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SPCO: Venice, a Requiem, Frankenstein and kazoos

The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra will be performing in the “environs” of the Twin Cities during the rest of October, but that doesn’t lessen the unique variety of what audiences are going to hear during three weeks of concerts.

The trio of weekly programs start with concerts this week that focus on music that is connected to Venice — though the hook is a little tenuous, I think. Some of the works are by Venetians: Gabrieli, Vivaldi and Francesco Malipiero. That’s straightforward enough.

But three other works are from operas that were merely premiered in Venice: Stravinsky’s prelude to “The Rake’s Progress”; the Act Three prelude to Vivaldi’s “La Traviata” and the Overture to Rossini’s “The Italian Girl in Algiers.” And the program also brings back the orchestral arrangement of Liszt’s piano work, “La Lugubre Gondola II,” that composer John Adams did for the SPCO back in 1989. The inspiration for Liszt was a dream he had that involved watching a floating funeral cortege in Venice — something he later believed was a mystical anticipation of the death of Richard Wagner.

It’s a hefty program, conducted by Mark Russell Smith, the SPCO’s director of new music. And an added feature is a solo performance by newly arrived SPCO violinist Sunmi Chang, who is appearing in Vivaldi’s Concerto for Violin and Three Violins in Echo. Four performances are scheduled, each in a different venue

Moving along, there will be two concerts on Oct. 22 and 23 that reunite the orchestra with the SPCO Chorale, which was created for last year’s 50th anniversary season. Conducting both concerts will be choral icon Dale Warland. Both performances will take place in churches — Trinity Lutheran in Stillwater and Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie — because a pipe organ is required.

The venues also are apt, given the liturgical nature of the two works on the program. One is Arvo Part’s Te Deum, a 30-minute setting of the Latin Mass for orchestra, three choral ensembles, wind harp and prepared piano. The other is a Requiem composed in the 1940s by Paris organist Maurice Durufle. Warland is using a version that Durufle arranged for chorus, organ and strings. At least two other versions exist, including one that has soloists and another for full orchestra, chorus and organ.

The end of the month gets — well, a little weird. The guest conductor is the iconoclast H.K. Gruber, who is helping the orchestra celebrate Halloween by performing his big hit, “Frankenstein!! A Pan-Demonium for Chansonnier and Ensemble.” Gruber composed the wild piece in 1977 and it’s by far his most-performed work, for good reason.

The entertainment includes a cabaret-style setting of poems by German poet H.C. Artmann with such effects as popping paper bags, kazoos and penny-whistles.

More significantly, Gruber will also conduct the U.S. premiere of his new trumpet concerto, titled “Busking,” a term referring to musicians who play on street corners for donations. The soloist is the great Hakan Hardenberger, though additional instruments include a banjo and accordion.

Two performances will be given on Oct. 30 at Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie — one at 10:30 a.m. (bring the kids) and a second at 8 p.m. And then the orchestra will return to the Ordway Music Center on Oct. 31 to finish the month. Details can be found here.

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