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ISSUE 116 VOL 15 PUBLISHED 3/21/2003

Roll over, St. Olaf

By Carl Schroeder
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 21, 2003

The St. Olaf Orchestra’s spring concert, which took place in Skoglund on Sunday, featured four of the most famous notes in the history of music as well as a pair of 21st century compositions.

The concert, conducted by Steven Amundson, was presented as part of the St. Olaf music department’s 100th anniversary celebration.

After opening with a movement from Edvard Grieg’s “Norwegian Dances,” the orchestra was joined by associate music Professor Andrea Een for the world premiere of “Three Pieces for Hardanger Fiddle and Orchestra.” Dan Trueman of Princeton University composed the piece for Een and the St. Olaf Orchestra.

“This is a really challenging piece because of the rhythmic difficulty between the parts,” Een said described by Amundson as one of the world’s foremost experts on the Hardanger fiddle.

The demanding nature of the composition reflects Trueman’s efforts to write music that evokes the folk history of the instrument.

“Traditional music for Hardanger fiddle is tuneful, yet hard to whistle; rhythmic, yet hard to dance to; complex, yet seemingly transparent,” Trueman said.

The three-movement work is an ambitious entry into a nearly empty genre, since music for Hardanger fiddle is not traditionally written down. Rather, it is passed from generation to generation by oral tradition.

With its rising two-note figure, the composition’s haunting second movement, titled “Fire Song,” seemed most true to the evening’s recurrent theme of music built from simple motifs.

Following the Hardanger piece, Native American flutist Keith Bear and composer Linda Tutas Haugen ‘76, took to the stage for a performance of Haugen’s “The Fable of Old Turtle,” which premiered in 2001. “This music is a message of peace during these tumultuous times,” Amundson said prior to conducting the 17-minute work.

Based on the children’s book “Old Turtle” by Douglas Wood, the composition portrays a simple but powerful fable through musical motifs and narration, following the tradition of Sergei Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf.”

The story of “Old Turtle” involves animals, humans and various elements of nature uniting with one another and with their creator. “The music really brings an extra layer of meaning to the text,” violist Phil Knutson ’05 said.

The featured soloist for “Old Turtle” was Grammy Award nominee Bear, whose improvised flute solos and renditions of traditional Native American melodies provided the work with an emotional centerpiece.

Benjamin Krug ‘04 performed several of the composition’s crucial cello solos and composer Haugen provided the narration.

The sole work on the program’s second half was Ludwig van Beethoven’s epic “Symphony No. 5.” Most famous for its opening four-note motif, the work was composed by Beethoven in 1804 shortly after he began to come to terms with his hearing loss. The music reflects the composer’s inner struggle between suicidal thoughts and a desire to continue his life for art’s sake. Following the powerful, famous first movement, the composition’s other three movements complete Beethoven’s journey from despair to perseverance.

A recording of the concert will be presented at 3 p.m. on April 5 on WCAL 89.3 FM.

Other upcoming performances by the Orchestra include a performance with Chapel Choir on April 13 and the senior soloist concert on May 11.

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