I’m not much of a reader, really. People ask me what I’ve read, or recommend books, and I just nod and smile politely. I mean, I do have some favorite books, but it’s not like I go to the library every month and withdraw a big honkin’ bag of books. A symphony (or quartet, or opera, or sonata...) is to composers as a novel is to authors, and I embroil myself in such “novels” on a regular basis. I really get to know the characters, the pace of the drama, the plot, etc., and it’s plenty to keep up with.
There have been a lot of new “books” for me late this season: Bellini’s Norma and the Schubert Death and the Maiden quartet, (wow, interesting combination!) and coming up in May, Rachmaninov’s Trio éléqiaque and Dvorak’s American quartet. Right now I’m engrossed in a new (to me) “novel,” and it’s by Jean Sibelius, his 5th Symphony. While it’s true that music is a universal language, I am encountering some new words, and some idioms unique to the Finnish. Sibelius’ orchestrating genius is all over this work; oboes and flutes doing things you’ve not heard before, and that trademark phat brass sound that is felt as much as heard.
Our soloist for the April Masterworks concert will be pianist Andrew Staupe. Upon meeting him tomorrow, we shall tarry with our longtime Norwegian friend, Mr. Grieg. It turns out that Mr. Staupe, having grown up in the Twin Cities, studied violin with the same teacher with whom my wife studied, Mark Bjork! One thing is for sure: string players will never freeze their fingers off as long as they are playing music written by cold-weather composers such as Sibelius and Carl Nielsen. Lots of “noodles,” as we call the quiet, fast notes that set the table for melodic fare in other sections of the orchestra.
So that’s the book on the Thursday and Friday night Masterworks concerts at the Tennessee– Overture and Dance of the Cockerels from Nielsen’s opera Maskarade, Grieg’s Piano Concerto, and Sibelius’ 5th. Ya sure, ya betcha.