Music review: Sadness and joy blend in a concert of emotion and virtuosity
The Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra presents "Mendelssohn and Mozart."
In his pre-concert remarks, DSSO Music Conductor Dirk Meyer promised an evening filled with the full range of human emotions, from the dark and brooding, to the exuberant and joyful, and back again.
Meyer also shared a tribute to former DSSO Conductor Taavo Virkhaus, (from 1977 to 1994), who died Feb. 10 from COVID. In a week, when the U.S. reached the grim milestone of over 500,000 Americans dying from COVID, the concert’s opening piece seemed all the more poignant and tragic.
Twentieth-century Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich was inspired to write Chamber Symphony, Op. 110a, when he visited Dresden, Germany, to write a film score. As he walked around the ruins of the city devastated in World War II, he decided to write this symphony and to dedicate it to "the memory of the victims of fascism and war.”
He also noted of the work, “I’ve been thinking that when I die, it's hardly likely that anybody will ever write a work dedicated to my memory. So I have decided to write one myself.” It was played at his funeral in 1975.
Sounding like a requiem, the piece in five movements is played without pause. The DSSO gave all of the drama, plaintiveness and tragedy also inherent in the composer’s own traumatic life under Stalinist repression.
Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1 In G minor, Op. 25, changed the mood to one of youthful exuberance and vivacity, with 27-year-old guest artist Dominic Cheli.
Cheli holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the Manhattan School of Music and a Master of Music degree from Yale University. A native of St. Louis, he has performed with orchestras all across the country and abroad. Mr. Cheli made his Carnegie Hall recital debut during the 2019-20 season.
The day after the premiere of this Piano Concerto No. 1., Mendelssohn wrote to his father, “My concerto met with a long and vivid reception. … The orchestra accompanied well and the work itself was really quite wild.”
The DSSO did accompany the pianist “well,” and Cheli’s dazzling performance, filled with breath-taking runs, was indeed “wild.” Playing with fire, speed, brightness, and energy, he received a “long” and enthusiastic response from the 150 in-person concert-goers.
Back to the Sturm and Drang (Storm and Stress) of dark and strong emotions, the concert concluded with Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 55, one of only two symphonies Mozart wrote in minor keys.
The year 1788 had been a dark one for Mozart, with a decline in his fortunes. Audiences were dwindling, his bills were mounting and his infant daughter Theresia had died.
The orchestra delivered a stirring performance evoking the Symphony’s somber tone, mixed with its graceful and familiar melodies.
The tragedy and angst, and tension and turbulence of the Mozart bring the audience back to the elegiac lamentation of Shostakovich.
Bravo to the DSSO for helping to assure, that even in times of sorrow and lamentation, music does, in all of its majestic power, heal and soothe.
If you ‘go’
- What: “Mendelssohn and Mozart” DSSO concert
- When: Streaming information at dsso.com
- Cost: $10 for single concerts or a season ticket for $40 for all concerts (including the upcoming March 20, April 17, and May 8 dates)
- Information: dsso.com or call 218-623-3776
Sheryl Jensen is a former teacher, magazine editor and director. She reviews theater for the News Tribune.