends and to hike up arduous paths to crystalline mountain lakes. Donald Runnicles, in my opinion, one of the world’s great conductors, leads the orchestra. Each week is a different program, but a stand out for me this summer was a concert version of Wagner’s Die Walkure with soloists from the Met and Berlin Opera. Spellbinding!

In mid-July I flew home to conduct the showcase concert for The Young Artist World Piano Festival. A competition is held to choose winners to play with the orchestra. There are two categories: under 12-years-old and over 12-years-old. This year, the winner of the younger division was William Yang, the wunderkind who played with WSO in February 2012. He performed the 2nd and 3rd movements of Mozart’s most difficult concerto, K. 466. It was INCREDIBLE! The winner of the older division performed the 1st movement of Beethoven’s 3rd piano concerto in c minor (same brooding key as his 5th symphony, Coriolan Overture and Pathetique Sonata). The cadenza under the adroit musicianship of Evren Ozell had us all tearing up.

Then it was off to Brainerd for the Lakes Area Music Festival. This was my third year, the first two as clarinetist and this one as conductor and clarinetist. Unlike other festivals around the country this one pairs professional players from the Minnesota Orchestra, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Detroit, Milwaukee and Chicago Symphonies with freshly graduated musicians from Juilliard, Eastman School and Music, Rice University and others. It is somewhat similar to the Teton Festival in that musicians are brought to a gorgeous area and housed in lovely abodes, but this festival provides mentoring for the young and some humble pie for the old! You can imagine how delightful it is to conduct an orchestra made up of both.

Now I’m ready to tackle the huge amount of study required for the WSO’s fourth season.

mannylaureanowebresCheck out this line up of guest artists:

  • Manny Laureano, principal trumpet, MN Orchestra
  • ANCIA Saxohpone Quartet, Selmer and VanDoren sponsored soloists
  • Kaleena Miller, tap dancer extraordinaire whose group, Rhythmic Circus, will be performing in New York City for a couple months this season
  • Edina Chorale, Minnesota BoyChoir, Karin Wolverton, Gabriel Pressier – for our performance of Carmina Burana in Feb and March 2013

 

There will be a lot of familiar repertoire, some rarely performed jewels and a premiere or two.

I look forward to sharing the incomparable WSO experience with you.