Artymiw’s awesome artistry

This review was originally published in the March 2009 issue of The Metropolitan.

Lydia Artymiw gets a standing ovation

If you haven’t yet attended a Minnesota Sinfonia concert at Metropolitan State’s Founders Hall Auditorium, you should, but I have some helpful advice: Get there early.

On Friday evening, Feb. 13, 2009, hundreds of people—including kids—did, resulting in an overflow crowd for a thoughtfully programmed concert (especially for Valentine’s Day) by the Sinfonia, conducted by their Artistic Director, Jay Fishman.

An appetizer from Aaron
True to the orchestra’s mission of making classical and orchestral music accessible to kids (and adults who otherwise cannot afford tickets to Orchestra Hall or the Ordway), Fishman and the Sinfonia opened their Feb. 13 concert with a bit of Americana—the famous “Hoedown” from Aaron Copland’s ballet Rodeo.  While the slower tempo seemed a little unusual, the benefit to the audience was obvious: they could better hear the intricate rhythms and interplay between the strings. (This was especially nice for the Founders Hall audience, as they are closer to the stage than in other venues.)

And while the strings, winds and brass players were plenty competent with their parts, percussionist Kory Andry was the real star. Doing the work of several percussionists, Andry played the necessary parts on five instruments: bass drum, snare, wood block, concert marimba and cymbals ingeniously configured on a hi-hat stand.

Moved by Mozart
Sandwiched between the audience and the stage was the grand piano on which Lydia Artymiw fairly dazzled the gathered music lovers with a sublime reading of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 (K.467). A  distinguished professor of piano at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Artymiw was firm and noble where the first movement demanded, and then gave a thoroughly graceful and penetrating account of the famous second movement. Lest anyone think this was a relaxed ‘Muzak’ tour of Mozart, her technical command of the piano was manifest in her handling of cascades of pianissimo notes.

And here is where Artymiw stands apart from other concert musicians—a talented and masterful pianist, she was also a “sympathetic” soloist for the Sinfonia; not once did she overwhelm the orchestra accompanying her almost otherworldly grasp of Mozart.

In addition to her critically acclaimed recordings, Artymiw lately has been a juror for several international piano and chamber music competitions, a logical outgrowth of her appearances with major orchestras and in important venues all over the world. Surely the audience and the musicians of the Minnesota Sinfonia hope this is not the last time Lydia Artymiw performs for (and with) them.

And while the Sinfonia musicians did a creditable job containing their glee at their good fortune, the audience could not—they burst into a lengthy standing ovation, one Artymiw, Fishman and the Sinfonia musicians richly deserved.

Icing on the cake
Amazingly, some audience members left at the intermission, consequently missing two stunningly romantic and evocative pieces of music quite appropriate for Valentine’s Day. And, as well as the Sinfonia played the Mozart, they were just getting warmed up.

The non-choral version of Gabriel Fauré’s Pavane, Op. 50, is one of his most famous pieces of music, where the melody is woven back-and-forth between the winds and strings. Here, Sinfonia flautist JoAnne Bartlett shined by carrying the melody with a clear-yet-breathy timbre later echoed by the violins. The supporting musicians in the Pavane, the violists, cellists and bassist Susan Allard were the rhythmic glue holding this performance together, delivering the under footing very precisely under Fishman’s conducting.

However, the most emotional and evocative piece of the evening was Sir Edward Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro, Op. 47. This composition is something of a well-kept secret and not widely known or played, so it was new to virtually the entire Founders Hall audience, who saw the Sinfonia semi-circle the string section principals in a visually unconventional manner. Elgar’s scoring for a quartet with string orchestra reminds of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, but on a smaller scale. The difference is that Elgar demands much more emotional playing from the strings, not just in dynamics but also in style, and the Sinfonia strings held true on all of the contemplative, plaintive and declarative passages.

Fishman and the Minnesota Sinfonia proved to any skeptics present that romantic and evocative classical music is often anything but milquetoast.

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One Response to “Artymiw’s awesome artistry”

  1. Lin Says:

    Tor, you consistently “make my day” and I will say it again, no one writes a better review than you! I just wish you could have a regular gig, writing for a major paper.

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