SPCO concerts are canceled through May 10 in an effort to limit the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Kyu-Young Kim: Reflections on our Tapestry19 festival

Above: PaviElle French

By Kyu-Young Kim, Artistic Director and Principal Violin

Now that we’re at the midpoint of our first Tapestry Festival, it’s a nice opportunity to pause and reflect on the lead-up to this whole project, celebrate the successes of the first week, and look ahead to the concerts that are to come.

For a chamber orchestra that already does over 130 concerts a year, the idea of launching a new festival was a daunting one, but we also saw it as an opportunity to engage our audiences in a deeper and more meaningful way, and to work with a more diverse group of artists and collaborators than we ever have. Our Tapestry Festival was founded on two guiding principles: that the language of music can explore an important theme for our community in a distinctive and transformational way, and that a diversity of voices will allow us to dig deeper into the theme and create a richer experience for musicians and audience alike.

The theme that we chose was “home”, and the question we posed to the artists and to the community was “how we recognize home”. For the first weekend of orchestra concerts, we built a program with the title, Songs My Mother Taught Me, from the popular song by Dvořák, a composer that is no stranger to SPCO audiences, but we combined it with world premieres by PaviElle French, the St. Paul Rondo neighborhood born neo-soul singer and Syrian-born clarinetist and composer, Kinan Azmeh. I cannot imagine a more eclectic program, with each work inhabiting a completely unique sound world, but all adhering to the theme of the festival and this concert in a very emotional way.

I love it most when an SPCO program juxtaposes composers and works that you would never expect to hear on the same program. It can be disorienting and jarring to go from Dvořák to PaviElle French to Ives to Kinan Azmeh to Michael Abels, but hopefully, at some point in the program, you start to hear and feel the connections and it moves you in a new way.

One of my favorite moments in the concerts this past weekend was the part in Requiem for Zula, PaviElle’s tribute to her mother, when she sings:

It seems, we’ve come to the end
This is truly bittersweet, my friends.
But, I’m blessed to honor this woman…
To whom so much, she meant.
I thank her for her grace and the way she didn’t judge.

First of all, every time she sang that we’ve come to the end, it filled me with bittersweet regret.  When she sang about Zula’s grace and the way she didn’t judge, it made me hope that we can all follow her example. Sometimes it feels like classical music has lost its way because we get caught up in judging what’s good, what’s legitimate, what’s world class, etc. I think about Dvořák, who came to America to head the new National Conservatory of Music in 1892 and teach composition to young American composers. He saw the future of American classical music in the spirituals and melodies of black Americans. I like to imagine that Dvořák would smile to be programmed next to PaviElle’s neo-soul ballad that brings a symphonic sound and scope to her very personal tribute to her mother.

When Kinan Azmeh came out for brief onstage remarks with composer-in-residence Lembit Beecher, he defined home as the place where you want to contribute without having to justify it. His words clearly registered with many audience members as you could hear murmurs of approval.  Three Syrian film makers contributed stunning video essays that beautifully meshed with Kinan’s music. The image of a bombed out school classroom is indelibly burned into my consciousness, and the forlorn sound of two flutes and clarinet with bass pizzicato as the camera panned out was absolutely heartrending.

Lastly, Michael Abels’ Delights and Dances was the perfect end to this program, and I cannot imagine the piece played better than it was by our strings led by a stellar SPCO quartet of Eunice Kim, Nick Tavani, Hyobi Sim and James Wilson. Kudos also to Sarah Lewis for her beautiful rendition of Dvořák’s Silent Woods. One of our goals with the festival was to showcase our own musicians and our conductorless model, and it was fitting that the concert began and ended with outstanding SPCO soloists.

Next weekend’s concerts take a very different approach to answering the question of how we recognize home. Thanks to Lembit’s vision for his piece, Say Home, the SPCO has been able to engage the community in creating a new musical work about home in an entirely new way. Lembit, along with Todd Lawrence, ethnographer from the University of St. Thomas, and the SPCO’s Artistic Planning Manager Paul Finkelstein (who has been the lead project manager for all of Tapestry19), recorded over 27 hours of interviews with 47 community members, asking them to read a newly commissioned poem by local poet Chris Santiago and answer questions about home. This raw material for the piece is fascinating in its own right, full of moving testimonials about what home means to them from a diverse cross section of the community. We held a conversation on Sunday night at the East Side Freedom Library that allowed people to hear directly from interviewees and offered fascinating insight into the genesis of the piece.

Also to that end, Lembit, Paul and Todd have recorded three podcasts that will allow our audiences to delve deeply into this treasure trove of archival material.  The podcasts are available in on our Concert Library.

The intelligence, thoughtfulness, compassion and respect that Lembit and his team have brought to this work with the community members has shown how the SPCO can engage our community in a meaningful and much needed dialogue.  We are grateful to the East Side Freedom Library for their partnership in helping nurture this dialogue and for hosting a free community concert on Tuesday, February 19, bringing together local artists and SPCO musicians.  Finally, the concerts at the Ordway on February 22, 23 and 24, the last of which will be live streamed in HD video in the Concert Library, will bring Tapestry19 to an emotional and heartfelt conclusion.  We can’t wait to share the music with you all.