Symphony Saves Civilization from Complete Collapse!

In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men and women promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Minneapolis underground. Today, still wanted by the government they survive as musicians of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them....maybe you can hire The Minnesota Orchestra.


Times are tough. Socialists are taking over the country, and people, against all logic, continue to insist that Tom Bergeron is funny. I think we've all thought that culture was burning to the ground, and civilization was teetering on the brink of complete collapse at some point during our daily routines. For me, it's during The View, and every time the Duggars have another kid.

But sure enough, at the end of each day I still sit down and watch high quality entertainment, like Dancing with the Stars and The Real Housewives of New Jersey, that reassures me that society and culture are doing just fine. For now...

But, if you're like me, you never give a second thought to the brave men and women who risk their lives 3 nights a week, and often a Sunday matinee as well, to keep culture safe. Here is their story.

Skrowaczewski is enduring, vital and free of artificiality
Larry Fuchsberg, Star Tribune, October 21, 2010

Free of artificiality? Hey, just like Snapple. Is Skrowaczewski made from the best stuff on earth, too?

Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, who this week makes his annual appearance with the Minnesota Orchestra, can seem to belong to another age.

He is indeed a Spalding Gray in a Rick Dees world.

Although, I imagine you probably mean 'era'. Whatever.

(Don't ask him what's on his iPod.)

Whoa. Who said anything about asking him what's on his iPod? I'm not some sort of animal.

But now that you bring it up, why shouldn't we ask? You know it sounds very suspicious to just bring that up out of the blue like that. What's he hiding on that iPod anyway? Is that he really loves Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus, or that he doesn't?!

Or gasp, does he not even own an iPod! How could that be? Doesn't he know that once something becomes popular, you must partake or civilization will collapse. And conversely, that our culture burns to the ground even faster through the advent of technology which replaces traditional values!

If I'm reading you right, and I'm certain I am, you're suggesting that we're all going to die, right?

But I've gotten ahead of myself.

The Minnesota-based composer/conductor, who celebrated his 87th birthday this month, has led the orchestra in each of the past 51 seasons, overtaking Willem Mengelberg and Amsterdam's Concertgebouw Orchestra, the previous record holders.

Consecutive seasons streak? And the experts said that Mendgelberg's record would never be broken.

Although, count me among the people who think Skrowaczewski's record should have an asterisk, given the extra 8 concerts added to schedule in 1979.

But the years haven't dimmed his musicianship or his message.

It's not the years, it's the mileage.

He is an artist of utter seriousness, with little time for fluff;...

figure fluff: Who doesn't have time for fluff...especially with peanut butter for the classic Fluffernutter sandwich?

So, this Skrowaczewski sounds like a pretty busy guy. No fluff, but what about entertainment or relaxation?

...if you're seeking entertainment or relaxation, look elsewhere.

What an incredibly odd thing to say. He's guest conducting the Minneapolis Symphony not saving civilization from the brink of collapse. Geez.

For Skrowaczewski, if I'm hearing him right, our civilization is on the brink, our culture is burning and musicians are called to bear witness (and, if possible, to douse the flames).


Just going to throw this out there, but...you're not hearing him right.

However, it's a good thing the music appreciation course I took in college had me read How to Survive the Collapse of Civilization.

figure guide: It's so important to be able to find low-cost solutions, because money will be even more valuable after civilization collapses.

His music-making has taken on something of the life-and-death urgency one hears in the wartime recordings of conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, or in Stalin-era recordings of music by Shostakovich.

Life-and-death urgency, huh? Really? I guess most things at 87 have a life-and-death urgency to them.

And with civilization hanging precariously in the balance, urgency seems like the way to go.

I am hesitant to interrupt further lest the communists were to invade. So which works did Skrowaczewski call upon to save humanity? I assume Beethoven...but I'm thinking, maybe some Brahms too. Schumann, of course, would be right out.

Skrowaczewski's current program, thoroughly characteristic of the man, frames his 1995 "Passacaglia immaginaria," in a new revision,...

Interesting call. Saving culture with a performance of one of his own works.

It's ballsy to be sure, but I'd like to see where he's going with this.

...with major works by Beethoven ("Leonore" Overture No. 2) and Brahms (Symphony No. 1).

No two better composers to fight the specters of evil.

It may not be an accident that all three pieces were reworked after their premieres.

But it could be, right?

