St. Olaf College Orchestra in concert

Brainerd High School Gichi-Ziibi Auditorium

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

So on the way to the concert hall, I was hoping they’d play FESTIVE OVERTURE by Shostakovich.

AND THEY DID!!!  What a great way to start a concert!  Crisp brass, precise rhythms, all done in the great acoustics that is the new GITCHI-ZIIBI auditorium in Brainerd, Minnesota.

The piece is as Olympic as they come – it requires virtuoso performances from the entire group.  Clarinet runs, brass blends, strings flying their bows with mastery, and a solid, controlled percussion section to bring it all there.  A fine start to the concert.

The St. Olaf Orchestra, under Steve Amundson, brought their A game and used it wisely and beautifully all night long.

VALSE TRISTE (Sibelius) was next, with Amundson leading the musicians in a wonderfully sensitive tour of the piece.  Clarinetist Elijah Schouten bounced his way through a very showy last movement of the Weber clarinet concerto, playing with great facility and range that is so necessary for the piece.  Steve Amundson’s own composition GRATIA VIVA was next, a piece he wrote to honor a retiring St. Olaf College friend.  The piece is tender and deep, full of emotion and thanks.  Amundson wrote it as a thanks to his career at St. Olaf – he is retiring after 40 years of leading the orchestra.  As a tribute to the Ukraine and all the strife in the world, the orchestra performed MELODY, by Ukrainian composer Myroslav Skoryk.  A beautiful melody wove its way around the orchestra, first very soft, and then filling the wonderful acoustics of every corner of the year-old auditorium.  St. Olaf alum Matt Peterson wrote a symphony for the orchestra (again to honor Amundson’s retirement) based on the writings of Minnesota Naturalist Sigurd Olson.  The symphony, entitled THE SINGING WILDERNESS, is based on various texts from Olson’s book of the same name.  Tonight, the orchestra played the portion “The Loons of Lac La Croix” – and sure enough, the program notes that cite Olson’s actual words, which describe hearing the loons in the spring as they cross the waters of Lac La Croix and how they and the canoeists would meet near Warrior Hill (personal note – I’ve been to that hill and seen that body of water …. Peterson’s music and the orchestra’s rendition caught it all!)  To end the concert, Amundson selected Arturo Marques’ piece DANZON No. 2 – a Latin rhythm filled piece of delicate dances and joys. This brought the audience to its feet, requiring the orchestra to play a traditional St. Olaf encore entitiled THE TURTLEDOVE, a sweet, short piece.

It was a nice evening of music.  I’m glad we went.