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Amused Muse

Inspiring dissent and debate and the love of dissonance

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Master's Degree holder, telecommuting from the hot tub, proud Darwinian Dawkobot, and pirate librarian belly-dancer bohemian secret agent scribe on a mission to rescue bloggers from the wholesome clutches of the pious backstabbing girl fridays of the world.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Osmo Vänskä: Mixing the Muses

(And we all know our muses?)

John and I attended the Minnesota Orchestra's 2006-07 Season Preview Concert this afternoon (I snagged some free tix), and I was reminded once again how privileged we are in the Twin Cities area to have a top-notch conductor and musical director for our top-notch, internationally recognized orchestra, Osmo Vänskä. But that's not the real reason to love Vänskä. The real reason to love this man is that, while he's conducting, he's crazy.

He jumps around and dances around, gesticulating like some mad thespian, dancing with Euterpe (the muse of music) until he's evoked Terpsichore (the Greek muse of dance). Vänskä is an absolute riot!

Until I saw him conduct, my favorite dancing conductor was James Levine, of the Metropolitan Opera, who conducted the entire cycle of Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelungen (broadcast on PBS). To see him flying from side to side with his baton to the sounds of those dizzying violins in Ride of the Valkyries was truly the highlight of that performance for me (and there were a lot of highlights, let me tell you).

It was great, too, to see so many children at the concert. They were so good and one particular little girl in a pink dress received many smiles from older women (and me too) as her mother bounced her in time with the music. When MPR's Brian Newhouse asked for a show of hands from those first-time visitors in the audience, one little boy toward the front shot up his hand, and after the applause he stood up, hand still in the air, and the audience clapped again!

In Minnesota, the arts are considered a family affair, like our museums, and our libraries. (There were tons of kids at the Central Library yesterday; I saw one of my co-workers there with his wife and daughter, who's just turned 16 months, and when she glommed onto the book display I said, "Yeah! Get them sucked in early!") And we're not snobs in Minnesota; we're willing to share.

You can't have Mr. Vänskä, though--you have to come here! Heh, heh.


Blogger Dan said...

He jumps around and dances around, gesticulating like some mad thespian, dancing with Euterpe (the muse of music) until he's evoked Terpsichore (the Greek muse of dance). Vänskä is an absolute riot!

That sort of thing is actually very distracting and difficult for the orchestra to follow, not to mention strange for a Finn. The Finnish school of conducting is usually all about economy of movement, intensity, and control.

I've had more than one conducting teacher tell me to stop bouncing around on the podium.

September 25, 2006 5:05 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Ah, that's an interesting point; it's certainly entertaining from my point of view. The conductor of the San Francisco orchestra jumps around a lot too, I'm told. I suppose that the orchestra must put up with what they get.

What is recommended, then? I'm afraid that I don't know much about conducting. There have been several conductors that I've thought would be hard to follow, being less dynamic (but then, I've only ever played the piano and have not performed in an orchestra).

Who are your favorite conductors? I guess one of mine would be Riccardo Muti, but I've never seen him, only heard on the radio.

September 25, 2006 8:21 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

I'm trying to remember the conductor I saw as a child, while watching a documentary with my mother; he was so hard to follow, I thought, and my mother remarked on it, yet he seemed to have such command. I can't remember if it was Leopold Stokowski. Gack, it was a long time ago.

September 25, 2006 8:27 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

A conductor needs an in-depth knowledge of the music, an unambiguous beat structure, and clear cueing of entrances. Everything else is superfluous melodrama.

My favorite currently active conductor is Simon Rattle, with the Berlin Philharmonic since 1999, but my favorite conductor of all time is probably István Kertész (died 1973). His Dvorák symphonies set on London/DECCA (possibly out of print) are my favorite recordings. Georg Solti and Charles Mackerras are right up there, too.

September 26, 2006 6:45 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Simon Rattle! We have his "Classic Ellington" CD.

István Kertész--too bad about how he died--what a loss.

September 27, 2006 2:08 PM  

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