Soundtrack For A Blizzard
20 Feb 2011
Inside the Classics

As I write this, the southern half of Minnesota is in the grip of yet another snowpocalypse: whiteout conditions, with 12-18″ forecast, just when we’d been making a bit of progress melting the foot or two that’s been on the ground since early December. It’s good news for those of us who’ve been waiting for a fresh layer to smooth out our favorite ski trails, but it does tend to put a damper on one’s Sunday plans.

Snow days always seem to put me in a mix tape mood, for some reason. (Probably because hunting up music is the perfect way to avoid doing the real work that awaits me in another corner of my hard drive.) Today, the snow hadn’t piled up more than a couple of inches before I found myself in dire need of listening to some Piazzolla…

Gidon Kremer & Kremerata Baltica

That’s the winter movement from Leonid Desyatnikov’s orchestration of Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. (Those of you with us for last year’s Four Seasons edition of Inside the Classics may remember us featuring the fall movement.) And speaking of winter, the Finns usually have something to say about that, don’t they?

Einojuhani Rautavaara’s classic Cantus Arcticus, there, accompanying someone’s wintry ferry ride from the Helsinki harborfront to old Suomenlinna Fortress, which I just so happen to have been to myself, along with several other MN Orch musicians during our 2006 summer tour. It looked much less bleak in August…

And speaking of Finnish composers, maybe it’s just that I spent a good chunk of this morning practicing Sibelius for this coming week, but the first movement of his 5th symphony has always sounded particularly wintry to me. (This one’s split into two clips, for some reason.)

Philharmonia Orchestra, Vladimir Ashkenazy conducting

I never get tired of that piece. It’s literally my favorite symphony by any composer, and when I saw in this season’s orchestra schedule book that we’re recording it this June, I was actually giddy. (We’re performing it in Minneapolis in early April, in case you’re interested.)

Of course, man cannot live by symphonic music alone, and although I’ve posted this at least once before (and we actually used a short clip from it in our Four Seasons ItC show,) it’s just too perfect for a late winter snowstorm to not include…

The first time I heard Dar Williams sing that song, I was sitting on a couch about four feet from her at the tiny acoustic cafe I helped to run at Oberlin College, back in 1995. No one knew who she was yet, much, but that song stuck in my head for days afterward.

That cafe, and the musicians who played everything from jazz to folk to Brahms there, actually shaped a lot of the musical tastes I’ve hung onto to this day. So why don’t we wrap things up with one of my Oberlin classmates, just a young guy with a guitar who literally wanted to play our stage every night we had an opening. He didn’t seem to care much how many people showed up to listen, he just liked to perform, even if he did sing with his eyes on the floor quite a bit. Shy kid, really – from Idaho. I didn’t see him again for more than a decade after we graduated. But I heard from him a lot, and so did the rest of the music world.

That’s Josh Ritter, live in Dublin, Ireland, where he’s a pretty major rock star these days. (Here in the States, where we’re collectively stunned, stunned when an actually decent band wins a Grammy, he’s not quite as famous, but plenty well known among folkies and Current listeners.) He also played a fantastic show with the Minnesota Orchestra last summer, and it was just awesome to see this guy I used to watch awkwardly cradling his guitar in front of ten people at a coffeehouse in Nowhere, Ohio, now grinning like the Cheshire cat and rocking out in front of a crowd of 1500 screaming fans.

As for those lyrics of his, they’ve made me hopeful again. Maybe if I turn around and glance out the window, the snow will actually be

…no. Apparently not. The power of music is no match for a Minnesota winter. I need a nap.

<February 2020>

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