A Feeling of Thankfulness for the Arts in the Twin Ports

by Sam Black

I have only lived near Lake Superior for twenty-two years, less than one-third of my life. But for all of these brief years, I have been truly overwhelmed by the poetry, the drama, the dance, the painting, the sculpture, the short stories, and, of course, the music that emanates from the residents of this community at the Wolf’s Head on the western side of Lake Superior.

This past week we were visited by a young, internationally known pianist who happened to have been born in Russia. After 118 years, the Matinee Musicale organization knows how to find young artists who are going to leave a significant mark on the cultural scene. Zlata Chochieva offered a recital and two master-classes with local (even younger) musicians while she was in town. Her expressive love of Frederic Chopin and Sergei Rachmaninoff was apparent to all in the audience.

Circle Sunday, March 18, 2018, for one of the most exciting Matinee Musicale notions to be invented. In March, 1918 (!) a genius named Pablo Casals brought his cello from northeastern Spain to Duluth and shared his passion for music. One hundred years later, on the same date, brilliant cellist Amit Peled will bring Casals’ cello and Casals’ program to Duluth. More about this will be forthcoming.

DSSO and Chorus sharing the deep world of Brahms

This past Saturday evening, the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra featured a program meant to emphasize the significance of the early sixteenth century in the history of Christianity. After many decades of religious questioning, a young monk named Martin Luther brought a new dimension to the Christian world of central Europe. He was also a gifted musician, and left many tunes for the church to celebrate for five hundred years now. 

Conductor Dirk Meyer chose to open with the Symphony No. 5 (1832) by Felix Mendelssohn, a work never before played by the musical ensemble known as the DSSO. These four movements began with a fanfare, then moved into a melodic first movement, punctuated three times by a short phrase that came to be known as the ‘Dresden’ Amen. This was followed by a sparkling Scherzo, although I saw no one dancing.

The Andante was rich with strings, concluding with a bridge passage that introduced us to the bouncing melody Martin Luther put together for his song based on Psalm 46: Our god is a mighty fortress. Brass, woodwinds, and strings bring a shared liveliness to this tune as they complete the symphony. This young work is reminiscent of some of Mozart’s symphonies, and certainly worthy from a twenty-one year old musician gradually learning about the whole Lutheran world around him. 

Luther took the time to translate the Hebrew and Greek scriptural texts into modern German, so that literate people on the streets could understand these ancient texts. When Johannes Brahms wrote A German Requiem, he used texts he was intimately familiar with from the language of Martin Luther.
These Biblical passages are meant to comfort the living, who have experienced a meaningful loss with the death of someone close. In seven separate movements, the thirty-four year old composer shared his intimate understanding of bereavement and faithfulness. Roughly 150 singers joined the DSSO to share in this beautiful oratorio. Soprano Jennifer Baldwin Peden led the very emotional fifth movement. Baritone Andrew Wilkowske played musical games with the chorus in both the third and sixth movements. The DSSO chorus, of course, was involved from the first to the last measure.

The chorus was strong, and the orchestra was rich underneath. I am always drawn to the lengthy sixth movement, which has at least five different musical sections, and texts leading from emerging hope to a complete sense of victory. The immediate flow into the final movement is certainly a moment of bliss. Those who die with a sense of faithfulness will be well remembered by all their accomplishments.

Meyer is a gifted vocal conductor, and his ability to bring together orchestra and chorus was obvious to the live audience, as well as to the television audience at home, thanks to the WDSE live broadcast. 
I hope music and the arts contributes to the thankfulness of your coming weekend, all the while knowing that these opportunities are year-round here in the Twin Ports world of Duluth-Superior.