Category Archives: Minnesota Orchestra

Anna Schoen-René: Soprano, Conductor, Minnesota Pioneer

Anna Schoen-René – singer, conductor, entrepreneur, author, teacher, and the godmother of the present-day Minnesota Orchestra – is like a character from a feminist fairy tale. Walter Damrosch once asked her, “Haven’t they erected a monument to you in Minneapolis yet?” That monument remains conspicuously unbuilt.

In 1941, at the age of seventy-seven, Schoen-René published a book called America’s Musical Inheritance: Memories and Reminiscences. (It’s available to read in its entirety for free here.) Because so little research has been done on her life and career, we have to listen carefully to everything she says, while simultaneously remembering that not all of it has been verified.

This is the first paragraph:

I received my first singing lessons at the age of four – odd little lessons – from our household orderly, Matinetti. He was an all-round fine fellow, always ready to help us children out of our troubles. In his room behind the kitchen, my brother Otto and I used to sit on little stools, watching while he cleaned the uniforms, shoes, and other personal equipment of our large household, and listening to his fairy tales and songs. Matinetti was of Italian descent, though a native of Coblenz, and had a great store of both Italian and German folk-songs. Under his instruction, we not only learned many of these by heart, but acted them out dramatically. After the lessons, the doors to the kitchen would be thrown open, and we would give a performance before an almost tearfully admiring domestic staff. All this was carried on with utmost secrecy – no one in the front of the house was aware of this initiation into the world of make-believe. I have always felt that this marked the beginning of my great desire for a public career as a singer. I began about that time to develop a lively imagination; and as I walked in the forests I would sing to myself and build dream castles by the hundreds – always of future triumphs as a singer.

*

Anna Eugénie Schoen was born in 1864, the youngest of eight children, in Koblenz, Germany. According to her book, her father was “Royal Master of Forestry and Agriculture in the Province of the Rhineland and a Councillor at the Court of Wilhelm I, Emperor of Germany, and also an officer of the Reserve in the Honorary Battalion of the Guards.” The family was wealthy, sophisticated, and well-positioned, frequently rubbing elbows with empresses and czarinas. But her father had a strong egalitarian streak, and he insisted that his children spend at least two years in public school in order to become acquainted with children of every class.

Anna’s passion for music was obvious from the start. At an early age, she heard that singing in a choir could potentially harm the voice, so at her school chorus auditions, she “just barked, so to speak.” She succeeded in tricking the chorusmaster, but couldn’t resist singing in front of her friends. Ultimately, word of her deception got back to school officials, and to discipline her, they forced her to sing in front of all her classmates and teachers. Of course, that punishment had the exact opposite of its intended effect: “My longing for a career took a firmer hold than ever.”

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Following Up on Leonard Slatkin’s Book “Leading Tones”

Maestro Leonard Slatkin of the Detroit Symphony has just come out with a new book called Leading Tones, and bizarrely, a chapter of it is devoted to the Minnesota Orchestra lockout.

Pop some corn, kids. This is a long entry and you’ll need a snack.

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Vintage Minneapolis Symphony Programs, Part 1

Here’s are some bound 1966/67 Minneapolis Symphony programs, from the estate of dearly missed music director Stanisław Skrowaczewski.

Some notes…

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#MnOrchTour: Copenhagen

The script of my first conversation in Denmark went something like this:

(EMILY has left the airport on a train. This train may or not be headed to Copenhagen. EMILY looks at her phone, then looks at her ticket, then back at her phone. It becomes increasingly obvious that EMILY has gotten on the wrong train system entirely.)

(Abruptly, a DANISH MAN approaches and begins speaking Danish. DANISH MAN is wearing a neon vest. It is clear that DANISH MAN will fine – or more realistically, jail – EMILY for inadvertently bumming free train rides. EMILY stammers.)

EMILY: Sorry, I’m a dumb American and don’t speak Danish and also I’m on the wrong train, sorry, and I also have a ticket but I just realized it’s wrong, so.

DANISH MAN (switches to perfect English; pretends that EMILY makes sense): That is fine! I am not collecting tickets. I am conducting a survey about customer satisfaction on Danish trains.

(DANISH MAN brings out a clipboard to record EMILY’s profound thoughts on customer satisfaction on Danish trains.)

(SCENERY: whizzes by in wrong direction)

EMILY: Actually, I think I need to get off now.

DANISH MAN: I’m sorry?

EMILY: I need to get off at this next stop. I’m on the wrong train.

DANISH MAN: Oh, this is your stop?

EMILY: I need to get off now.

DANISH MAN: You need to get off now?

EMILY: I need to get off the train now.

(EMILY jumps off and onto an empty platform.)

(THREE wrong platforms, TWO sets of conflicting directions, and ONE five minute train ride later, EMILY opens a door to a building that appears to be the hotel. She is greeted by, I kid you not, a hotel lobby filled with live trees. It smells as though monkeys might start swinging from the branches at any moment. EMILY leaves again and looks at her phone’s map app. A SECOND DANISH MAN yells to her from a window.)

SECOND DANISH MAN: YOU HAVE TO GOT. TO GO. AROUND!

