St. Petersburg to Winnipeg/Duluth, then on to Annapurna

Sam Black

Last week I introduced the All Night Vigil, composed by Sergei Rachmaninoff just shortly before he fled Russia prior to the 1917 Revolution, never to return. Two performances of this collection of fifteen settings of Orthodox evening and morning prayers have taken place in the past eight days. Members of the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir, the Winnipeg Singers, and Duluth’s Arrowhead Chorale combined forces, creating a choir of about 110 singers for this intense music.

About 900 folks came to the Westminster United Church of Canada on May 15 to listen to the first singing of this Vigil. The size of the audience and the age of the stone church made for a warm, sensuous occasion, and the audience applauded for nearly fifteen minutes.

On May 22, about 250 listeners showed up at Duluth’s First Lutheran Church for another performance. This time, the height of the ceiling and the smaller crowd allowed for a bit more resonance and a crispier edge. In both cases, the fullness of sound was contrasted by some very soft singing from this large choir. In particular, the tenor soloist, James Magnus-Johnston (from Winnipeg), had a high, clear voice that reached out and grabbed the hearts of many listeners. Alto Angela Neufeld sang her honey-laced solo with with all the warmth of our May afternoon.

While there is much that is completely traditional within the Slavonic Orthodox music near the end of Tsarist Russia, it was certainly beautiful, and a form of music that Rachmaninoff never visited again. Special thanks to Music Directors Yuri Klaz(Winnipeg) and Stanley Wold(Duluth) for their combined vision to bring this music together for both our communities.

The Meanings of Annapurna

How about goddess of the harvests? Literally, perhaps, a Sanskrit word for ‘full of food.’ Maybe an insurmountable wall that separates people and their attempts to communicate. In 1950, a team of climbers first crossed the 8,000 m. heights of earthly mountain climbing on Annapurna I, in north-central Nepal.

Decades later, American playwright Sharr White was impressed by the need for mountain climbers to move consistently forward, not backward. In 2011 he created a two person drama about Emma seeking her former husband Ulysses after a 20-year separation. Here in Duluth, MN, two gifted character actors, John Pokrzywinski and Christine Winkler Johnson, will put this on the Duluth Playhouse stage from June 2-12. Julie Ahasay is the director of this journey through pain and love.

Two More Concerts to Consider

On Saturday, May 28th, starting at 7pm at Sacred Heart Music Center, the Duluth Dylan Fest will feature The Basement Tapes/Great White Wonder Concert. Several MN artists will combine talents to benefit the Duluth Armory Arts and Music Center.

Then on Saturday, June 4th, at 7:30pm at First Lutheran Church, Duluth, the Twin Ports Wind Orchestra, led by Mark Whitlock, will present music by British composer Philip Sparke (b. 1951) for concert band. The feature of the evening is a newly commissioned piece for euphonium and band for Richard Carlson, long-time Duluth band director and euphonium wizard. Come listen to the rich tone colors of clarinets, saxophones, flutes, oboes, trumpets, trombones, tubas, percussion, and even euphoniums (euphonia?).

Jump start the Memorial Weekend and the beginning of June by taking advantage of the incredible art scene from one end of Duluth to the other. This is rich variety which does not require travel to either St. Petersburg or Annapurna.