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Minnesota Orchestra review: Finns deliver Sibelius' work with authority

Rob Hubbard, Twin Cities Pioneer Press, 2/25/2010

No American feels about a classical composer the way that Finns feel about Jean Sibelius.

Hear that, Americans? NO AMERICAN feels this way . You can’t even know. Rob Hubbard (who was presumably born Roope Huuskonen) knows you don’t know. So don’t fucking pretend. He’s all over that shit.

That said, this silly assertion might be true considering most Americans can’t name a native-born composer other than John Williams.

Their attachment to his music is so profound that Sibelius has created nothing less than the soundtrack to their national identity.

The attribution of agency here is confusing; it sounds like they loved him (dude: so much!) and therefore [i.e. not because] he wrote them a bunch of music.

Also: does the American national identity have a soundtrack? (I’d like to submit Spinal Tap's "Gimme Some Money", but I'd love to hear reader suggestions in the comments.)

There should have been more Finnish-Americans at Minneapolis' Orchestra Hall on Wednesday night.

Roope Huuskonen is judging you, Finno-American Twin Cities-area residents. Can’t you be bothered to come hear some freakin’ Sibelius? Come. On.

As it was, the stage was lined with Finnish-born musicians: conductor Osmo Vanska on the podium, two vocal soloists from the Finnish National Opera up front, and the 60 men of the YL Male Voice Choir at the back.

Voice Choirs are my favorite kind of choir. I don’t, however, know what “YL” stands for. I’m gonna go with “Yummy Lips” for now. “Yummy Lips Male Voice Choir” has a nice ring to it.

They gathered to perform Sibelius' sprawling "Kullervo," a "symphonic poem" inspired by Finland's "Kalevala" legend.

Could you jam any more quotation marks into that sentence? (I get the sense that Roope thinks it’s something other than a symphonic poem.)

But it was an encore of Sibelius' "Finlandia" — and a rare opportunity to hear a choir sing its reverent verses — that likely will stay longest with those who stayed to hear it.

Objection! Speculation.

By that time, the Orchestra Hall house was only about a fifth full, but it was a disappointing turnout to begin with, especially since this concert was a warm-up for a Monday night performance at New York's storied Carnegie Hall.

Yeah, that is surprising. “Hey, everyone! Come hear our warm-up! ‘Cause we’re goin’ to New York to do the real thing! And, um, you won’t be there!”

And at which Carnegie Hall will they be playing? That’s right: storied Carnegie Hall.

Recent visits there by Vanska and the orchestra have produced lusty ovations and rave reviews, much of it in response to their exceptional way with Sibelius. Whether "Kullervo" will produce the same reaction remains to be seen.

Really? Since when is time linear?

It's an epic work, but an early one for Sibelius, with the 26-year-old composer finding his voice…

Figure 1: Sibelius in Vienna, 1891 (age 26).

…but not yet articulating himself as impressively as in ensuing years.

Figure 2: Late Sibelius, circa 1950.

It bears the weighty sense of import and evocative scene setting the composer inherited from one of his heroes, Anton Bruckner.

Bruckner, eh? That also explains his brevity and genial lightheartedness.

But there's a jarring abruptness to his mood swings, his musical arcs not as refined as they would come to be.

This is not true of most composers, whose refinement and mastery tend to diminish with age and experience.

The work also serves a reminder of why Sibelius hasn't gone down as a great writer of vocal music,

And why is that? Is it...because he's unjustly neglected as a vocal composer?


No? Nothing? Nice. Lettin' me down here, Roope.

…but the soloists and choir were nevertheless outstanding. Soprano Paivi Nisula delivered the aria upon which the drama of "Kullervo" turns with tremendous power. And the choir navigated the work's widely varied dynamics with precision and clarity.

(Talk, talk, talk. It's only talk.)

Perhaps Sibelius is in the blood of all Finnish musicians, but this group's understanding of him sounds quite deep.

Ah, Roope, you’ve given yourself away. Only a Finn could have heard the depth of their understanding.


Gustav said...

It bears the weighty sense of import and evocative scene setting the composer inherited from one of his heroes, Anton Bruckner.

I've heard this comparison between Sibelius and Bruckner made before, but have yet to hear anyone actually defend the argument. I just don't hear it (probably since Sibelius wrote good music and Bruckner didn't). Is any person whose music we are familiar with therefore an influence? Are there any Sibelius experts out there who can clear this up some? Perhaps amongst our Finnish fansites?

Also, Spinal Tap reference, +1 point.

George said...

king crimson reference.

Sator Arepo said...

Yes, thank you George. I knew there were enlightened folks out there somewhere.

Gustav said...

Oh yes, the title...

It's only talk...babble, burble, banter, bicker bicker bicker
Brouhaha, boulderdash, ballyhoo...back talk.

Sator Arepo said...

Now you're on the trolley. (Gustav flashin' some prog-rock cred.)

Gustav said...

Well, I used to be with it. But then they changed what it was. Now what I'm with isn't it, and what's it seems scary and weird.

Sator Arepo said...

"Give me five bees for a quarter," we'd say. So I tied an onion to my belt--which was the style at the time--and headed off to Shelbyville [presumably to see Jethro Tull, in the context of this quote duel].

Gustav said...

Although, it was called Morganville in those days.

Sator Arepo said...

Well, yeah, back in Nineteen Diggigy-Six.