If Macy’s Day of Music is a marathon, I heard a 10k of it today. It’s the eighth year of this extravaganza on Peavey Plaza, where Minnesota Orchestra hosts a two-day festival of just about every type of music you can imagine. This is how I experienced the first six hours:
1:00 Walking onto Peavey Plaza, I was greeted by smiling volunteers in aqua T-shirts and handed a schedule. I had missed the first half of the e-Piano Competition finals, but after a healthy pause listening to the Mouldy Figs, I slipped in to stake a seat for the second half.
This international competition is unusual, in that while the contestants travel to compete, the international jury does not. Their performances are translated via Midi to the Internet, where not only the judges but thousands of people worldwide can listen. While the International e-Piano Competition has been around awhile, this is the first year of the junior competition, open to pianists seventeen and under.
I was surprised by the healthy size of the crowd, which was totally responsive to the kids playing their guts out on stage with the Minnesota Orchestra. I saw the fourth and fifth of the five finalists—Jan Lisiecki, a thirteen-year-old from Canada, and Frank Düpree, sixteen, from Germany. Jan, who has an adorable big scruff of golden hair, took the bench and I couldn’t help but think cute! But as soon as his fingers hit the keyboard for the first movement of Chopin’s Concerto no. 2 in F Minor, Opus 21, adorable turned into admirable pretty dang fast. Likewise, Düpree’s big, snapping arpeggios opening the iconic Tchaikovsky Concerto no. 1 were utterly impressive. Regardless of how mature these kids are offstage, their playing belies their age. What a rush they must be experiencing, competing at this level with Minnesota Orchestra as their back up band. (Düpree and Nansong Huang, a fourteen-year-old from China who played Rachmaninoff’s Concerto no. 3, tied for first place and will play later tonight with Minnesota Orchestra.)
3:20 Outside, it’s hot. And sticky. The kind of day I was losing faith in last April. And somehow, the band I’ve stumbled on, Axis Mundi, totally suits the weather. There are influences of Latin, Middle Eastern, Afro-Cuban, and Haitian music, played by a very versatile bunch. I would totally seek out this band again. I’m trying to imagine hearing them inside, and it sounds a little disappointing as an idea. But then again, maybe some hot, humid music in the dead of winter would be just the thing. The siren call of happy hour broke through the music, so I heeded and got myself round one, feeling pretty smug I held out this long.
4:00 I found a great spot in semi-shade for the next act. I wouldn’t miss the Charles Lazarus Group, and not just because Chuck, in three weeks, will morph from boyfriend-in-law to brother-in-law. Chuck plays in the trumpet section of Minnesota Orchestra, and his original music is always individual, interesting and satisfyingly virtuosic. The group has its own sound whether playing a New Orleans funeral march or lounge exotica or channeling Duke or the Buena Vista Social Club—it’s jazz, but all funked up.
It is so hot, and though the wind is trying to compensate for the brick oven effect of the tiles that form Peavey Plaza, the crowd is all cozied up in a sticky cluster on the shady Nicollet Mall side to listen. The thing that is amazing me most of all is that the keyboardist, Peter Schimpke, can wear black pants on a day like today.
It was a little funny listening to normal-size Chuck play while looking at the giant Chuck emblazoned on the side of Orchestra Hall. But you know it’s good when I’d rather sit here and enjoy the music than go for round two of happy hour.
5:10 For a change of scenery, I head over to the WCCO Stage to take in some salsa. Charanga Tropical, a nine-piece band featuring a flutist as lead, is entertaining, as are the gaggle of glamorous dancers that showed up in full salsa regalia (spike heels and all).
Those in the band who play standing dance —even the trio of violinists have moves like backup singers. I find it nearly impossible not to stand still listening to salsa, and tonight is no exception. However, after a bit, the hunger pangs finally get me dancing back across the street to the Kramarczak’s stand for a brat.
6:02 I’m feeling a bit wilty, but revived with the vitamin G (grease). Davina and the Vagabonds are up on the south stage. She’s amazing! I’m loving this. It’s jazzy and bluesy, and Davina Sowers sings like a gravelly trumpet, and has an occasionally spastic vibrato a la Elvis, but a voice that actually does sound like her write-up says – a little Bonnie Raitt, a little Ella Fitzgerald. She’s so infectious that my husband whisked me away from my laptop for a swingy whirl. Several other couples take the floor close to the stage, and are a blast to watch.
6:25 Still dancing. Back in a sec.
6:35 I don’t think I’m going to score a seat for the 8 p.m. orchestra concert. Since it’s free, people go in early to stake out a spot, but I just can’t go inside yet.
7:05 Once again I’m on the back side of the next band, featuring the twenty-four-year-old Haley Bonar. Her music is sweet, poppy, and folksy. From this position I can’t make out the lyrics, but the front side of this stage is absolutely packed with people. So I opt to stay put and enjoy some strawberry ice cream, which is melting quickly. The big, dark clouds billowing over Brits held off through the rest of her performance, but the storm reports we’re watching on my husband’s Blackberry help make the decision to give up our table before Honeydogs start outside. After six hours of urban musical fun in the sun, I vow to train for the full marathon next year.