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Classical music review: SPCO delivers embellishments, yearning, bravado and a bit of strain

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Classical music review: SPCO delivers embellishments, yearning, bravado and a bit of strain

Friday’s St. Paul Chamber Orchestra concert had a lot of Baroque, a bit of Classical, and contemporary music influenced by Chinese folk traditions. It was a program filled with embellishments, a little bit of yearning, some bravado, with perhaps a little strain halfway through.

Launching the morning concert was a performance of Georg Philipp Telemann’s Overture-Suite, “Les Nations,” which as the title suggests, portrayed snapshots of different countries, including Turkey, Portugal, Russia, and others, and in doing so, set scenes with the composer’s use of rhythm and melody. Complete with a chipper harpsichord, the piece moved from the Overture to two lovely French “menuets” before traveling to the other “nations.” One highlight was the “Les Suisses” movement, complete with tambourine, where the melody of the strings soared above the harpsichord’s steady rhythm. “Les Moscovites” was another crowd-pleaser, with its fast-moving parts and Baroque adornments.

Next on the program, Cassie Pilgrim performed a recent SPCO commission, “Elegy for Solo Oboe,” by Chen Yi. Chen wrote the piece for Pilgrim, who shares her Southern Chinese heritage, and included Cantonese folk music influences in the work. In her program note, Chen shared that she was drawing on folk tunes written in the Yifan Mode, a musical scale that has a mournful quality. “Elegy” had the sense of solitude, with notes sometimes wandering off as if letting out a cry that dissipated into the air.

Pilgrim played the work with a steady calm, the only hint of her effort revealed in quick breaths.

In the following piece, Luigi Boccherini’s Cello Concerto in B-flat (arranged by Friedrich Grützmacher), soloist Richard Belcher seemed to have a bit more of a struggle.

The piece from the Classical era is one learned by many advanced cello students, in part because of the enormous range it requires, spanning four octaves. It wasn’t a common type of piece for the time period, when cellos weren’t often spotlighted as solo instruments. If you weren’t looking, you might even suspect that a violin was being performed, because so many of the notes were so high, and also because that type of virtuosic music from the Classical era is more often played by the violin, flute, or other more common solo instrument. When played up in the rafters, the high cello notes lacked the ringing those same notes would achieve with a smaller instrument, without the benefit of the cello’s deep low note tones.

The version of Boccherini’s concerto performed by SPCO had considerable marks made by Friedrich Grützmacher, who replaced the original slow movement with an Andante grazioso from another work, and added a number of cadenzas, according to the program notes. The many fast notes, performed quickly, felt labored. Really, that first movement is supposed to be light and airy, like a hummingbird, and this rendition didn’t accomplish that. The second and third movements came off better.

Concertmaster Steven Copes gave Belcher a hug at the end of the piece, and the audience showed their appreciation by giving a standing ovation, perhaps in appreciation for undertaking something so difficult to perform.

The concert ended with another concerto, this time by Antonio Vivaldi. Violinist Daria Adams stood center stage for the piece, which also featured two oboes, a bassoon and two horns in the melody.

The orchestra synced seamlessly for the upbeat piece of music. They looked like they were enjoying making music together, and the audience, in turn, had fun, too. There were even some whoops and hollers from the crowd, even though it was just past noon.

Next up

  • Who: The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra
  • What: “Beethoven, Foley and Montgomery”
  • When: Oct. 22-23
  • Where: Ordway Concert Hall, 345 Washington St., St. Paul
  • Tickets: $50-$12; thespco.org
  • Capsule: Next up, SPCO players Kyu-Young Kim and Zachary Cohen play an R&B inspired duet for violin and bass; Jessie Montgomery’s “Shift, Change, Turn,” an SPCO co-commission, gets its Midwest premiere; and the orchestra performs Beethoven.
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Gophers rally for late lead but fall to unbeaten Nebraska

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Gophers rally for late lead but fall to unbeaten Nebraska

Without its floor leader on Monday, Lindsay Whalen’s Gophers were at a disadvantage from the start. But the head coach felt confident she still had enough to hand Nebraska its first loss of the season.

They’d done it before. Minnesota swept the Cornhuskers last season, winning the second game without starting point guard Jasmine Powell. They came tantalizingly close to doing it again on Monday, but in the end Nebraska had too much in a 70-67 victory at Williams Arena.

Kadi Sissoko scored a career-high 25 points, and Sara Scalia added 20 despite playing the point most of the game, but the Gophers couldn’t build on a four-point fourth quarter lead.

“It’s tough to lose. I thought we had our chances to win,” Whalen said. “I thought some guys stepped up with Jazz being out, and so there’s a lot of performances that I thought were really good. But obviously, we didn’t get it done, so it’s tough to take.”

Deja Winters gave the Gophers a 61-57 lead with a driving layup with 4 minutes, 34 seconds remaining, but Nebraska used an 11-4 run over the next three minutes to take control. Sam Haiby, a senior guard from Moorhead, scored eight of those points, giving the Cornhuskers a 68-65 lead with 43 seconds left.

