What Concertos and Which Friends?

It has been a great pleasure to work with the orchestra teachers of South Washington Country School District 833, and to witness their young orchestra program thrive and grow each year. Kelly-StarKelly Karow joined the team when the district’s orchestra program grew into high school three years ago, and we have appreciated watching her juggle the competing needs of high school string students that come to her three high schools from a variety of middle school orchestras across the district. So when she mentioned last spring that she would like to perform as a soloist with EMSO if we were ever interested (on her primary instrument, the oboe) I quickly said yes. Since EMSO thrives on working with artists and arts organizations in its home communities of the east twin cities metro, we were thrilled to create an opportunity for Kelly to perform with us. She suggested the rarely-performed and quite charming L’Horloge de Flore (The Flower Clock) by early-20th century French composer Jean Françaix, and from here we began to build a concert program.

In the meantime, a couple years ago my husband whispered his secret desire to then-EMSO president Eric Levinson that I dust off my piano keys and perform a piano concerto with the orchestra. You see, I began my musical life as a pre-school piano student when my older sister began taking piano lessons and I insisted (apparently something very rare for me to do as a child) that I get lessons as well. Elizabeth-StarOver time my piano studies became serious enough to result in a master’s degree and many subsequent years as an accompanist, chamber musician and coach. More recently, however, playing piano (and violin, my other primary instrument) simply faded away as my work as conductor and explorations into the music of other cultures took precedence. When Eric broached the topic of my performing a piano concerto I decided to accept this challenge, bringing back the piano concerto I prepared for my master’s degree work back in 1979, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major (K. 433 for those keep track of this category). My piano teacher, Nina Svetlanova* assigned this lovely concerto to me because she thought that my penchant for slow, emotionally-dark music could use a balance with this concerto’s cheery, A-major sensibility.

Well, now we had two-thirds of an orchestra concert planned. A big, Romantic symphony seemed in order to complete this program, especially since both the Françaix and Mozart works were relatively light, and provide little opportunity for our brass and percussion sections to play at all! But early in the summer I received word from our current EMSO president, Sally Browne, that in addition to the great news that our concertmaster Mike-Star-2Mike Sobieski would be returning after an absence from much of our 2011-2012 season due to an extraordinary string of scheduling conflicts, he would like to perform a concerto if we were interested. How could we not be interested in having Mike – not just the EMSO concertmaster, but long-time member of the esteemed St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and world-class soloist as well as orchestra and chamber musician – perform a concerto with us? His concerto performances with EMSO are some of the orchestra’s favorite experiences, and a special treat for our audiences as well. When I asked what he would like to perform, he quickly answered, “Brahms.” Wow! Yes, this would certainly take care of the second half of a concert program splendidly. The only downside was that it too does not use most of our brass section, and it is a fiendishly-challenging work for a community orchestra. (When I mentioned to a new acquaintance that EMSO would be performing the Brahms Violin Concerto with Mike this fall, she responded that we must have a very good orchestra.) But if Mike suggested it, he must have felt confident we could do it, so Brahms it is! (And our trumpets, trombones and tuba players, as well as most of our percussion, will rejoin us for December’s holiday performance, which will undoubtedly be rife with music for them to sink into.)

Preparing this program has provided a thrilling variety of musical experiences:

Concertos with Friends Blog-Flower clockThe Françaix is alternately sweet and lyrical, infused with funky dance rhythms, or even marked by silly, almost circus-like sounds. It has sections where the full orchestra blasts through, and others where smaller, chamber ensemble groups of the orchestra hold forth. The piece is actually descriptive of a type of garden – called a flower clock – where a clock inserted in the center actually points to a variety of flowers that bloom at the time of day they are pointed to by the clock hands. You can hear the composer’s interest in the music of Debussy, with its colorful blocks of sound. It is a fascinating piece, one that I never knew before Kelly suggested it.

The Mozart is overall cheerfully optimistic, as my teacher Nina suggested, but it also has a fabulously-melancholy middle movement, taking full advantage of the plaintive sound of the key of F# minor. Mozart apparently was a big fan of the clarinet, a newfangled musical instrument of his day, and he capitalizes on the coolness provided by the sound of this instrument to color the chamber orchestra of his day.

And then the Brahms is truly symphonic in dimension, allowing the solo violinist to shine spectacularly, all the while playing within the context of rich and complex orchestral writing.

We look forward to sharing the fruits of our work with these musical friends with you. Each of our musical friends brings a fascinating musical treasure in the three concertos, creating a delectable assortment of musical experiences to savor. I hope to see you then.

Elizabeth Prielozny Barnes
Music Director and Conductor

Concertos with Friends
Sunday, October 28, 2012
3:00 p.m.
East Ridge High School Auditorium
4200 Pioneer Drive
Woodbury, MN