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Kids steal the show at Matinee Musicale

There was a lot of professional local talent on display at a concert Sunday celebrating Matinee Musicale's 100-year anniversary, and a Mitchell Auditorium full of Duluthians turned out despite blustery, all-around yucky weather to see it.

There was a lot of professional local talent on display at a concert Sunday celebrating Matinee Musicale's 100-year anniversary, and a Mitchell Auditorium full of Duluthians turned out despite blustery, all-around yucky weather to see it.
However, the amateurs of the Lake Superior Youth Chorus may well have offered the biggest highlight.
The interesting program, featuring two commissioned works by local composers and four diverse pieces composed around the time Matinee Musicale was founded, opened with Rimski-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumble Bee." As exciting as "Flight" is, its fast pace and rhythmic challenges make it a tough opener. It showed, as the Lake Superior Chamber Orchestra dragged a little at the beginning, but it quickly warmed up to the task.
Sir Edward Elgar's "Serenade for Strings" and Rave's "Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte" followed and allowed the orchestra to really hit its stride.
Sentimental and lyrical, "Serenade for Strings" lived up to its name, performed smartly by the orchestra's strings, particularly the cellists in the third movement. The Ravel was a nice contrast -- more fully orchestrated, it featured rich, deep chords and standout horns, oboe solo and harp.
The last piece before intermission was Tyler Kaiser's "The Boreal Circle," the first of the commissioned works. Choreographed by Allen Fields (artistic director at the Minnesota Ballet), the piece featured dancing by the Minnesota Ballet's Suzanne Kritzberg and Nikolaus Wourms.
The piece blended music and choreography nicely, evoking the natural Northland's seasons with thawing ice dripping, trees sprouting leaves and churning seas. Some of the most interesting effects came from the orchestra's percussion section -- sandpaper effects, clogs and bells all joined in. Musically, it was borderline Copland.
The dancing was impressive and elegant, surpassed only by the stopping: the two dancers held difficult positions at several points of the piece with remarkable grace and ease.
After intermission, the orchestra again went back 100 years, with Gustav Mahler's "Adagietto."
Then came the finale -- Justin Rubin's "Old Turtle." This piece was the highlight of the afternoon.
Performed by soloist William Bastian, the Lake Superior Youth Chorus and the chamber orchestra, this commissioned piece used text and images from the Pfeifer-Hamilton bestseller "Old Turtle" (written by Douglas Wood and illustrated by Cheng-Kee-Chee).
Bastian's voice, the orchestra's playing and Rubin's composition (I especially liked the Old Turtle theme) were all excellent, but the chorus was absolutely stunning, a real hidden treasure.
Singing in two-part harmony, the group mastered difficult intervals and showed a strong, clear tone. It's the kind of sound composers must love to have in their compositional quill.
My only quibble about the "Old Turtle" performance -- due to the lighting, the slides of art from the book were hard to see and really not a factor. A little more forethought about this would have enhanced the performance even more.
All in all, it was a great way to start off another 100 years.

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