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Music review: Happy homecoming for Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra opener

Tickets are available to the streaming "To Discover" concert.

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They’re back! The key word was “welcome” as the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra musicians and Music Director Dirk Meyer took the stage at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center Auditorium.

After a season last year where they played with half of their usual number of musicians and to only 10% of their normal capacity, this “homecoming” was met with cheers and delight from their appreciative (and masked) audience.

DSSO Executive Director Brandon VanWaeyenberghe gave a few statistics in his opening remarks: 925 in-person tickets were sold for this concert and over 60 musicians were onstage.

He also acknowledged the success of the virtual concerts last season. This year, patrons can again buy virtual-only tickets to stream the concerts beginning on the Tuesday following the Saturday night concerts. Those purchasing in-person tickets also have access to the streaming concerts.

The title of this first concert was “To Discover.” Meyer explained that the DSSO had never played any of the evening’s four pieces before.

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The program got off to an exciting start with a short opening work, “Rush,” by composer Jonathan Leshnoff, who has been described as “a leader of contemporary American lyricism.” A rush of adrenaline filled the hall for this exciting and exuberant composition. Leshnoff’s engaging piece was at times frenetic and at others calming and quiet.

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Mozart once wrote to his father while he was trying to finish a commission for a flutist, saying, “I am quite powerless to write for an instrument (the flute) which I cannot bear.”
Many believe he was just frazzled by deadlines and not expressing his true feelings about the instrument. He went on to write breathtaking compositions featuring the flute, including his opera “The Magic Flute,” and, what is considered the most significant piece in the flute repertoire, “Flute Concerto No 1.”

Featuring the DSSO’s principal flutist, Claudia White, the “Flute Concerto” was the sublime highlight of the evening, with White demonstrating her agility and a full range of the flute’s golden tones. Wonderful interplay and balance between the orchestra and White’s seemingly effortless and elegant performance made Mozart’s composition soar.

Aficionados of classical music know that, of course, Beethoven wrote only nine symphonies. And yet, the DSSO next played “Beethoven’s Symphony No. 10.”

Meyer described this piece as the “Frankenstein” of “symphonies,” since it was stitched together by musicologist Barry Cooper putting together what Beethoven left as very rough “sketches” for what music scholars presume was a planned 10th symphony.

While there are glimmers of Beethoven in this hypothetical work, it seems more of a musical curiosity than anything near to a full representation of Beethoven’s genius. Nonetheless, the appreciative audience enjoyed the DSSO’s spirited performance of “what might have been,” had Beethoven lived longer.

The orchestra had great fun with French composer Francis Poulenc’s “Sinfonietta.” Light, and filled with lively dance rhythms, folksy themes, and romantic melodies, this whimsical piece was an uplifting way to close the evening.

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If you go

What: Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra concert “To Discover”

When: Streaming now; virtual tickets $15 per concert

Tickets: For future concerts — in-person tickets $20-$58; individual subscriptions for all nine $170-$445; mix-and-match concerts $20-$53 each

More info: dsso.com , 218-623-3776

Next up: Halloween Pops Concert —“Chills and Thrills,” Oct. 30 at 7 p.m., “casual concert” at 2 p.m.

Sheryl Jensen is a former teacher, magazine editor and director. She reviews performances for the Duluth News Tribune.

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