June 21, 2017
"Those SPCO and Minnesota Orchestra season finales
...The first part of the concert was splendid. And then came the Mahler, so magnificently played that we spent most of the 90 minutes leaning forward or standing (we could do that where we were sitting, in a back row of a side balcony). It was almost like watching a grand theater piece, with musicians exiting and entering, soloists appearing (mezzo Sasha Cooke in glittery black, soprano Ruby Hughes in a sweep of crimson), and our mighty Minnesota Chorale at the back of the stage, waiting patiently through the first four movements (they don’t get to sing until the fifth), then entering, almost at a whisper, with “Rise again” sung in German. From there, it was a straight shot to Heaven, carried by glorious voices, brilliant brass and pealing bells. All led by Osmo Vänskä, pure energy on the podium, bringing out the best in everyone on the stage.
We’re still buzzing from both concerts. Both the SPCO and the Minnesota Orchestra ended 2016-17 in peak form and made us eager for their return. Back when both were locked out in labor disputes, some people were asking, “Do we really need two orchestras”? Two singular, remarkable orchestras, committed to their communities? We’re lucky to have them."
-- Pamela Espeland
June 18, 2017
"Mahler 'fireball' ends Minnesota Orchestra season
...It’s possible, given the scope and sensual beauty of the piece, for it to make an effect even in a routine performance. There was nothing routine, however, about the performance Friday night. Vänskä, always an animated figure at the podium, looked on this occasion to be in constant motion, urging the musicians to deliver ever-bigger, ever-more-vivid sound, as if his life depended on the outcome; and the orchestra, never less than good these days, responded with 86 minutes of precise, artfully-sculpted, cohesive playing.
...What was special Friday night was the sheer force of the playing. The funeral march at the start was like a fireball of energy propelled from the stage. The country dance in the second movement carried an aura of gentle sadness and nostalgia, and the vast finale where, as Mahler put it, “the earth quakes, the graves burst open, the dead rise and stream on in endless procession,” a vivid picture was painted of apocalypse and ultimate transcendence.
...The chorus, superbly prepared by Kathy Saltzman Romey, sang with admirable resonance and commitment..."
Link to full review
St. Paul Pioneer Press
June 17, 2017
"Minnesota Orchestra's Mahler might provide the transcendence you seek
Just as on Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony — a work with which the “Resurrection” Symphony has much in common — a solo voice intrudes upon the orchestral landscape. But it’s a far gentler voice here, the smooth, sweet instrument of mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke singing confidently of transcending earthly bonds. It would be the evening’s most gripping vocal performance, but the Minnesota Chorale made such a glorious sound on the finale that tears flowed in the balcony around me."
Link to full review
April 23, 2017:
Edo de Waart led a dramatic performance of Elgar's mystical "Gerontius."
...The performance De Waart led Friday night at Orchestra Hall was warmhearted, dramatic and totally committed...
...The Minnesota Chorale, prepared by Kathy Saltzman Romey, sang with compelling urgency and maximum clarity and with just the right sneer in their tone for their portrayal of the Demons.
At all times the conductor showed a strong feeling for Elgar’s long lines and surging emotions. This is a work De Waart obviously cherishes. He recorded it not long ago with the Royal Flemish Philharmonic. It would be to our benefit if he conducted here more often.
-- Michael Anthony
St. Paul Pioneer Press
February 27, 2015:
"Verdi's 'Requiem' rendered with all of its passion, power
"...[W]hat a pleasure to experience the Minnesota Orchestra lending its rich sound to Verdi, whose music usually only finds its way onto their music stands every few years at the Sommerfest opera finale. But if anyone stole this show, it may have been the Minnesota Chorale, which covered a wide expanse of moods and dynamic levels and brought tremendous emotional power to each section of the mass."
February 28, 2015:
"If there is such a thing as a “conductor’s piece,” Verdi’s Requiem, his setting of the Roman Catholic funeral mass in memory of the poet and novelist Alessandro Manzoni, is one of them.
"As proof, consider the way record collectors talk. They speak of the “Leontyne Price ‘Aida’” or the “Callas ‘Norma.’” But it’s the “[George] Solti Requiem” or the “[Riccardo] Muti Requiem.” This means two things: first, that the singers can’t carry the Requiem. If the conductor is weak, it doesn’t matter how good the soloists — or, for that matter, the chorus singers — are.
"It also means that a conductor needs to display a strong conception as he moves through this profoundly beautiful and moving drama of life, death and salvation. Verdi wasn’t a churchgoer in his last years, but he felt these matters deeply: the fear of death and the hope for some kind of ultimate consolation at the end of life, an outcome about which he remained anything but certain.
"Happily, the performance of the Requiem by the Minnesota Orchestra at Orchestra Hall Friday night scored heavily on all counts. Here was an accomplished conductor — Roberto Abbado — leading an excellent, well-trained chorus — the Minnesota Chorale — and four first-rate soloists in a galvanizing account of this massive work, exploring its operatic scale and thrust while remaining attentive to the score’s smallest details."