Life From Both Sides Now . . .

Sam Black

I only began attending Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra concerts in September, 2000, so I am a relative newcomer on the local scene. (There are several people who have fifty-or nearly fifty- years of continuous performance with the DSSO, for example.) I have consistently sat in the audience throughout these sixteen-plus years. This past Saturday night, however, I sat in the uppermost row (fourth from the right) of the DSSO Chorus bass section, and shared in this most recent performance of Carl Orff’s magnificent Carmina Burana.

I failed to take a photo from that back row during the concert, so you’ll have to imagine the inverse of what you see in the photo at the start of this column. I spent the second half of the concert looking at the backs of ALL the musicians on stage, and the face of Maestro Dirk Meyer, as well as the faces of about 2,000 listeners who chose to be present for this final concert of the 2015-16 orchestral season. My concert review would be a bit skewed from this angle.

I could hear the string section, of course, because there were fifty of them, and they were audible, regardless of which way they were facing. I could hear the piccolo--but one can always hear ONE piccolo, regardless of how many other players are making sounds. I could enjoy the full beauty of the five French horn players, because the flares of their circular instruments were pointed directly at the chorus. All the other brass players were somewhat muted, because they were pointing out into the auditorium, except the tuba, who was pointed straight up, as usual.

Even the two pianos were quiet, since the back piano had a fully raised lid, helping the sound of both pianos move out toward the front of the house. Even the seven percussionists didn’t always create enough sound to reach the far upper section of the chorus back row. And as for the vocalists, we were all singing forward, so I could hear my partners, of course, but most of the beauty (and quirkiness) of the soloists was lost to me.

An exception would be Christopher Pfund, tenor, whose poignant death screams from a roasting swan on the spit were aided by his choice to face the chorus occasionally as he sang. Anyone who masters this
song will be in constant demand the world over--the program stated that Pfund had sung the role more than 150 times. And of course, Alice Pierce’s love-climaxing solo ‘Dulcissime, totally, I give myself to you,’ is the only sound in the air, and blissful it most certainly was.

The great hymn to Venus which follows gives way to a return commentary on Fate/Fortune/Fortuna coming out as the whimsical winner, again and again. C’est la vie! So ist das Leben! Quod est vitae!

The DSSO conductor has more than a back side

Watching the gestures and expressions of Music Director Dirk Meyer was a real treat during the concert. This was live music, so there were little moments when chorus, soloists, orchestra, conductor, were not completely synchronized. But if you want perfection, you’ll have to go for something that’s not live and unfolding in front of you. I prefer the live experience, so sharing in the exuberance of Spring, Good Ale, and Healthy Sexuality by singing the Latin text from the stage of Symphony Hall, Duluth, was indeed thrilling.

What I heard from audience members in the house and the television audience at home was a confirmation of my own response. The life-affirming message of Carmina Burana will continue for generations to come.

A chamber performance will bring 2015/16 to a close

Meanwhile, the DSSO in chamber ensemble, will share more music next Tuesday evening, starting just after 5pm, at The Depot. A little bit of Mozart, and a sparkling 2nd Symphony from Beethoven will round out the season with effervescence. I hope you indulged yourself adequately.