SPCO plays on - and brings the crowd to its feet

October 5

By Rob Hubbard
Pioneer Press

Rock stars might get standing ovations at the start of concerts, but seldom do orchestras. Yet about half the house rose to its feet when the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra emerged from the wings of St. Paul's Ordway Center on Friday morning, Oct. 5, the applause lingering long after the players took their seats.

A show of support for the musicians in their battle with management over a new contract? For some, perhaps. But also a gesture of appreciation that performances will go on under an expired contract while negotiations continue.

The orchestra then channeled this wellspring of emotion into an excellently played performance full of beauty and excitement. Making his SPCO debut on the podium was Danish conductor Thomas Dausgaard, a graceful, expressive leader who helped shape a transporting interpretation of Richard Wagner's "Siegfried Idyll" and an intimately involving take on Beethoven's Seventh Symphony.

Between them was the Clarinet Concerto of Dausgaard's countryman, Carl Nielsen, which proved a fabulous forum for the skills of soloist Alexander Fiterstein. It's a piece that hopscotches between frolicking folk-dance-flavored themes, musical arguments of soloist and snare drum and some soft and mellifluous cadenzas in the low end of the clarinet, all expertly executed by Fiterstein.

There's a certain bigness associated with both Beethoven and Wagner. But Dausgaard and the SPCO brought the two masters down to human size, making Wagner's rare chamber work, "Siegfried Idyll," sound like it might be the most beautiful thing he ever wrote (and that's saying something).

Beethoven symphonies have become such an expertise for conductor Osmo Vanska and the Minnesota Orchestra that hearing the SPCO's small-scale version may require an adjustment for some local concertgoers. (It was surely a change of pace for the eight Minnesota Orchestra members who sat in Friday.) But Dausgaard has recorded all of Beethoven's orchestral oeuvre with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, and his experience of going micro with the Seventh served him well. The slow movement was particularly powerful in its naked vulnerability, while the fiery finale exploded with energy and intensity. It received the concert's second standing ovation, this one unanimous.