tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Orchestra brings heaven to earth

Count me among Osmo’s fans. Last night, Susan and I enjoyed a fabulous concert by the Minnesota Orchestra, conducted by Osmo Vanska, the Finish conductor who became the group’s music director two years ago. It was the season-opening concert that included two Beethoven works and Ravel’s Bolero. The orchestra opened the evening by playing the Star Spangled Banner, the first time I’ve ever heard that song played like it was music.

Vanska, tall and distinguished in his formal black tails, conducted the orchestra with wild animation. He punched the air, pointed at musicians, crouched and jumped. He moved in a manner that brought to mind the best of Muhammad Ali and John Travolta. His face strained with emotion, and he dabbed the sweat from his brow after each selection.

An evening at Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis is always a treat, but Vanska has elevated the experience to a new level, at least as far as I am concerned. I remember previous conductors, like Neville Marriner and Leonard Slatkin from my younger days, but they did not move like Vanska.

I am convinced that everyone is born with a natural longing for beauty, and I think orchestral music is about as close to pure beauty as one can find on earth. I admire the musicians, one hundred or so people on stage, executing their specific role with perfection, combining in a complex harmony that fills the concert hall and the soul. As I sat there Friday in my second-row seat, I wanted to be a part of the music. I felt like I could get up and touch one of the musicians – maybe the base player who was directly in front of me. Maybe that connection would somehow integrate me into this heavenly creation. But, of course, I didn’t. My role is to listen and clap at the end of each piece. So on Friday, I stood and clapped, for a long time. I am convinced I need this beautiful music in my life, and I suspect those musicians need appreciative patrons in their lives.

I played the trumpet as a child, advancing from sixth-grade band to a college-level concert band at the University of Minnesota. But I was never a musician. Through a lot of repetition and grunt-work, I learned how to move air through a horn well enough, fingering the individual notes as prescribed. But I was, at best, only a practitioner. I never felt the music in my heart the way real musicians do. I never felt what you need to feel in order to make real music, to win a seat in a major symphony orchestra, to move like Vanska moves.

So when it comes to musical performances, I am in the audience. That’s where I belong. And when you get a chance to hear a top notch orchestra directed by a world class conductor, that’s a good place to be.

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