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LSCO season starts Wednesday

One of the first things long-time fans of the Lake Superior Chamber Orchestra -- and they are many -- will notice this season is something missing. The Little Conductor Guy, who has been emblematic of the organization's marketing, is gone.

One of the first things long-time fans of the Lake Superior Chamber Orchestra -- and they are many -- will notice this season is something missing. The Little Conductor Guy, who has been emblematic of the organization's marketing, is gone.

The LSCO wrote up a missing person report, going so far as to list Little Conductor Guy's age (13). And the second-to-last piece listed for the season is a commissioned funeral piece by Brad Bombardier for Little Conductor Guy.

The title listed in the season brochure is "Funeral March," but the official title could contend for the longest title ever given to a piece of music: "Funeral March to Honor the Memory of an Outdated/Replaced/Retired or Deceased Corporate Logo/Advertising Campaign or Team Mascot Character/Image/Person or Persons, Op. 127."

Like the title, the piece grew. Nancy Melander, the group's executive director, said originally it was slated for 3 to 5 minutes, but she got some information from the group's conductor and artistic director, Warren Friesen, listing it much longer. She contact him about it.

"Warren got back to me and said, 'The Funeral Dirge got out of hand. It's 13 minutes.'"

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"We do have a sense of humor, I will say," Melander said. "... It's off the wall."

Needless to say, LSCO patrons care more about the music than about the fun, but it's undeniable that fun is part of the appeal. Perhaps that's why the group sold out a couple of concerts at its new home at Weber Music Hall last summer.

"It's almost deliberately not highbrow," Friesen said.

The group started in a church 18 years ago and quickly developed a family atmosphere, including cookie receptions after performances that go on to this day.

"There's kind of room for the audience to feel some ownership in the orchestra," he said.

The LSCO is known for its innovative programming, particularly new and commissioned works, and its interesting soloists and collaborations.

This year is no exception.

Friesen said he tries to put at least one piece on each program that will be new to the audience. This year is no exception, with works by Dan Locklair, Giean-Carlo Menotti, Paul Maurice, Tyler Kaiser and, of course, the Bombardier world premiere.

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Friesen said programming that way takes some research.

"You listen to a lot of music," he said. "I always find something I like. It's very personal."

Sometimes the orchestra members also make suggestions. But always there's something that appeals to Friesen, whether it's a whole piece or just a movement.

"I feel that it's my responsibility and somewhat the audience's responsibility to be the first filter of history," he said. There was lots of music written in the days of Mozart and Bach that didn't survive to the present because it wasn't any good, he said, and part of the job of audiences is to listen to the music that's being made now, and try to find what's good.

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"And it's fun, too, to play that role," he said. He said it's nice to be able to call up a composer and ask what he meant with an unclear section -- especially given that the LSCO sort of has two composers-in-residence playing right in the orchestra in Kaiser and Bombardier.

Friesen says that juxtaposing newer music with more standard chamber orchestra repertoire has a way of freshening up the old pieces, too. And there will be plenty of chances for that, this year. In fact, Friesen notes that the programming is conspicuously heavy on them this year.

"There's some genuine warhorses in here," he said. And particularly, there are several pieces -- works by Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, which are typically performed today by much larger ensembles.

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However, when they were written, Friesen said, they would more likely have been done by smaller groups, like a chamber orchestra.

"I think that will give a new take on these pieces," he said. "... I think while it may lose something in power, it may gain something in clarity."

The soloists are usually a treat. For the second year in a row, the orchestra is featuring a concert with only soloists from the orchestra, which worked out very well last year.

"The Menotti piece is just brilliant for that," Friesen said, with its three groups of three soloists.

But the lineup of other soloists is also exciting. The season opens with violinist Peter McGuire, a Mankato native who joined the Minnesota Orchestra in 2003 and has been touring as a soloists quite a lot.

"It's good to catch him on the way up," Friesen said.

The July 14 performance will bring in somebody a little more local -- Greg Moore, a saxophonist from the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Moore is the music department chair at UWS and runs the jazz program there. He will be playing in two pieces, including one solo adapted from an oboe solo.

That concert will also feature the winner of a young artist piano competition.

On July 21, featuring the return of Kaiser's "Boreal Circle," the LSCO will host guest artists Daniel Blake and Leah Gallas, dancers from the Minnesota Ballet.

And the closing concert, July 28, in addition to the funeral dirge, will feature Twin Cities pianist Nachito Herrera on Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue."

"This guy's going to knock everybody's socks off," Melander said.

Friesen was equally excited: "Nachito Herrera is really tearing things up in the Twin Cities," he said.

The season opens Wednesday, and it goes by faster than Little Conductor Guy's short time in this mortal plane.

News to Use

Season tickets come with reserved seating at Weber Music Hall at UMD. Cost is $60 ($55 for seniors 65 and older). Individual adult tickets are $15, and student tickets for children older than 12 are $7. Two children 12 and under are free with paid adult admission.

For more information, call 724-2141 or visit the group's Web site at http://www.lakesuperior

chamberorchestra.org.

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