The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra is going the extra mile – literally – to bring music to its audiences.
May 16, 2011
The coffee was on and clusters of patrons waited quietly with their hands folded — a full half-hour early. Yes, this clearly was a Lutheran church, not a concert hall.
But on this night, Trinity Lutheran in downtown Stillwater had traded its ecclesiastical purpose for a date with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Conductor Roberto Abbado would lead the group through Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and Prokofiev, with guest cellist Bion Tsang.
Small-town charm and informality aside, once these patrons gathered in the square sanctuary with its timbered apse and exposed-brick walls, the SPCO delivered a committed reading of the Russian masters. As Tsang speared the highest notes of Tchaikovsky’s “Variations on a Rococo Theme,” the aesthetic beauty of live performance came into full relief with a pure sound, the animated personality of musicians engaged in high art and the community of a full audience.
Each venue takes on the characteristics of its distinctive neighborhood. Stillwater has a Scandinavian, small-town feel. The following night, 50 miles across town in the high-powered western suburbs, Wayzata Community Church exhaled New England elegance. A fortress of Congregationalism, the church has a tidy library, colonial furniture and parquet floors in the airy foyer. This venue, with 670 seats, sold 92 percent for four concerts last season.
David and Terri Wood have been driving the 10 minutes from their Maple Plain home ever since the Wayzata concerts began four years ago. They’ve been to the Ordway, but how can you beat this?
Richard Oberg and Susan Doyle are regulars, too, with seats right up front, not far from Bob and Mary Jo Newman of Greenwood. Bob appreciates being able to stretch his long legs on the aisle. Retirees Charlie and Marlys Rosengren of Plymouth pointed out that the SPCO “fits our budget a little better.” Dave Wagy of Shorewood used to have season tickets for the Minnesota Orchestra, but “it was tough to get there after work on Friday nights.”
As was the case in Stillwater, this is a sophisticated audience. They listen intensely, collective murmurs releasing the palpable tension when Tsang again dispatches the “Rococo.” When the cellist leaves the stage, beads of sweat are visible on his forehead as he passes just a few feet from the Woods and the Newmans. The intimacy is a rare opportunity for music patrons.
By Graydon Royce