Stillwater Music Festival ending on a high note

Brooklyn Rider
Twin Cities Pioneer Press

As goodbyes go, they don't get much sweeter than this. While sitting in a former courtroom at Washington County's Historic Courthouse on Tuesday evening, I was thinking how much I'll miss Brooklyn Rider -- one of the most exciting and adventurous string quartets in the business -- when its annual Stillwater Music Festival breathes its last this week after 10 years in the St. Croix River Valley.

But then something pulled me back into a profound appreciation of the moment at hand: The magnificent voice of Anne Sofie von Otter. The Swedish mezzo-soprano is one of the most celebrated singers in the world right now, so it was already a coup to have her agree to close the festival with the quartet next Thursday. But she showed up for opening night, as well, and ended up performing on half of the program's pieces, affording an audience of fewer than 100 an intimate encounter with a masterful vocalist at the peak of her powers.

It was already a richly rewarding concert before the group invited von Otter to join them at the center of their in-the-round "Stillwateriade" of contemporary works, thanks to thrilling interpretations of Vartabed Komitas' take on four Armenian folk songs and Osvaldo Golijov's arrangement of a song by Cafe Tacuba. Each was performed with an ideal blend of electricity and melancholy, and a pair of pieces by composer Ljova proved hypnotic.

But then von Otter stepped forward to weave a spell.

She started with a pair of Swedish folk songs, one sweet, one salty. It was clear immediately that not only does this mezzo possess an astounding instrument, but she's an arrestingly charismatic performer, one of those artists who plunges an audience into the emotional depths of each piece.

It served as a reminder that this is a quartet worth treasuring before its local visits become far less frequent.
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