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Artymiw’s awesome artistry

2013/10/14

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.

A dreadful way to start the morning

2011/11/23

Even before the sun arose this morning, I found myself on a Saint Cloud MetroBus after only 95 minutes of sleep and forced to sit next to someone reeking of cigarette smoke.  At the same time, the bus driver was blasting “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” by the 1980s glam-metal group “Poison” from his boom-box.

  1. Minus 50,000 points to the bus driver for torturing us passengers.  Next time, buddy, tune your radio to FM 90.1 and leave it there.  #%$&!
  2. Minus 100,000 points to the cigarette smoker.  No further explanation is necessary.
  3. Minus 500,000 points to the group “Poison” for poisoning our the world with the music equivalent of the television show Jersey Shore.

After finally arriving home and getting a hot shower, five hours of sleep, and half-a-quart of Gatorade, these still were not quite enough  to scrub my brain.  This is one of those occasions that required “swatting a fly with a Patriot missile,” so to speak:  Deutsche Grammophon’s’s Mad About Baroque CD (DG, 439 147-2, 1993, NLA).  Specifically, Georg Friedrich Händel’s “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” from Solomon, HWV 67.

Beware the dangers of incredibly stupid music spewed forth on somebody else’s boom-box; it happened to me this morning and I lost about 65 brain cells.