SPCO In Concert: Fiddlers, Corn And Fireworks

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In 1993, English composer Peter Maxwell Davies wrote A Spell for Green Corn: The MacDonald Dances, which spawned this warm and spirited Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra farewell concert for conductor Nicholas McGegan, whose hands have conjured up 20 years of musical feasts in St. Paul. This past spring, McGegan concluded his formal relationship as one of the "Artistic Partners" of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra by leading an all-English program from three centuries.

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Concert Program

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St. Paul Chamber Orchestra violinist Dale Barltrop i i

St. Paul Chamber Orchestra violinist Dale Barltrop plays the part of the town fiddler who blesses the crops in "A Spell for Green Corn: The MacDonald Dances." Sarah Rubinstein hide caption

itoggle caption Sarah Rubinstein
St. Paul Chamber Orchestra violinist Dale Barltrop

St. Paul Chamber Orchestra violinist Dale Barltrop plays the part of the town fiddler who blesses the crops in "A Spell for Green Corn: The MacDonald Dances."

Sarah Rubinstein

Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks provides a sparkling 18th-century opener, while Edward Elgar's Introduction and Allegro takes us deep into the 19th century. McGegan might be best known for conducting Baroque music, but St. Paul audiences have known him as a consistent champion of 20th-century works, too.

Davies lives in the Orkney Islands, in the extreme north of Scotland. He's chronicled life in his adopted home in pieces such as Farewell to Stromness and An Orkney Wedding, With Sunrise (complete with bagpipes).

There's an old Orkney custom, now abandoned, in which the town fiddler blesses the year's harvest by playing over the furrow before a single seed is planted. The violin provides the "spells" and the orchestra follows along as the townspeople, looking on and processing from row to row. For this SPCO performance, Dale Barltrop plays the part of the town fiddler.

Try it yourself next season in your own garden: Hire a violinist. USDA tests have shown no adverse soil impact from fiddle sounds. But back it up with compost.

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