The cello in classical music is like the saxophone in jazz: Not the iconic instrument (that would be violin in classical, trumpet in jazz), but the one that, to me anyway, provides the perfect blend of resonant yet supple tonality and spry phrasing.
I was fortunate enough to be in the audience at Tanglewood (the summer home of the Boston Symphony) the August night in 1975 when Mstislav Rostropovich played the First Cello Concerto by his great friend Shostakovich on the day of the composer’s death. I still remember watching a television program of Pablo Casals playing for President Kennedy when I was very young, and was tickled when my son was similarly transfixed by Yo-Yo Ma’s guest appearance on “Mister Rogers.” And my favorite classical performance last year was cellist Thomas Isserlis performing John Taverner’s “The Protecting Veil” at the St. Paul Cathedral.
Thursday morning and Friday night, Minnesota Orchestra principal cellist Anthony Ross will perform the Schumann Cello Concerto, a frequently beautiful work divided into three movements meant to be played without cease. Suffused with pizzicato accompaniment from the orchestra, it moves from the amber-lit ambiance of the lengthy first movement, with wonderful double-stop passages, into the melancholy of the second and then a challenging, bright finale.
After intermission, the orchestra will play Shostakovich’s popular Fifth Symphony, written at the height of Stalin’s power, and used by the composer to get back in the dictator’s good graces. Defenders of Shostakovich regard the triumphant finale as his attempt at irony, but regardless of motive, it ranks among his most conventional and crowd-pleasing symphonies.
These performances mark the conducting debut of Stefan Sanderling with the Minnesota Orchestra. Those with long memories might recall that Sanderling, the son of famous composer Kurt Sanderling, conducted a world premiere of Peter Schickele’s Symphony No. 2 back in January 2002. Here he is conducting the Shostakovich Fifth Symphony at the beginning of the third movement in a 2003 performance in Tokyo.
Minnesota Orchestra performs Glinka, Schumann and Shostakovich at Orchestra Hall, Thursday morning, Oct. 15, at 11 a.m. and Friday night, Oct. 16, at 8 p.m. Thursday tickets are $22-$56; Friday tickets are $26-$84.