Matthias Pintscher — Image via

Pintscher & The SPCO

Premiere of bereshit for Large Ensemble

German composer and conductor Matthias Pintscher was in Saint Paul this weekend to conduct the world premiere of his piece bereshit, commissioned by The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. These concerts also marked the SPCO’s return to the Ordway Center after two weeks of neighborhood concerts following an end to the orchestra’s six-month lockout. Audience members who were looking forward to the resumption of their regular musical diet were treated to a series of works that exemplified the SPCO’s searching and innovative approach to programming.

The concert’s unusual first half consisted of short pieces by Mendelssohn, Fauré, Debussy and Poulenc. Highlights included Mendelssohn’s Scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Fauré’s Pavane, featuring Julia Bogorad-Kogan’s gently enchanting solo flute work. A pleasant surprise in this portion was the shortest and most unfamiliar piece, Poulenc’s Deux Marches et un intermède. One might expect music that was composed for a dinner party to be somewhat bland, but Poulenc’s piece demanded attention throughout its brief duration.

The second half of the concert was given over to bereshit. Pintscher’s piece is titled after the first word in the Hebrew Bible, which the composer, in his introductory comments, translated as “in a beginning” rather than the familiar “in the beginning.” Pintscher’s version of the Biblical creation story began with a brief, very quiet F note on the bass, followed by similarly tentative interjections from the other instruments. Over time, the musical landscape solidified and eventually built to a violent climax. This led in to a central section in which the first violin played a prominent solo role, and violinist Kyu-Young Kim gave a wispy sound to snatches of music that almost sounded like melodies. After this section, the piece seemed to move in reverse, with another violent episode followed by a gradual withdrawal to silence.

Throughout the performance, Pintscher drew unusual and evocative sounds from the orchestra, painting a picture of a universe slowly simmering its way into existence. One aspect of bereshit that was no doubt frustrating to some listeners was its static nature; everything hovered around the initial F note, and the central section was the only time any of the musical ideas were subjected to any type of development. But for listeners who could accept this, the piece had much to offer, often in the form of intriguing noises hovering on the edge of recognizability.

At the same time as these concerts emphasized the SPCO’s strengths, they also drew attention to open questions about its future. One could not help but notice the presence of members of the still-locked-out Minnesota Orchestra filling multiple positions, including all five of the SPCO’s vacant or soon-to-be-vacant principal positions. More vacancies are anticipated due to the retirement incentives included in the orchestra’s new contract, and the musicians who fill these positions will shape the ensemble for decades to come. One can only hope that the SPCO will continue its tradition of brilliantly executing adventurous programs like this one.

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.