I wouldn't want to mistakenly attribute this programming thread to the concert, and possibly allow civilization to smolder to the ground. That would be most non-triumphant.

"Passacaglia immaginaria," in Skrowaczewski's words, rises to a "terrifying climax," which is followed by feelings of "desperation" and "desolation."

So, this is more a piece for after the fall of civilization?

figure Minnesota Orchestra: The Minnesota Orchestra: musicians; scientists. Searching for a way to tap into the hidden music that all humans have. Then an accidental overdose of gamma radiation alters their body chemistry. And now when the Minnesota Orchestra (as conducted by Stanislaw Skrowaczewski) plays Brahms or Beethoven, a startling metamorphosis occurs. The orchestra is driven by rage to save civilization and douse the flames burning our culture, and are pursued by an investigative reporter, Larry Fuchsberg.

His description is apt.

Glad to hear it. Apt descriptions are often appropriate.

Like his benignly titled but deeply tragic "Music for Winds," premiered in February, the piece offers no false comfort.

I don't know, with civilization about to collapse, I could probably go for some false comfort (and maybe a fluffernutter sandwich as well -- surviving collapsing societies does work up an appetite).

Drawing on a vast palette of instrumental colors, the composer conjures sounds that range from eerie to spasmodic.

That actually doesn't sound too big a range. I would have gone with "...from apparitional to zesty" for that nice A to Z effect.

The tone is often anguished; the ending -- celesta floating over quiet strings -- is inconclusive, yet somehow wrenching.

I don't know what that means, but it sounds apparitional.

But with an inconclusive ending, perhaps civilization still has a chance.

Numeral notwithstanding, "Leonore No. 2" was the first (and longest) of the four overtures Beethoven wrote for the opera ultimately known as "Fidelio." Skrowaczewski's conducting, a mix of angularity and grace, balanced the music's classic and romantic elements;...

Just guessing here, but angular=classical and grace=romantic?

...the climactic surge was breathtaking.

Breathtaking, huh?

figure breathtaking: Maybe he just said it because the conductor was in the room.

But what about civilization?!

In Thursday's account, the Brahms was a drama of ideas,...

This account was a "drama of ideas"? Oh, how I wish I knew what that meant...but I must say it does sound impressive.

I guess if Skrowaczewski is going to save civilization from burning to the ground, it's going to take a few ideas here and there. Even if they were Brahms' ideas...or maybe they were Skrowaczewski's, that's not entirely clear.

So which ideas were necessary to save culture?

...with tempos slightly more deliberate than the norm...

Yes, I like it. Deliberate tempos...the villains of culture will surely find no answer to that. A good start to be sure!

...and unusual weight given to the middle movements.

Brilliant. Unusual weight to the inner movements. I'm not sure how one redistributes weights in an already completed symphony, but with civilization on the line, it does sound like the right call.

The closing pages of the Andante, with their veiled reference to Wagner's "Tristan," have never been more moving;...

Wagner?! Which side of this battle for civilization on you on? Everyone knows that Brahms' First Symphony is an homage to Beethoven and, by the laws of music criticism, can be nothing more.

Plus, as is often the argument, Brahms' orchestral music was reactionary to the likes of the Wagner with his emphatic use of the four-movement symphonic structure and rigid sonata forms.

...the wonderful "calando" section of the finale (in which, as one writer puts it, the music seems to experience "a blissful death") made me shiver.

And...?! What happened to civilization?!

figure collapse: It turns out that all civilization is just an effort to impress the opposite sex.


Wait, did we ever discover why Skrowaczewski thinks culture is burning to the ground? And just how Brahms is going to douse the flames?

No matter. Stupid Gustav! When will you learn that music criticism speaks in poetic non-arguments. So, for no other reason than because this music review said so, I must say thank you Skrowaczewski for saving civilization. Good form, old chap. Good form indeed!

Next time I enjoy an episode of the delightfully funny Two and a Half Men, with that rascally scamp Charlie Sheen, I'll say a little prayer in your honor.

figure sheen: Really, what more could you ask from culture? Keep up the good work!


Empiricus said...

RE: "Passacaglia immaginaria," in Skrowaczewski's words, rises to a "terrifying climax," which is followed by feelings of "desperation" and "desolation."

I know there's a joke somewhere in there; but, either way, congratulations Gustav!

Also, fantastic post as usual.

Sator Arepo said...

"A Survival Treasury"