Music review: ‘Exploring’ with the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra

Written By: Sheryl Jensen, For the Duluth News Tribune | 4:29 pm, Nov. 23, 2021

A travelogue of musical styles, time periods and settings made the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra’s “To Explore” Masterworks Concert an engaging world tour of works from a varied list of composers. 

First stop was Italian composer Gioachino Rossini’s frolicking opera overture, “L’italiana in Algeri” (“The Italian Girl in Algiers”). The orchestra had great fun with the exotic Middle-Eastern flavor, crescendos and the high-spirited energy of the piece. As a concert opener, it was an exuberant way to get the audience instantly engaged.

Next, it was off to Scotland in German composer Felix Mendelssohn’s “The Hebrides Overture, Op. 26.” The piece was inspired by the 20-year-old’s walking tour of Scotland and his visit to the stunning and “magical” Fingal’s Cave, where an echo generated by the ocean waves is said to create melodic keys.

Inspired by the enchanting scenery, and the ebb and flow and crashing waves of the sea, Mendelssohn created wonderful musical scene pictures in this piece. He once stated: “It is in pictures, ruins and natural surroundings that I find the most music.” The orchestra evokes the haunting, mysterious and dramatic elements of his Scottish odyssey.

Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla’s became synonymous with a form of a new tango that blended elements of jazz and classical music. While his “Sinfonietta” has a subtle tango feel, its rhythmic drive and more somber melodies gave the orchestra a chance to show another side to Piazzolla’s work.

Sheryl Jensen is a former teacher, magazine editor and director. She reviews performances for the Duluth News Tribun

The highlight of the concert was guitarist JIJI’s brilliant collaboration with the DSSO on Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo’s three-movement “Concerto de Aranjuez.”

Dazzling guitar virtuoso JIJI has performed at Zankel Hall in Carnegie Hall, at Lincoln Center with its “Great Performers Series,” and at the Metropolitan Museum of Arts. She is a member of the music school faculty at Arizona State University.

In “Concerto,” the gorgeous sounds of the guitar are never overshadowed by the power of the orchestra. Instead, the guitar and the orchestra engage in a “soulful conversation.”

Rodrigo once described the guitar as “a strange instrument, gigantic, multiform and fantastic, an instrument which has the tail of a piano, the wings of a harp, and the soul, in fact, of a guitar. “ JIJI brings all of that and so much more to an utterly breathtaking, elegantly nuanced performance.

The concert concluded with French composer Maurice Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin,” written as a stirring memorial to the victims of World War I. Without being heavy or dirge-like, instead it uses dance forms with Baroque elements.

On this last piece, and throughout the concert, the orchestra featured many of the DSSO’s superb woodwind players, including Michael Dayton, principal oboist, whose performance was stunning throughout.

Attendance at a live DSSO concert is a thrilling experience. Streaming virtual concerts provide an exciting option as well with the opportunity to see the musicians and music director close up while still enjoying the DSSO’s wonderful music from the comfort of your home.

If you go

  • What: Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra concert “To Explore” 
  • When: Streaming now; virtual tickets $15 per concert 
  • Tickets: For future concerts, in-person tickets $20-$58; “Mix and Match” concerts $20-$53 each 
  • Info: and 218-623-3776 

Next concert: “Holiday Spectacular,” Dec. 4, 7 p.m., featuring the DSSO and Strikepoint. “Casual concert,” 2 p.m.
Sheryl Jensen is a former teacher, magazine editor and director. She reviews performances for the Duluth News Tribune.