Arts organizations have had to cancel performances, work with virtual audiences rather than live full houses and do everything possible to keep their doors open and artists paid.
The Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra board and staff decided to start with a three-concert fall and early winter season, beginning with a hybrid of a small live audience and a virtual live streaming audience.
The DSSO’s “Strings Attached” concert on Saturday night gave a string section of 25 players a chance to shine, for both the few socially distanced masked in-person concert-goers and those sitting by a crackling fire at home enjoying it virtually.
The players and Music Director Dirk Meyer were masked and socially distanced onstage as well. Despite what seemed a bit surreal at times with so few people in the audience and the players spaced apart from one another, the orchestra ably brought back the sweeping magic and majesty that symphonic music played well provides.
With a colorful mix of American folk music, bluegrass, and classical music, the work of exciting young American composer Jessie Montgomery opened the evening with her delightful composition, “Strum.”
“Strum” has moments that are at times jubilant and celebratory and in others wistful and longing. Montgomery’s weaving of melodies and strumming pizzicato help to create her own unique 21st century voice.
Astor Piazzolla’s composition “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” was written as an homage to Vivaldi’s beloved “Four Seasons.” Without being derivative, Piazzolla instead uses some distinctively familiar strains and phrases from Vivaldi, but gives his own Argentinian slant with a full range of emotions from the tender to the sultry to the exultant.
Using his own unique style, combining jazz, classical music and tango, Piazzolla also created his fervent homage to his beloved Buenos Aires. Concertmaster Erin Aldridge gave the right amount of passionate swagger to her brilliant solos in the piece, with wonderful support from the rest of the players.
Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” the evening’s most heartrending and emotional composition, has been referred to as “the saddest classical work ever.” It was performed at the funerals of FDR, JFK, Albert Einstein, and Princess Grace of Monaco, as well as at a ceremony to honor the victims of 9/11.
In his opening remarks before the concert, Mark Monson, President of the DSSO Board of Directors, noted that Barber’s piece was a fitting tribute to all those who have died during the many months of the worldwide pandemic.
With Meyer bringing the string orchestra to a somber conclusion that faded away to airy nothingness, the solemnity of “Adagio” was maintained when there was absolute silence with no applause at the end of the piece.
“Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings,” the evening’s final offering, was finely paced and shaped, with the Russian composer’s homage to Mozart in the opening movement, his sweeping and elegant waltz movement, the emotional elegy, and spirited dance themes in the final movement.
Meyer expressed so well what bringing the orchestra back together meant when he said, “Music brings a renewed sense of hope and joy to all our lives.”
If You 'Go'
What: DSSO “Strings Attached” concert
When: Streaming online at dsso.com
Tickets: For all three concerts (October 17—streaming, November 7, and December 5) $25 at dsso.com or (218) 722-5573
Sheryl Jensen is a former teacher, magazine editor and director. She reviews theater for the News Tribune.