Music review: With labor drama in background, SPCO plays with abandon
By Rob Hubbard
The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra is playing like there's no tomorrow. At least that's how it felt Friday, Sept. 28, at Wayzata Community Church. And, with the musicians' contract expiring on Sunday and canceled concerts perhaps in the offing if no agreement is reached, the urgency is understandable.
This carpe diem approach was definitely to the audience's benefit Friday night, especially when composer/bandleader Maria Schneider conducted her "Carlos Drummond de Andrade Stories," with soprano Dawn Upshaw as soloist. But there was also a palpable difference in intensity on three works repeated from last weekend's concerts. While the pieces by Walter Piston, Samuel Barber (the string quartet movement that became his "Adagio for Strings") and John Harbison were strong last week, they roiled with emotion on Friday.
But the best reason to catch this program is Schneider's piece, a song cycle in which each movement segues gracefully into the next. Schneider's music skillfully summoned up the spirit of the words of 20th-century Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade, as did Upshaw's impeccable voice and interpretive expertise. Schneider, Upshaw and the SPCO premiered the piece four years ago, have since performed it at Carnegie Hall, and spent two days this week recording it at Minneapolis' Ted Mann Concert Hall for release later this year. And, judging from Friday's fiery performance, the SPCO has really made the work its own.
While balance issues sometimes pushed Upshaw's voice into virtual eclipse, the winds did wonders with the harmonies that Schneider has honed over decades of leading her own New York-based jazz orchestra. And violinists Steven Copes and Ruggero Allifranchini brought the Latin flavor that bubbled under the work spouting to the surface on a finale full of passionate dueling lines.
As Upshaw sang the lines, "The day after tomorrow is Sunday/and nobody knows what will happen/on Monday," they echoed the uncertainty that hovers over this weekend's marathon contract negotiations. The accelerated pace of this week's offers and counteroffers between management and musicians gives one hope that a resolution is drawing closer. But, at Friday's concert, the musicians presented an eloquent argument that it would be a grave loss if their outstanding sense of ensemble should be sacrificed in a new agreement.