It may be overstating things to say that this weekend's St. Paul Chamber Orchestra concerts mark Maria Schneider's classical debut. Yes, this native of Windom, Minn., has never had a piece premiered by a major orchestra before. But she's been the leader of her own New York-based big band for 15 years. And her original works have always been lushly orchestrated, bearing the influence of her mentor, master arranger Gil Evans.

On Thursday night, the SPCO premiered the "Carlos Drummond de Andrade Stories," Schneider's settings of poems by the Brazilian poet. And, with soprano Dawn Upshaw giving the lyrics a deliciously bittersweet feel and the full confidence of the orchestra behind her, it proved a triumphant homecoming for Schneider. It also acted as the climax for a richly varied collection of works born or reborn in the 20th century, each of them executed with enthusiasm and emotional intensity.

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Above photo by: Pamela Espeland and John Whiting