Image courtesy The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra

Opening Night at the SPCO

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
Conducted by Edo de Waart

Friday evening’s concert at the Ordway Center was not only the beginning of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra‘s 2013-14 season; it was also the beginning of a new and different SPCO. After losing most of the previous season to a painful lockout and bidding farewell to 10 of its longest-tenured members as a result of the retirement incentive included in the musicians’ new contract, the orchestra enters its new season with only 19 permanent members. Undoubtedly, this will be a season of rebuilding.

Based on Friday’s performance, that process has begun in earnest. Conducted by Edo de Waart, who has built a strong artistic rapport with the musicians over the course of the past few seasons, the SPCO gave committed performances of works by Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven to an audience that was clearly excited to be there.

The first piece on the program was Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 4. The orchestral suites are Bach at his most courtly, and if the SPCO’s performance came off as a bit stiff, I’m not sure I’ve heard a rendition that didn’t. And the mood loosened up with the orchestra’s lively take on the last movement, Réjouissance (rejoicing).

Next, the SPCO performed the first half of Mozart’s Serenade No. 7, the Haffner, creating a sort of symphony-concerto out of the vigorous opening movement followed by three movements featuring substantial violin solos, played by concertmaster Steven Copes. The orchestra made a strong case for the piece, making it hard to believe that it was originally intended as background music, and Copes got the audience’s attention by sprinkling his cadenzas with recognizable slices of other pieces by Mozart.

I am sure there are some jaded aesthetes who claim to be tired of listening to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. They are undoubtedly lying. No matter how familiar the piece gets, it is always worth hearing again. The SPCO and de Waart gave a thrilling performance, especially in the outer movements. The famous opening movement, with its relentless four-note motif, came off as especially dark and stormy, making the lyrical second theme stand out more than usual. And in the finale, the musicians played furiously, driving the music through its twists and turns toward its defiant conclusion.

Clearly, plenty of rebuilding remains to be done at the SPCO. Only about half of the musicians on stage were actual members of the orchestra, and the manner in which the vacant positions are filled will have a decisive impact on the group’s future. But it was clear from this opening night that there is plenty of fire in the remaining musicians and an enthusiastic audience waiting to hear what comes next.

Archival photo by Sarah Rubinstein

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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.