Scalia missed from the paint, and Deja Winters missed an open 3-pointer before Ashley Scoggin hit two free throws with 11.3 seconds left to seal it.

Haiby finished with 13 points, and Jaz Shelley and Bella Cravens each scored 15 points for the Cornhuskers, who improved to 9-0, 1-0 in the Big Ten. The Gophers fell to 6-5, 0-1.

Powell, averaging 12.3 points and a team-high 5.9 assists, was out with a lower right leg injury and wore a stationary boot while watching from the bench. It’s unclear whether she’ll be available for Sunday’s game at Michigan.

“She’s getting treatment and she’ll continue to work with the medical staff and we’ll see how she’s feeling,” Whalen said.

Without Powell, Scalia was forced to move from off guard to point, which she has done before and done well. But the move throws a wrench in a lot of what Minnesota likes to do on offense. Scalia is the team’s best 3-point shooter, and playing point made it nearly impossible for teammates to get her an open shot.

Still, Scalia was effective. She was 4 for 7 from 3-point range and scored on a handful of drives down the center of the lane.

“It was definitely a lot more work,” Scalia said. “They were picking me up in the backcourt almost every possession. I just had to get the offense going and then when it was my turn, or I saw a shot or a play open, I did what I could to create or knock down my shot.”

Turnovers played a major part down the stretch. The Gophers were charged with six in the fourth quarter and the Cornhuskers finished with 21 points off turnovers.

The Gophers trailed 33-31 at intermission but immediately gave up four points on two turnovers to start the third quarter as Nebraska scored the first six points. They started the fourth on an 11-4 run to take a 61-57 lead, but couldn’t get enough stops to expand it.

Nebraska grabbed seven of the next 10 rebounds while outscoring the Gophers 13-3.

“That’s what it comes down to in this league,” Whalen said. “Everybody’s fighting, everybody’s battling, and it’s about those hustle plays and who can get those extra boards when things aren’t falling. We talked about it at halftime, and there were times I thought we were pretty good, but obviously we were not good for long enough stretches.”

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Federal inmate killed in Florence, third such U.S. prison death in a month

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Federal inmate killed in Florence, third such U.S. prison death in a month

WASHINGTON — A federal prisoner at a high-security penitentiary in Colorado died Monday in an altercation with another inmate, marking the third time an inmate has been killed in a U.S. federal prison in the last month.

Jamarr Thompson, 33, was pronounced dead Monday afternoon at USP Florence, shortly after prison staff members responded to the fight, the Bureau of Prisons said.

Thompson’s death was the latest security issue for the federal prison system, which has been plagued by chronic violence, serious misconduct and persistent staffing shortages. His death also comes as the Justice Department is facing mounting pressure from Democrats in Congress to take action to reform the agency.

Last month, a 61-year-old man died after an altercation at USP Tucson in Arizona. And a 32-year-old man was killed last week after a fight with another prisoner at USP Canaan in Waymart, Pa.

The Bureau of Prisons said staff members were called to respond to an altercation between Thompson and another inmate around 2:30 p.m. and “promptly initiated life-saving measures,” but Thompson was pronounced dead by emergency medical crews. The other inmate involved in the fight was treated for minor injuries, officials said.

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Mike Pence’s former top aide cooperating with Jan. 6 panel

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Mike Pence’s former top aide cooperating with Jan. 6 panel

WASHINGTON — The former chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence is cooperating with the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Marc Short was at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and accompanied Pence as he fled his post presiding over the Senate and hid from rioters who were calling for his hanging. Short is cooperating with the panel after receiving a subpoena, according to the person, who was granted anonymity to discuss the private interactions.

Former President Donald Trump was openly criticizing his vice president even as the insurrectionists broke into the building because Pence had said he would not try to unilaterally reject the electoral count as Congress certified President Joe Biden’s victory. Pence didn’t have the legal power to do so, but Trump pressured him anyway.

As Pence’s top aide, Short was also present for several White House meetings ahead of the insurrection. At one point, Trump banned Short from the White House grounds because he objected to the pressure on Pence to reject the legitimate election results.

CNN first reported Short’s cooperation and subpoena.

Some people close to Pence were furious about the way that Trump tried to scapegoat the former vice president on Jan. 6 and became even more incensed after Pence, his closest aides and his family were put in physical danger by the rioters.

Alyssa Farah, who served as Pence’s press secretary before taking on other roles and left her job at the White House before Jan. 6, voluntarily met with Republicans on the House select committee and provided information.

In a series of tweets as the insurrection unfolded, Farah urged Trump to condemn the riots as they were happening and call on his supporters to stand down. “Condemn this now, @realDonaldTrump,” she tweeted. “You are the only one they will listen to. For our country!”

The panel in November subpoenaed Keith Kellogg, who was Pence’s national security adviser, writing in the subpoena that he was with Trump as the attack unfolded and may “have direct information about the former president’s statements about, and reactions to, the Capitol insurrection.” The committee wrote that according to several accounts, Kellogg urged Trump to send out a tweet aimed at helping to control the crowd.

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