The music I have played and enjoyed the most in the past three years is, of all things, a three-CD collection from Time Life titled “The Stanley Brothers: The Definitive Collection (1947-1966).” It is fundamental American music: rural bluegrass with a tapestry of strings beneath vocals seemingly made whole cloth out of the dirt, water, and foliage of the Virginia hills.
More than 40 years later, Ralph Stanley, now 82, keeps going with the latest edition of his Clinch Mountain Boys. If there were a Mount Rushmore of bluegrass, he’d be up there with his brother Carter, Bill Monroe, and Flatt & Scruggs. Of those five, only Earl Scruggs and Ralph are still alive (playing the banjo must be good for one’s health).
Ralph can still make his voice sound like the only thing in the room — his haunting rendition of “O Death” in the movie “O Brother Where Art Thou?” still resonates, nine years later. And this edition of the Clinch Mountain Boys retains the standard of excellence that the Stanleys originally established in the mid-20th century. They’ll be in town tonight, and tickets are expensive compared with most Cedar Cultural Center gigs — and yet, not surprisingly, nearly sold out.
Over at the Ordway, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra kicks off its 51st season with Scottish conductor Douglas Boyd performing Beethoven’s 5th Symphony — you know, that “da-da-da dum” vamp you first heard as an infant. While the august, dramatic first movement is in our collective DNA, the ensuing three movements likewise are capable of captivating your senses, as you rise and fall on the creative imagination of this transcendent work. It can be said without exaggeration that it ranks among the most influential compositions in the history of music.
Boyd, who will end a seven-year tenure as an artistic partner of the SPCO (longer than anyone has served under the organization’s relatively new model of collective leadership) this season, also has chosen a pair of Mozart pieces — including the overture to the Magic Flute — and Vivaldi’s Concerto in G for Oboe, Bassoon and Orchestra to round out the program. You’ve missed this morning’s first show, and unsold tickets are scattered and precious for the evening performances tonight and Saturday.
Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys at the Cedar Cultural Center, today at 8 p.m., tickets are $40 general admission and $50 “front and center.”
St. Paul Chamber Orchestra at the Ordway Center, today and Saturday at 8 p.m.; tickets $11-$59.