Nothing Dull About the Summer of 2016

Sam Black

The earthquakes, hailstorms, lightning, and tornados of central Oklahoma were simply part of the first forty-plus years of my life. And the April, 1974, tornado in Louisville, KY, topped them all. Here in Duluth, the heavy rains of two weeks ago, and the amazing lightning and wind storm last week certainly flashed back to earlier memories. I fared better last week than many Duluthians, but I certainly enjoyed the brilliance of the lightning show around 3:45 on Thursday morning. Quite unique in my Duluth sojourn.


Dalarna fiddlers providing their own electricity
Dalarna fiddlers providing their own electricity

Swedish Youth, electrical, with or without MN Power

In spite of a messy Thursday, a group of young Swedish fiddlers from Dalarna dropped by Duluth Congregational Church mid-day to share from their own musical passions. For 45 minutes these nine musicians made us forget there was no electricity in the building. There was indeed music.

Jews, Catholics, Women, and Others

The power was, however, back on at Mitchell Auditorium on the CSS campus for the Lake Superior Chamber Orchestra  concert that night. An enthusiastic audience enjoyed the electric lights, the flowing air, as well as the scintillating music. Music Director Warren Friesen offered a refreshing program, as I have come to expect. Beginning with the beloved “Serenade for Winds in D Minor.” Op. 44, by Antonin Dvorak, Friesen communicated warmly with the audience. All four movements were filled with the enthusiasm Dvorak obviously felt as he composed this gem.
The ‘Concerto for Flute and Piano’ by Germaine Tailleferre was composed in 1953, and remains a staple of her delightful output, even if she is underperformed in our neighborhood. Flautist Kathryn Sandor and pianist Alexander Sandor shared these four movements with support from the orchestra. The third movement Nocturne was my personal favorite - very lyrical, and ending almost in mid-air.
Kathryn came back to offer the more virtuosic ‘Fantasie Pastorale Hongroise,’ Op. 26, by the prolific 19th century composer Franz Doppler. Hungarian themes were all the rage, and this delightful set of variations was sure to have been a crowd pleaser in 1858 as well as 2016. Friesen then chose two motets by British (!) Catholic composer William Byrd, arranged for chamber ensemble, including percussion, by Nico Muhly, a young New England composer currently in great demand.
The treat of the evening was the ‘Concerto for Piano and Winds’ by Leo Smit, the Netherlands composer who was murdered at Sobibor by the Nazis in 1943. While this work is popular in Amsterdam, last Thursday was quite probably the premier USA performance of this jazzy twelve minute work. Pianist Alexander Sandor danced through all three movements with a lot of smiles on his face. The finale was certainly about as flirtatious as music can get, and we heard it live in the center of Duluth.

Claudia, Sara, Karen, and Ann celebrate music as the power of life
Claudia, Sara, Karen, and Ann celebrate music as the power of life

Celebration of All Music, as well as the birthday of Karen Gustavson

At Sacred Heart this past Sunday afternoon, Ann Reed, Claudia Schmidt, and Sara Thomsen shared the stage, partially in celebration of the birthday of Karen Gustavson, former pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Duluth. The music they all shared highlighted the theme of art/music existing because it represents a beginning of how to live, how to share, how to love. In the midst of human violence, in the midst of sudden natural violence, it becomes our obligation to do a better job of making art than we’ve ever done before.
The room was certainly overflowing, and all three artists shared energy back and forth throughout the evening. From Schmidt’s high soprano, to the lowest of Thomsen’s range, a lot of musical emotion was sung. All three of these very gifted poets, blessed with considerable musical skills as well, make it clear that Minnesota will let the arts lead us into the puzzling ambiguities of the future. Listen to their compelling music if you are truly committed to bringing peace visibly to the center of your life.