Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen

Weirdo Finnish Symphony (and two more)

So last night markgritter and I went to a Minnesota Orchestra concert. We started with dinner at Rainbow (the tasty Chinese restaurant on Nicollet, not the grocery store as I thought the first time dd_b suggested eating there). I tried a ginger-peach cosmopolitan, and, um, bleh. The ginger was missing all its top notes, and the peach and cranberry were barely there at all. I know I can send my father into a tizzy -- well, as close to a tizzy as a Scandosotan guy like my father gets, which means shaking his head sadly and silently, as we are not a tizzing subculture -- by intoning triumphantly, "See? That'll teach me to try new things!" It gets him every time. Anyway, I took approximately four sips of that drink and then, having determined that it was no good, ignored it. There is no Clean Plate Club for bad alcohol. (There is no Clean Plate Club at all, at my house. But especially not for bad alcohol. markgritter's odd potions to use up the off-brand hard lemonade that tasted like lemony booze glue some years ago notwithstanding.) But the actual food was very good, and we have ample leftovers, which we will promptly not eat for lunch because we got a better offer.

Aaaaanyway. The symphony. Yes. They did Samuel Barber's Symphony No. 1 first. What I said to markgritter in intermission was that it would be tempting to describe that one as sounding cinematic, but from the timing, that's because Barber influenced the people who wrote movie scores, definitely not vice versa. It was a very listenable symphony. I enjoyed it, and it was markgritter's favorite of the night.

The second thing they did was Beethoven's Symphony No. 1. I enjoyed that, too, but the problem with Beethoven for me is that I know it well enough that it all sounds very familiar and not well enough that I can pick out when they're doing anything interesting. I couldn't tell you whether the horns were unusually prominent in the Andante cantabile movement or not. I just don't know. It sounded fine to me. What did not sound fine to me was a few other symphony patrons. The Barber piece did not have separations between movements. The Beethoven did, and one concertgoer started clapping enthusiastically after the first movement. I would say that you could hear how small the clapping hands were, but that's not the point. Even if it hadn't been a kid -- which it was -- there was no call for a few other patrons to whisper sneeringly about it. Making inexperienced enthusiasts feel unwelcome is a lot more damaging to the classical music listening subculture than clapping between movements, for heaven's sake. (Not that anyone in any other field has any lesson there.)

After the intermission, they played Kalevi Aho's Symphony No. 9 (for Trombone and Orchestra). I was enchanted. I don't think I've ever enjoyed a modern (= written since 1950) symphony that much. The essence of the Northern sense of humor* is the veeeeery fine line between solemnity and deadpan, and the first movement of the Aho crossed and recrossed that line several times. By the second movement, I was pretty sure that some of the things he was doing with melody and dissonance are extremely similar to the things Finnish metal bands are doing in a different mode, and that fascinated me. It was both extremely dissonant and extremely melodic. One of my frustrations with modern -- or probably more accurately post-modern -- composition is that dissonance without motion doesn't produce tension. It's just discordant. And -- meh. That's boring to me. After you've listened to one or two symphonies that deconstruct the notion of forward movement in music, it starts to get boring, and forward motion away from that seems like a reasonable plan. But discord with melody, motion, and self-aware humor is a good thing. By the second movement, I was pretty excited. I was not bouncing in my chair and giggling because I am a Scandosotan and an adult, but it was that kind of thing for me internally. And then in the second and third movements the things R. Douglas Wright made his trombone do with vocalization and tonguing had me gnawing on my knuckles in fascination. If you'd told me a trombone could sound a bit reminiscent of yoik, I wouldn't have believed you. It was just lovely. It was extremely weird. So very fine.

I came home and added several Aho symphonies to my Amazon wishlist. I refrained from adding all of them on the theory that I can always add more later.

You know, I started disliking Walt Whitman when I was six or seven years old, and when I have an experience like last night's, I think, "Yeah, you may have heard the learn'd astronomer, but fella, I listened to him." Even at six or seven, I had the strong sense that Not-My-Uncle-Walt was talking about people like me in that poem, and that he had totally missed the point. The learn'd astronomers I know are all more interested in looking up in perfect silence at the stars, not less. They don't lose the ability to see beauty in the natural world. They gain layers in their understanding of it. And thinking about modernism and post-modernism and Finnish metal and what it's doing and yoik and where it came from and all of that, that didn't detract from my enjoyment, it enhanced it by a lot. So as they would say in the Betsy-Tacy books, Walt Whitman can go way back and sit down. I like Kalevi Aho.

*Not necessarily lacking in other genres of humor. But strongly present in everything I've been able to read about Arctic and near-Arctic peoples. I am frustrated that there isn't more inhabitable land mass in the south so I could poke my nose into whether this is a near-polar thing in general or whether the Arctic cultures are influencing each other or something else completely. Maybe the tip of Chile will do. Hmm. Anyway.
Tags: concerts

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