By Danielle Fang ’20
Midterms were finally over and, though they would be making a reappearance in a couple short weeks, I was ready to relax. So on Friday, October 14, I made my way to the Hop to see the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra; nothing like two hours of classical music to de-stress a college student.
Before the concert started, a few of the orchestra members were kind enough meet and mingle with a group of students, including the principal violin and artistic director of the orchestra, Kyu-Young Kim, and the composer of one of the pieces to be performed that night, George Tsontakis.
Not often that you get the chance to speak with the composer of a piece you would hear performed, and Tsontakis, a medium-height, genial man, was quick to capitalize on this to loosen the atmosphere. “Since the other two composers”–Mozart and Schubert–“couldn’t make it, I guess I’ll say a few words,” he joked. After explaining a bit about his composition, O Mikros, O Megas (in English, “This Tiny World, This Enormous World”), Tsontakis described the need for works by composers of today, in addition to works by well established and long-dead composers like the others on the SPCO program. “For every one thousand pieces composed, there is one masterpiece among them,” he said, adding, if we don’t compose new work, how will we produce the masterpiece of the 21st century?
Listening to O Mikros, O Megas, though, I couldn’t help but wonder if we have already come across one of the great works of our time. There wasn’t a moment of silence. The music was alive as it pulsed, expanded and receded at the discretion of the musicians. The performers in this all string composition layered rhythm upon rhythm upon harmony to recreate their interpretation of Tsontakis’ composition.
Did I say musicians? Not conductor? Why, yes, I did. The SPCO is mainly conductorless. While they do bring in featured soloists, such as Jeremy Denk on the piano for their performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A, the orchestra works among themselves to interpret and rehearse its pieces. Kim says this helps the musicians connect more with the music they are playing and that, while it is a challenge to figure out the cues and entrances themselves, it creates an environment in which any musician can express his or her opinion, and that sets SPCO apart from other ensembles.
In addition to the way they run the orchestra, the SPCO is distinguished by its many programs aimed at stimulating interest in classical music and encouraging concert attendance–from offering free tickets for people age 7-17 to allowing attendance at an unlimited number of concerts per year for members.
While classical music might not seem like the prime form of entertainment today, the feeling of sitting in an auditorium and not just hearing, but feeling, the music is irreplaceable. I hope you all take any chance to attend a classical concert, either by the SPCO or another orchestra. You just might be surprised about how fascinating it is.
I’m from beautiful Portland, Oregon (that’s me on the right). I am still an undecided major, but leaning towards computer science. I love music and play flute, piano and string bass. Being from the Columbian Gorge, I love to hike, swim and bake (to regain the calories lost from exercising). I also love to eat, so feel free to find me if you ever want someone to grab a bite with!