Every Holiday Requires Abundant Music

Sam Black

Melanie Sever conducting her North Wind Flute Choir
Melanie Sever conducting her North Wind Flute Choir

  We are toward the end of a very abundant artistic season in Duluth. January, 2017 is just around the corner, yet a lot of arts activities will unfold before we get to the new year. I don’t know what you chose, but on the weekend of December 10 -11, there must have been about six different choral concerts available for your enjoyment. All of the local universities, plus a couple of chamber groups, were in performance mode. I missed them all, because I was called out of town on a medical emergency. Such is the gypsy life as it unfolds.
   For those of you who don’t know me, I am primarily a classically trained musician, although my tastes and performance styles vary widely. Choral music across the centuries is very appealing, and I’m sorry I missed the Rose Ensemble production last Thursday night. I heard many wonderful comments, and I know they will be back with more of their very special music selections.

Peace Church full of flutes

   On Friday evening, I did attend a performance by the North Wind Flute Choir. Director Melanie Sever had twenty-five flautists on the stage, including piccolo, alto flute, and bass flute. The sound was heavenly. This holiday performance at Peace United Church of Christ began with flutes in every corner of the room, playing as units, and then all playing together. What a rich combination of sounds sharing six different Christmas melodies.
   A highlight of the evening was a sharing of 12 Canons (Rounds) composed by Johannes Brahms late in his life. These were actually settings of love poetry for women’s choir, arranged for flute ensemble. The moods were all over the map, and several flautists changed instruments as the group ventured through the cycle.

Chamber series at Karpeles Museum now in motion

In the chill of this past Sunday afternoon, I chose to visit the recital hosted by the Karpeles Manuscript Museum on First Street. Pianist Denis Evstuhin had brought violinist Helen Chang Haertzen up from Minneapolis to share very engaging chamber music in a wonderful venue. Wherever you sit in this refurbished church building, you can hear everything going on. I chose to sit next to the piano for the first half, then move to the loft for the second half. The sound was fascinating at both levels.
   Evstuhin opened with four of Tchaikovsky’s piano pieces based on thoughts for each month of the year. The nostalgia of October (Autumn) was particularly rich in this venue. Haertzen joined him for three additional Tchaikovsky pieces I had never heard before. The rich romanticism and challenges of life were apparent, particularly in the Meditation and the Melodie, the first and third of the cycle. These two players squeezed every bit of emotion out of this very poignant music.
   The duo closed the afternoon with a performance of the Violin Sonata by French composer Cesar Franck. This four movement work is one of the highest quality pieces of chamber music ever written. The uniting of the themes between piano and violin is very intimate, and persists from beginning to end. The lovely singing of the first movement, the painful emotional sharing of the third, are freed by the excitement of both the second and fourth movements. With exuberance they brought the afternoon to a close and the room resonated with the musical sounds. Stay tuned for more Sunday afternoon events across the next several months.

Burning River Baroque for an after Christmas recital

   If you happen to like Renaissance music, drop by Duluth Congregational Church, 3833 E. Superior St, next Monday night, December 26. Malina Rauschenfels and Paula Maust (Burning River Baroque) will offer a charged post-Christmas tribute to some powerful music from long ago. I’ll share some words about that performance in next week’s edition of The Reader.