I managed to walk my mile and find Orchestra Hall without much trouble. It’s attractive enough outside, but inside the hall is honestly and to my surprise even less attractive than Davies Symphony Hall. There are giant whitish cubes of various sizes jutting out at different arbitrary angles all over the stage area. I did take some photos after the concert but I guess I shouldn’t post them since an usher rushed over to tell me photography was not permitted inside the auditorium. I apologized and said I thought that was just when the orchestra was on stage. “No,” she said, “the guy who designed this place owns the patent and the copyright and everything and he’s very strict about it and we can’t even change the horrible 1970s orange seatcovers without his permission.” (He apparently has withheld that permission, since there was a sea of 1970s burnt orange seating.) So I apologized again and added, “But it’s so ugly.” “I know,” she replied.
As noted, we were asked to leave our guns elsewhere. I was kind of startled by these signs. Jack explained to me that it’s legal to carry concealed weapons in Minnesota, but venues can forbid them – but if they’re concealed, how do you know if people are complying or not?
Music Director Osmo Vanska conducted the performance I went to. The opener was Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody in A Major, Opus 11, No. 1, a brief but kaleidoscopic whirl inflected by the folk music of Romania and its near eastern neighbors as brought through the area by the people who ended up being called gypsies. This was followed by the main draw of the concert for me, the world premiere of James MacMillan’s Concerto No. 3 for Piano and Orchestra, The Mysteries of Light. Jean-Yves Thibaudet, wearing a jacket with oddly different shades of black angled together, was the virtuosic soloist.
MacMillan is, of all odd combinations, a Scottish Catholic, and as with Messiaen, his music is often inspired by his religion: in this case, the Five Luminous Mysteries of the rosary that Pope John Paul II added to the traditional Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries. Knowing this adds another dimension to the piece, and might provide an emotional guide to the various movements, but you could also just enjoy the piece as a dazzler without knowing any more about it than what you were hearing. The five movements are played without pause, though each is distinctive enough so that it’s easy to tell where you are. The concerto lasts almost half an hour, with music ranging from the rippling to the ritualistic. The pianist plays throughout, except for the fourth movement.
The audience seemed quite enthusiastic. MacMillan came up to take a bow. He was seated several rows behind me so during the intermission I got up the nerve to ask him to sign my program. He was very amiable and gracious. He speaks softly with a fairly heavy Scottish accent, so I had a bit of trouble hearing him in the noisy hall. I told him I had enjoyed the piece and was glad to hear his music live, since I’d heard quite a bit of it, but only on CD. I mentioned that I was in town to hear Wuthering Heights at the Opera. “That’s Bernard Herrmann, isn’t it?” he said. “I’d like to hear that.” Herrmann is kind of a cult composer, it seems.
After the intermission we had Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 1 in D minor, Opus 13. I was pretty tired by then and simply luxuriated in the sound, which was sort of like being adrift on a sea of caramel. I have the feeling I’ve heard this Symphony very recently at the San Francisco Symphony, but I’m feeling lazy about looking it up and since what sounded familiar was not so much the music itself as the story of the symphony’s unsuccessful St Petersburg premiere and eventual rediscovery I might have read about it in connection with a different piece. The applause seemed extremely enthusiastic, but afterwards as I waited for my taxi (having decided that a lengthy bus ride with transfers late at night while the snow was falling thickly in a city I didn’t know was something I didn’t need to do) I heard one woman say to another, “Well, I just don’t know about Rachmaninoff. He’s always so loud.”
Eventually my taxi driver showed up and he not only did not appear to know how to get to St Paul, he seemed unable to work his own GPS. If it hadn’t been snowing great wet flakes I probably would have gotten out and searched for another taxi, but I was already far enough from Orchestra Hall so that I decided to hope for the best. Soon enough he figured out what he was doing and I returned to St Paul.