Concert review: SPCO has a bittersweet homecoming, with music to match

05.24.13
Matthias Pintscher
Pioneer Press

By Ron Hubbard

It felt a lot like both hello and goodbye at St. Paul's Ordway Center on Friday night. The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra played the first post-lockout concert at its home hall after two weekends at Neighborhood Series venues, and the musicians received an enthusiastic ovation when they took the stage.

But some sadness crept in with the realization that some of the musicians are soon to retire or otherwise depart, reducing the SPCO to the size agreed to in its new contract. And it's doubtful that any farewell will sound as emotionally eloquent as the Pavane by Gabriel Faure or Sarabande by Claude Debussy that were performed Friday. Both were soaked in sadness, yet as beautiful as the Nocturne from Felix Mendelssohn's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" played between them.

Just when I was adjusting to the idea that this was going to be an evening of misty melancholy, along came the premiere of a new work by German composer Matthias Pintscher, who also conducted the program. His piece, "bereshit (In a Beginning)," proved a gripping, hypnotic and very contemporary take on the creation myth detailed in the Torah or Old Testament. Sounding much like the birth pangs of the earth, "bereshit" was full of stark intensity, evoking bubbles in the primordial soup before furious clusters of notes seemed to impose order upon the chaos.

It's a piece well worth hearing, and the musicians of the SPCO (with the assistance of several members of the locked-out Minnesota Orchestra) executed it impeccably. No performer stood out more than Kyu-Young Kim, the SPCO principal second violinist who is soon to depart for the New York Philharmonic. He provided the chief channel for Pintscher's involving anxiety, his flurries of very high notes like an assertion of individuality amidst a swarm of anxious sounds.

As abstract and disquieting as the work was, the Ordway audience gave it a rousing ovation. The response was especially impressive, considering that the first half of the concert was all about enfolding the audience in a blanket of beauty, and Pintscher's piece was decidedly un-pretty. But his is a voice worth hearing, one worthy of the warm "hello" accorded it.