Setting the Mood

I’m very happy to report to those of you who noticed my spam regarding last week’s Contemporary Music Workshop performance here in Minneapolis that the show was, if I do say so myself, a rousing success. The program included the Minnesota premiere of Schuyler Tsuda’s extraordinary Normale, our best take yet on Stockhausen’s intuitive music in “Setz die Segel zur Sonne,” and the Ligeti Aventures and Nouvelles Aventures, pieces whose dramatic impact is so easily forgotten in the absence of regular performances even as their “classic” status is taken for granted.

High-quality renditions of underperformed rep are par for the course with CMW; the long-term musical relationships Schuyler cultivated with flutist James DeVoll, percussionist Scotty Horey, and violist Ben Davis bore surprising but delicious fruit in Normale, after which the adroit batonsmanship of Erik Rohde and formidable tours-de-force from vocalists Will Bryan, Anna DeGraff, and Elizabeth Steffensen escorted the Ligeti into CMW’s hall of champions with laurels already on it. Our reading of “Setz die Segel zur Sonne” felt very satisfying from the stage; in the moment of performance, we somehow arrived at a completely new way of playing it than we’d ever done in rehearsal, fulfilling the piece’s promise. What really set this show apart, though, was the lighting.

For the first time, we had access to Ted Mann Concert Hall, the most serious performance space available to the UMN School of Music; working with TMCH’s excellent staff, we developed a vivid staging and lighting setup that made each piece into its own visual world. As a concert, I’m very proud of it; as a spectacle, I couldn’t have anticipated how overwhelming it would be. We don’t always have the resources to mount such a thorough production in CMW, but last week’s performance was a valuable reminder that the extra work, time, and inconvenience of an elaborate staging can be worthwhile and then some.

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