One Blythe Spirit Meets an Angelic Cellist

Sam Black

For your interests, perhaps, I attended The College of St. Scholastica student performance of Noel Coward’s Blythe Spirit this past week, as well as the Masterworks VI performance of the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra, billed as ‘Tributes.’ It was quite a varied combination!
I am a huge fan of Noel Coward, but, admittedly, I am not ‘young,’ so the tongue-in-cheek humour(!) of Coward has delighted me for the past 50 years. I’m not sure that the college student production quite understands the complexity of the Coward linguistic twists, but the evening was quite delightful, all the same.
Of special attraction was the very death-defying (defining?) makeup vision of Jamie Snyder. Lindsey Bushnell, as the deceased Elvira, was spectacular!  With Snyder’s touch, Elvira, though dead, was the liveliest character on stage. She looked terrifyingly terrific, and was thoroughly engaged in her challenging role, being both dead and alive simultaneously. Sarah Grace Devine, as Madame Arcati - a first class sorcerer - was also completely in character. These two, along with the costumes and makeup, created a very stimulating production, which will be running on April 23- 25 at 7:30pm, as well as April 26 at 2pm, the the St. Scholastica Theatre.
Saturday night at Symphony Hall was well-attended, and the audience was certainly not disappointed. Maestro Dirk Meyer programmed music by Bedrich Smetana, Antonin Dvorak, and Franz Josef Haydn to pay tribute to three brilliant composers from 1795 to 1896.
The lovely journey up “The Moldau” River was filled with pleasure. The melodies overflow the banks; a wedding and a group of moon mermaids adds to the color of the flowing river. Of the six pieces in ‘Ma Vlast,’ Smetana’s tribute to his homeland,  Czechoslovakia, The Moldau is the most beloved. The DSSO was crisp and resonant, guaranteeing that this piece will appear again in future concerts.
Haydn wrote twelve symphonies for a London patron, and the Symphony No. 102 was the tenth in the cycle. While many musicologists consider this symphony one of Haydn’s greatest works, Saturday night was the first ever performance by the DSSO. Congratulations to Dirk Meyer for introducing a glory of London in 1795 to Duluth, MN in 2015. The brilliant and spontaneous creativity of Haydn was not actually included in the Saturday performance, however. Sometimes the strings were not sure of the initial downbeat, but they caught on quickly. The champagne bubbles of Haydn’s originality aren’t completely clear in Maestro Meyer’s mind yet. A certain buoyancy was missing, leaving a heavy and loud residue in the hall. Better things were yet to come.
Cellist Suren Bagratuni came to the stage with Meyer, and the rest of the evening was caressed by the sensitive cellist. Meyer is an exceptional conductor working with soloists, and Saturday was a special gift to the audience. Even though Dvorak was reluctant to create a cello concerto, what he put together was one of his most intimate compositions. Bagratuni clearly knows this work with his own deep intimacy, and he was in control of this performance from the downbeat.
Dvorak creates the kind of story-telling that Meyer is a master of sharing, and Bagratuni brought a performance to Duluth that was reminiscent of the 1937 performance by Pablo Casals and the Czech Philharmonic. I closed my eyes and was convinced that Casals was alive again, and performing in Duluth (for the first time since 1916!). Jim Pospisil on French horn, Jennifer Gerth on clarinet, and Michael Dayton on oboe soared loftily to match the heavenly gift Bagratuni was offering to the audience.
Bagratuni provided energy where Dvorak wrote it, and he invoked passionate intensity when Dvorak poured out his musical soul. Everyone in Symphony Hall knew that a gifted communication was happening. Without question, the audience responded with multiple layers of applause for this stellar performance. I certainly hope you were there, since there will not be a repeat of this blessing.