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SPCO offers preview of upcoming Carnegie concert

Dawn Upshaw
Courtesy of SPCO
Dawn Upshaw

It’s been a decade since the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra last played what is perhaps this country’s most-famous classical music venue, New York City’s Carnegie Hall. The SPCO returns there in May with new commissioned arrangements of a set of Franz Schubert compositions.

“Carnegie Hall represents the kind of place where musicians aspire to perform,” says SPCO concertmaster and violinist Steven Copes.

The SPCO, conducted by Douglas Boyd and featuring soprano Dawn Upshaw, performs Osvaldo Golijov’s arrangements of Schubert songs in a preview of the Carnegie performance at the Ordway Center today (April 24) and Saturday, April 26.

Golijov is best known for his early work with Kronos Quartet, his La Pasión Según San Marco (in commemoration of the 250th anniversary of J.S. Bach’s death) and Azul, a cello concerto for Yo-Yo Ma and the Boston Symphony.

Both SPCO performances in St. Paul begin at 8 p.m.; Saturday’s concert will be broadcast live on Minnesota Public Radio (99.5 FM).

The orchestra will also perform Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite, Two Poems of Constantin Balmont and Three Japanese Lyrics, as well as Haydn’s Symphony No. 104 in D, London. 

The Schubert lieder are undoubtedly what landed the SPCO its Carnegie gig, says SPCO vice president for artistic planning, John Mangum.

Steven Copes
Photo by Sarah Rubinstein
Concertmaster Steven Copes

“We’re doing a world premiere of new Schubert song arrangements by Golijov especially for Dawn, so there’s a lot going on with the program,” he says.

“For an art form to stay relevant, it has to stay alive and continue to foster creativity,” he adds. “You have to put an investment into living composers.”

Carnegie memories
The May 11 Carnegie concert will be Copes’ first with the SPCO, but not his debut performance there.

When he was 17 years old and studying his instrument at the Curtis Institute, he traveled to New York for the first time to play with legendary violinist Isaac Stern as part of the annual Christmas Seminar series at Carnegie.

“Leonard Bernstein had died, I think, very recently,” Copes recalls. “Stern and Bernstein were very close friends and colleagues for many years.

“[Stern] announced that Bernstein had died and wanted to dedicate his performance to him, and he played the slow movement from Haydn’s C major violin concerto. It was just very moving. It’s etched in my mind.”

That performance was in the 2,800-seat main auditorium, now named for Stern. SPCO will play in the 600-seat Judy and Arthur Zankel Hall, which opened in 2003.

Details, details
Copes says he’d rather play the smaller hall than the Stern Auditorium (Carnegie also has the 268-seat Weill Recital Hall).

“Sometimes a lot of details may get lost [in the larger hall]. When you read the New York Times, the reviewers are constantly mentioning how when a big-name star gives a recital there, how it’s just not the best place to hear this or that piece.”

Copes says Carnegie, despite its reputation, isn’t the best venue he’s ever played.

“We just played in a wonderful hall in Europe last year in Warsaw,” he says of the Philharmonic Hall there.

“There’s also, of course, the Musikverein in Vienna. I think if you’re sitting out in the audience, it’s wonderful. On stage, it’s tricky to hear each other well. But it’s certainly one of the most resonant, wonderful halls.”

He says Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and the Philharmonic in Warsaw are the two best he’s ever played, though he said Symphony Hall in Boston is perhaps the best place he’s ever heard music as an audience member.

Copes says the University of Minnesota’s Ted Mann Concert Hall is the best local venue for chamber orchestras.

Mangum says there are no plans for SPCO’s Carnegie performance to be recorded, though he says it seems likely that at some point Deutsche Grammophon might record the Schubert arrangements. In 2006, the label released Golijov’s “Ainadamar,” a Grammy-winning CD featuring Upshaw, with conductor Robert Spano and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

Tickets for the performances at the Ordway Center, 345 Washington St., St. Paul, are from $11 to $59. Call 651-291-1144 for more information or go here.

Upcoming pick

Electric Light Orchestra was an attempt, of sorts, to fuse rock music, science fiction and classical music. Rather than a rocket ride into the future of rock ‘n’ roll, ELO was really little more than a vehicle for Jeff Lynne.

He was the face, the shades, the voice, the writer and the creator of all things ELO.

You can see the band resurrected in all its white-guy-wearing-an-Afro glory as members of Accident Clearinghouse, Manplanet, Detroit, and Billy Johnson’s Roadshow don wigs and sunglasses as E.L.nO (here’s the band’s MySpace page).

Listen to “Living Thing,” “Hold On Tight” and “Mr. Blue Sky,” among other ditties of days gone by at 9 p.m. Friday (April 25) at Lee’s Liquor Lounge, 101 Glenwood Ave. N., Minneapolis. Admission is five bucks.

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