March Sliding Out With Sunshine April Comes With Energy

by Sam Black

Ryo Munakata and Emma Stratton  in Firebird
Ryo Munakata and Emma Stratton  in Firebird

As always, my weekend was fairly lively with music and rehearsals. That’s a risk, and living in Duluth brings so much to do, even if I’m involved personally. Last week New York based composer Laura Kaminsky was on campus at UMD for a few days. I really enjoy these opportunities for living composers to come to Duluth, share with young musicians, and be involved in performances of their creations.

Living music has been in great shape this spring with several local arts organizations. Friday evening, seven of Kaminsky’s compositions were featured, as performed by both faculty and students in Weber Music Hall. Instruments like clarinet (Andrew Mahonen), flute (Giovani Briguente and Paula Gudmundson), and cello (Betsy Husby) primarily play melodies. This includes the vocal world as well (Aaron Humble, tenor) There is still the possibility of great complexity, even while the audience is listening to the melody caress the auditorium. The piano, on the other hand, is frequently engaged in chord clusters, rhythmic energy, all the while offering support to the person providing the melody. Tracy Lipke-Perry, Allison Laughlin, and Lexy Land took turns being the supportive pianist. The clarinet piece (Just Here, Sitting Now) was haunting and contemplative.

The Lament for cello and piano was warm and embracing from both performers. The two Whitman songs were charming and very expressive, with texts about welcoming people whom we first encounter as strangers. Finally, a premiere piece for flute and piano was based on musical notes indicated by the numbers 202-456-1111, the public access number for the presidential White House, which no longer accepts messages. Edgy music with a public statement is what excites Laura Kaminsky, and I look forward to reading some of her music in the next few weeks. I attended the Saturday performance by the Minnesota Ballet (based, as you know, in none other than Duluth, MN). Director Robert Gardner programmed three shorter pieces for the first half, and the major work by Igor Stravinsky, Firebird, for the second half. What a powerful evening! Nikolaus Wourms, choreographer and dancer, created an interpretation of one of J.S. Bach’s suites for solo cello. Greg Birdwell sat on stage, played his Bach, while six different dancers offered an intimate interpretation of what they were hearing and feeling.

Then Marta Kelly danced a Latin-based composition by D. Argento, with lots of bright colors on stage, thanks to lighting director Kenneth Pogin. Naomi Doty and Nikolaus Wourms did a heartfelt interpretation of Debussy’s Clair de lune on stage, while Alex Sandor shared the piano piece just below them from the lowered stagefront. Instrumentally, I find Stravinsky’s score to Firebird as exciting as ever. After over a century, the rhythms and melodies still seem very fresh. As Prince Ivan, Ryo Munakata danced his heart out, enchanted by the Firebird (Emma Stratton), even as he fell in love with Yelena (Emily Reed). Kostchei the sorcerer (Sam Neale) was slender and acrobatic, but lacked the magical powers to defeat the Firebird’s magical gifts. Ann Gumpper gave us a dramatic world of color as backdrop, and Cheryl Podtburg creating vivid masks for the supernatural characters.

As the dancers came forward to acknowledge applause, I simply wanted them to start from the beginning and share the story a second time. Meanwhile, we go into a DSSO weekend, with one work, the Symphony No. 2 by Gustav Mahler involving a large DSSO along with chorus for the final hymn. Check out the poster around town. I have to wonder if music director Dirk Meyer is trying to free himself - like a dragonfly or swan - from the surface tension of the large pool, or if he is simply basking in the glory of the shower of sound Mahler has created. Let me know if you find out. I hope to see you at the DECC on Saturday evening.