Quarantined classical: What you can do to get an earful of orchestra or opera
While you sometimes have to look long and hard to find positives amid the COVID-19 crisis, one may be that folks who used to think of themselves as consumers of art now recognize that they are part of an artistic community. Rather than transactional, your receiving of the creations of others is part of an interdependent ecosystem.
It seems a lot of insight about that was gleaned when, on March 13, the Minnesota Orchestra streamed its final concert (at an empty Orchestra Hall) before going into sequestration. It performed a work that was all about fear, pain, anxiety and sorrow: Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Leningrad” Symphony, written while that city was under siege by the Nazis. It seemed to speak to the souls of those suffused with worry about the rampant virus. To me, it sounded terrifying … but a welcome evocation of the emotions at play in so many of us.
Now that we’re all inside and waiting this out, you may wonder where you can find more of those kinds of powerful musical experiences. Here are some suggestions for how to fill your ears, eyes and heart with some of what classical music has to offer.
Live and online
The Minnesota Orchestra: The orchestra has launched a new section of its website (minnesotaorchestra.org) that will feature members of the orchestra livestreaming chamber music from their homes. The orchestra also offers archived audio (and some video) performances from past Minnesota Orchestra concerts, including that March 13 concert for an empty Orchestra Hall. And you can always purchase some of the orchestra’s award-winning recordings via download.
The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra: The SPCO has canceled all of its concerts through May 10, but its Concert Library (thespco.org) has full-length videos of several concerts going back to 2016, as well as years’ worth of audio-archived performances. Highly recommended among the video variety are Jeremy Denk soloing on Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto, Jonathan Cohen conducting J.S. Bach’s deeply absorbing “St. John Passion,” and violinist Pekka Kuusisto’s “Migration Patterns” program.
The Schubert Club: While the Twin Cities’ foremost chamber music presenter has canceled all concerts through May 1 and postponed its May Danish String Quartet residency, know that it will be posting audio at schubert.org from a past Schubert Club concert on most days when they had concerts slated. It starts at 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 29, with the Miro Quartet’s September 2018 Music in the Park Series concert of string quartets by Robert Schumann, Kevin Puts and Felix Mendelssohn.
Cantus: On March 17-20, the eight-man vocal group recorded 24 pieces at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church — while standing at least six feet apart — and will be rolling them out gradually over the coming weeks. You can find them at cantussings.org (click on “Music”), Facebook and Instagram. See if you find its English-language version of Jean Sibelius’ “Finlandia” hymn as moving as I did. In its first four days online, it got 481,000 views and 8,400 shares, so you could say that it’s gone viral.
VocalEssence: Each weekday at 9 a.m. at vocalessence.org, the choral colossus’ associate conductor, G. Phillip Shoultz III, will host “Take Five with GPS,” a five-minute celebration of singing and an invitation to join him in song. Then, at noon, the group’s founder and artistic director, Philip Brunelle, hosts midday mini-memoirs called “Musical Moments” each weekday. There are also plans for twice-daily videos from the organization’s youth chamber choir, Singers of This Age.
The Bach Society of Minnesota: At 2 p.m. Sunday, March 29, the Bach Society will stream video of an October concert that took place at Hamline University’s Sundin Music Hall. It can be found at bachsocietymn.org and on its Facebook page. The music is mostly J.S. Bach, and it features one of the world’s great baroque flutists — the Bach Society’s artistic director, Matthias Maute — the instrumentalists of Flying Forms, and an outstanding octet of local singers.
The Minnesota Sinfonia: Here’s an opportunity to be both inspired and expressive. The Twin Cities’ third professional orchestra will post audio of a past performance at noon each Sunday through April 12. While listening, you’re encouraged to create something: visual art, pottery, a poem, even a hairdo. Then post it at mnsinfonia.org with a one- to three-sentence description. During the week, other visitors will vote for their favorite new creation. Each weekly winner gets a Sinfonia gift basket.
Twin Cities Early Music Festival: “HIP at Home” is a series of intimate video concerts by local early music artists. “HIP” stands for “historically informed performance,” which means as close to authentic instruments of the 17th and 18th centuries as you can get. Its first posted concert, “Fifty Shades of Baroque,” features mezzo-soprano Nerea Berraondo and recorder virtuoso Clea Galhano. Go to tcearlymusic.org/hipathome.
The Lied Society: This relatively new local organization is devoted to the magic that can be conjured by a single singer and pianist as they perform romantic and contemporary art song. At 6 p.m. on April 4, it will present a recital by mezzo-soprano Christina Christensen and pianist Carson Rose Schneider from the jazz bar Crooners. They’ll perform works by two couples, Gustav and Alma Mahler and Samuel Barber and Gian Carlo Menotti. Go to liedsociety.org or Facebook.com/liedsociety.
Music from elsewhere
Folks in Germany, England and Hungary are similarly sequestered, so many are enjoying videos of concerts by three of the world’s great orchestras: the Berlin Philharmonic (digitalconcerthall.com/en/concerts), the London Symphony (youtube.com/user/Lso), and the Budapest Festival Orchestra, which is hosting a “Quarantine Soiree” (bfz.hu/en).
If you prefer chamber music, check out the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center site (chambermusicsociety.org/watch-and-listen/). At the opposite extreme, you can find full-voiced, high-spectacle operas at the websites of New York’s Metropolitan Opera (metopera.org), the Vienna State Opera (wiener-staatsoper.at/en) and the Bavarian State Opera (staatsoper.de/en).
In the works
Minnesota Opera: While the remainder of the company’s season has been canceled or postponed, it kept its troupe of Resident Artists on the payroll with the idea that they could perform livestreamed concerts that would then be available on demand, along with pre-recorded videos. Check mnopera.org for updates.
Minnesota Bach Ensemble: This group includes several members of the Minnesota Orchestra who love to play the music of J.S. Bach. The ensemble is making plans for a livestreamed concert, possibly in April. Watch mnbach.org for details.
The Artaria String Quartet: A very good local foursome known for pop-up concerts and other spontaneous adventures aims to continue its exploration of the complete Beethoven string quartets in a livestreaming setting. Visit artariaquartet.com.
The Baroque Room: The fine little listening room in Lowertown and its resident ensemble, Flying Forms, are making plans to host a series of livestreamed concerts by local early music ensembles and solo musicians. Watch thebaroqueroom.com for details.
Cathedral of St. Paul: Choirmaster Christopher Ganza is also an accomplished organist who’s already livestreamed one concert from the Cathedral and may have others on the way. The catch is that there’s generally a limit on how much music is offered during Lent in the Catholic Church. Check the website, CathedralSaintPaul.org, especially come Easter.
But make sure to visit the websites of all of your favorite local arts organizations to see what they’re offering. And consider making a donation when you do. Take advantage of this opportunity to explore your love of music. It could do your heart good.