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Dirk Meyer is music director of the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra. (Photo from dsso.com)

DSSO review: 'Musical Postcards' takes audience around the world more than once

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"Musical Postcards" offered a mix of light classical and pop music arranged to take the audience around the world in 80 minutes. The music in the third and final pops concert in the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra's season was not arranged with the logic of an actual itinerary: Phileas Fogg only traveled about 23,000 miles around the world, while by my reckoning conductor Dirk Meyer's musical odometer Saturday night at the DECC Symphony Hall racked up a grand total of 62,528 enchanting miles.

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The opening piece was written by Bryce Craig, winner of the Young Composer's Competition. The program notes explained Craig is active as a free-lance percussionist and percussion instructor, which might explain in part while the subject of his overture "Tracks" was trains. Beginning with the rhythmic clanging of tubular bells and pizzicato strings, the piece quickly made it clear that this was not an old-fashioned steam engine, but something sleeker and more modern.

More impressively, "Tracks" was an effective tone poem, conveying a sense of motion and a journey across a changing landscape. A clarinet section was evocative of a vast open plain of grain, while the French horns suggested distant mountains. I would swear the trumpets signaled we had come through a tunnel out of those mountains to end our journey, exalted to have reached out destination. Craig's work served as a enticing portend for the evening's mix of musical delights.

"The 'Sound of Music' Selection" allowed various sections of the orchestra to have their moments, such as the trumpets on "So Long, Farewell," and the cellos and oboes on "Edelweiss."  In contrast,  Chabrier's "España," declared by Meyer to be an "orchestral showpiece," pretty much had everybody playing all the time. The Spanish influences were relatively subtle at first — the piece first struck me as reminiscent of Gershwin rather than Iberia — until the middle section where the music became more heavily accented and the castanets appeared.

I like to watch orchestras, specifically the string sections, to see the ebb and flow of how the various instruments work in contrast and concert. The best opportunity for such an endeavor was during the "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" segment. Introduced by Meyer with a choice anecdote about Johnny Depp's "Winona Forever" tattoo, the piece began with the cellos and double bases signifying Captain Jack Sparrow's inebriated state, to be joined by the violins and violas. By the time Jack takes to the sea, that original theme has been transformed into something more heroic, especially once the horns join in. This number was such great fun the orchestra applauded at the end of the piece as well.

Violinist Alia Gribbon, the Young Artist Competition winner, closed out the first half with the 3rd Movement (Molto moderato e maestoso) of Saint-Saens' Violin Concert No. 3. The composer was determined to have his soloist play more notes on the fingerboard over the upper bout than on the neck of the violin, but Gribbon was up to the demanding interpretive challenges of the piece, earning standing ovations for both of her curtain calls after her triumphant effort.

"A Salute to the Big Apple" began the second half of the concert, bookending the "Theme from 'New York, New York'" and "New York, New York" (a helluva town), with "42nd Street" and "The Lullaby of Broadway" in the middle. Taking honors as the best musical medley of the evening was the "Miss Saigon Selections," which featured an especially nice set up for the segue into "The American Dream."

The elegant "Irish Tune from County Derry," better known as "The Londonderry Air"/"Danny Boy," started and begin with the strings joined by the tuba, with the flutes and woodwinds taking the middle section. The brass sounded exceptional during the "ET Selections. Although the flight theme did not swell to the majestic heights I would have anticipated, the orchestra did nail the big finish.

The concert's big finish was provided when the professionals were joined on stage for a side by side with the Youth Symphony, on the eve of their "Annual Lollipop Concert." Saint-Saens' "Danse Bacchanale" might be from the opera "Samson and Delila," but musically it is very much a kindred spirit to Zimmer's movie score from earlier in the evening, especially when the fuller sound provided by the additional musicians.

Lawrance Bernabo wittingly filled this review with spoilers (for all you Time Lords and Billy Pilgrim types).

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