(SECOND DANISH MAN slams window shut in disgust. EMILY staggers through the summer heat with her suitcase and her backpack, tiptoeing around the construction surrounding the hotel, trying not to stumble into the path of a jackhammer. On the other side of the building, EMILY nearly collapses in relief when she sees MINNESOTA ORCHESTRA MUSICIANS leaving to go to lunch. She has survived her brush with Denmark.)

(For now.)

*FADE TO BLACK*

I mention this story not to entertain, but to encapsulate my experience of Copenhagen, where everything was Just. Plain. Weird.

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#MnOrchTour: Concert At The Concertgebouw

This was the first sign that greeted the Minnesotan contingent backstage at the Concertgebouw:

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To the left, then!

After snaking through the maze of players, staff, trunks, and instruments, I stepped out into the auditorium with flute player Wendy Williams. I watched her watch my slack-jawed reaction. Her excitement and exhilaration were contagious. “Isn’t it beautiful?” she gushed.

“Oh, my God,” I said. Then I think I said: “I’m – I mean, it’s – ” and then I couldn’t even imagine what else to say.

“You have goosebumps, don’t you?” Wendy smiled. “I can feel from here that you have goosebumps.” I don’t remember, but I think I said something voluble like “yes.” (I hope I said yes.)

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#MnOrchTour: Ambling in Amsterdam

“Will you need any help with that?” the clerk at the front desk of the Amsterdam Hilton asked politely. I staggered in front of her, attempting to hoist the weight of my knapsack onto my back.

“Nope,” I said, writhing like some kind of injured turtle. “I think…ayep…yep, I’ve got it.” Subtext: I can’t remember if we’re supposed to tip bellhops in Amsterdam, because I can’t keep the various tipping traditions of four countries straight, and I don’t have any Euro coins easily accessible if they do, and my back is shot after all this air travel anyway, so why not add one more injury on, and I will not look like a dumb stereotypical American tourist who doesn’t know what she’s doing, goddammit, even though it is totally obvious to everyone that I am a dumb stereotypical American tourist who doesn’t know what she’s doing.

“Your room is 117 and the elevators are right behind you,” she smiled sympathetically.

My ears pricked up. Room 117? Was I to be banished to some kind of servants’ quarters next to the public toilets and the ballrooms? For the price I was paying (thirteen times the cost of my viola bow, by the way), I’d better not be. But she’d mentioned elevators… I hesitantly stepped into the cab and suddenly remembered that in Europe, floor zero is a thing.

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#MnOrchTour: More Entries Coming…And Coming Home

So. The performances are over; the trunks are packed. Many musicians are on their way back across the Atlantic as I type. I haven’t had time to get final drafts about Ainola or Amsterdam or Copenhagen done yet (although rest assured: they are coming, and you are going to love the stories). So to compensate, I thought I’d shoot a video here in Denmark with some tour tidbits and thank-yous to everyone who contributed to this fabulous experience. I also transcribed a few paragraphs from it below in case you don’t have time to watch.

More coming! I’m in Iceland and off the grid for two days (some Minnesota Orchestra musicians will be, too), but I will be sure to share pictures of the scenery on Instagram.

Some housekeeping items…

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#MnOrchTour: Triumph in Lahti

8/23

The process of entering the Minnesota Orchestra’s concert in Lahti was extremely casual. The doors were opened, then patrons lined up and flashed their tickets to the ushers, who chanted “kiitos kiitos kiitos” at each person as they passed. No ticket stubs were collected, no bar-codes brandished. The Finns really seem to enjoy making things simple. And so I enjoy the Finns.

Inside the auditorium, I was immediately struck by the conviviality and camaraderie of the crowd. It reminded me so much of what we see nowadays at Orchestra Hall: folks waving at friends from balconies, acquaintances clustered in aisles chatting, rowmates leaning over each other to talk. As I sat down, the woman next to me told me something in Finnish and then giggled. I laughed back.

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#MnOrchTour: Prepping for Lahti

8/21

This morning the Minnesota Orchestra bid farewell to cosmopolitan Helsinki and traveled north to Lahti, Finland. The first bus left earlier in the morning; the second, closer to concert time. If a musician took the early bus, he would have more time with the instrument he hadn’t seen since the night of the 16th, as well as a chance to over-practice and over-think. On the other hand, if she took the later one, she might feel rusty or rushed. It seems to me that without adequate mental discipline, the timing of either bus could encourage musicians to play mind-games with themselves.

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#MnOrchTour: Adventures in Helsinki

8/20

I nearly puked during the descent into Helsinki. Which was weird, because I’ve never been airsick before. But something about the exhaustion, the time difference, the pressure change, the thin canned air, the claustrophobia, the unsteady descent, the blindingly bright sunshine, the hunger, and the multiple layers of clothing I had arrayed on my lap all conspired to roil my guts.

#TourGlamour

Thankfully, the nausea subsided after we stopped moving, and I joined the musicians at the baggage carousel, maybe a little paler than usual, but otherwise recovered. My suitcase was the first one out, and then the carousel just…stopped. I volunteered my toothbrush as a communal grooming device, but it turns out Icelandair had not actually lost every piece of luggage besides mine, and soon everyone was reunited with their bags.

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