Preview: Zehetmair Conducts Beyond the Canon

By Trever Hagen

For the SPCO’s next live digital concert, former SPCO Artistic Partner Thomas Zehetmair takes the baton on Saturday, September 15 with a performance that exhibits The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s breadth of emotion, depth of skill and sonic curiosity. The free live concert stream can be viewed in the SPCO’s Concert Library.

In addition to the live video stream, a special one-hour Happy Hour concert will be performed on on Thursday and full-length concerts will be performed on Friday and Saturday nights.

Eunice Kim, violin

The SPCO’s second week of performances in its 18.19 season offers familiar treasures and unheard of gems. Artistic Director and Principal Violin Kyu-Young Kim describes the program as “a study in extreme contrasts,” bookended between the aching opening of Beethoven’s Romance No. 1 for Violin performed by Eunice Kim and the strong staccato attack of Haydn’s dramatic Symphony No. 95 in C Minor. Kyu-Young Kim says that “as an ensemble, we love to explore the visceral, improvisatory, witty and engaging sides of Haydn.”

In between the works of Beethoven and Haydn, we hear pieces by Claude Vivier and Jean-Féry Rebel. “These two pieces are meant to shock the senses,” Kim tells us. Vivier’s Zipangu (Marco Polo’s name for Japan) is a maelstrom of destabilizing harmonies that move together like a boat caught at sea. Rebel’s The Elements similarly piques one’s ears by the sheer novelty of textures and sounds used. Kim muses: “It’s hard to know what feels more shocking, the opening movement of The Elements, with its depiction of Chaos, or the searing dissonances of Zipangu, with its use of distortion, but they each find their own internal logic, and you begin to live within the dissonances and find the beauty within the tension.”

The inclusion of Vivier and Rebel in the program reveals an artistic direction that—while offering the more well-acquainted passages of Haydn and Beethoven—brings more unfamiliar composers who lay at the edge of the canon to the Twin Cities’ audience. To hear a chamber orchestra perform such bold pieces is in itself worth the trip to Saint Paul’s Ordway Concert Hall.

However, if you cannot make the journey, have no worry. With exceptional audio and visual fidelity, the SPCO will live stream the Saturday, September 15 performance in the Concert Library website as well as apps for iOS and Android. The state-of-the-art video recording system affords a listening experience that measures up to the live event yet is configured to your comfort at home. The multiple cameras used to shoot the performance are edited to provide a montage that flows with the music. In fact, watching the live stream gives you access to the performance as if you were on stage, hiding behind the double-bass or peering over the shoulder of the violinist.

This week’s performances, program and technological initiative highlight the SPCO’s enduring vision to share the depths of musical history and a pinnacle performance.


Trever Hagen, PhD, is a writer, researcher and trumpeter living in Minneapolis. As a former Fulbright Fellow, JSPS Fellow and Leverhulme Trust Fellow, Hagen’s work targets how the arts function in societies. Hagen’s newest book, Living in the Merry Ghetto: the music and politics of the Czech underground, will be out from Oxford University Press in 2019.