Arts Review: Strings take the stage at the Reif

On February 15th, the Itasca Symphony Orchestra presented its annual dead-of-the-winter concert at the Reif Center. They definitely heated the place up by opening with Antonio Vivaldi’s violin concerto “Winter” from The Four Seasons. This work is almost three centuries old, and it hasn’t lost any of its appeal or challenges or rewards. That’s why it’s constantly in production on programs worldwide by professional and amateur orchestras.

The solo violinist was the Orchestra’s own Olivia Skaja. Here’s a contrast: a 15-year-old musician tackling a 289-year-old piece of music. Olivia performed beautifully. Her technical mastery is matched by her musicianship and stage presence. Six years after taking up the instrument, she has won all sorts of awards, as both a violinist and a fiddler. Last year she was accepted into the prestigious Interlochen Arts Camp, where she was promptly appointed Concertmaster for the Interlochen Philharmonic. She was invited to join the Itasca Symphony Orchestra at age 11.

The second part of the concert was Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Opus 70. This is considered one of the gems of orchestra repertoire since its debut in 1885. Conductor/Music Director Keith Swanson had the orchestra wonderfully well prepared for this concert, and they made it happen despite a number of rehearsal cancellations related to weather. This was Tara Makinen’s first ISO show in the role of Executive Director of the organization. Tara did a great job center-stage as the evening’s MC and then took her place in the orchestra with her clarinet and did the same thing there. Clearly, the Itasca Orchestra and Strings Program is in very good hands. Congratulations to one and all.

Three nights later, Jelloslave was on-stage at the Reif, for a performance. Jelloslave is a Twin Cities group: two cellos, drums, and tablas. Tablas are hand drums, played from a sitting position, cross-legged, on the floor. The cellists are Jaqueline Ultan and Michelle Kinney, the drummer is Greg Schutte. All four of these musicians are trained, pedigreed and active players in the Twin Cities music scene. Their selections weren’t named in the program, just announced from the stage. Much of their repertoire is original, as it would have to be with this unique configuration. Jacqueline and Michelle are both composers. The only familiar music were a couple of Leonard Cohen pieces they’ve arranged for their instrumentation. About their music, they use the term fusion, and you can hear jazz, orchestral, Caribbean, Middle Eastern, and Indian influences, among others. A standout performance!