Category Archives: Minnesota Orchestra

Behind the Scenes with the Minnesota Orchestra in Chicago

I can recommend crashing a Minnesota Orchestra tour rehearsal if you ever get the chance.

My fellow fangirl Aly and I were eating lunch on Michigan Avenue this Sunday when we texted a musician to see if crashing was an option.

It was, if we could get there in five minutes.

We ran.

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Somehow I’ve ended up backstage at several of the world’s great halls. The ceilings are always low; the corridors narrow. Musicians and staff – the invisible superheroes of every tour – shoot quick smiles and turn their hips sideways to squeeze past each other. We went down and up stairs. For a split second I wondered why the railings were wrapped in a cushy rubbery covering, but then I realized: of course, it’s to protect the precious instruments carried up and down these storied dingy staircases every night.

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A BLIZZARD TO WISH THE MINNEAPOLIS SYMPHONY “GOOD LUCK”

Today – January 22nd, 2018 – the Minnesota Orchestra was supposed to leave for a regional Midwestern tour.

They are scheduled to perform tomorrow night at Indiana University, Thursday night at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Sunday afternoon in Chicago at Orchestra Hall.

I heard that only a handful of musicians got out of town today before the Twin Cities got hit by a snowstorm. As I type, some areas of the metro have gotten twelve inches, and we’re not done yet. As you can imagine, musicians and management have been dealing with a very stressful situation trying to get everybody down south in time to play the show and work with students!

Turns out, we’re just re-living history 101 years later, almost to the day.

From the Musical Courier, February 1st, 1917:

A BLIZZARD TO WISH THE MINNEAPOLIS SYMPHONY “GOOD LUCK”

Organization Starts Its Western Trip Under Difficulties

The beginning of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra’s midwinter tour was attended with features almost tragic. The organization was to leave Minneapolis at 6:45 on Sunday evening, January 21st, after the regular Sunday afternoon Popular Concert. When Sunday morning dawned, however, Minneapolis found itself in the grasp of the worst blizzard in the history of the city. In the early afternoon it was still possible to reach the center of the city if one took many and devious routes and allowed plenty of time. The Auditorium had been sold out for the concert, but at 3:00, the advertised time for the program to begin, not over fifty per cent of the audience had been able to reach the hall. The concert was given in its entirety, however, the members of the orchestra having all managed to get there by almost superhuman efforts. In some cases the men living in the outskirts had left home at 10 in the morning and walked many miles.

By 3 o’ clock the street car traffic was completely tied up, and at 6 o’ clock the officials of the railroad that was to take the orchestra out of town notified the orchestra management that it was a human impossibility to make the trip. The orchestra was, nevertheless, ordered to report to their chartered sleepers at the depot, and after some hurried conferences between the railroad officials and Managers Heighton and Stein of the orchestra, it was decided to pull the train out just as soon as it was at all possible to do so. Meanwhile every train out of Minneapolis for that night was annulled and not another wheel moved. At 2 o’ clock two engines tried to pull the orchestra special out of the depot, but the train was frozen to the track. However, shortly before 9 a majestic train of [?] engines and four cars teamed out into the blinding snow storm behind a snow plow, everything covered from roof to wheel with ice and tons of snow – the only train that left Minneapolis that night. Some delay was encountered in getting through the St. Paul yards, but after leaving there very good time was made and the “North Pole” special arrived in Urbana, Ill, the first stop at 6:30 p.m. on Monday.

Meanwhile the audience at the University of Illinois that had been gathered in the Auditorium for the advertised matinee, were being held and entertained by an impromptu program given by the faculty. A combination of the afternoon and evening program was given at 8:15 and the orchestra pulled out at midnight for Memphis, Tenn.

Since leaving Urbana, the orchestra is not liable to run into the sort of weather that delayed its start as the tour this year takes it to California by way of New Orleans, through Texas, and back via Salt Lake and Denver. The regular season will be resumed in Minneapolis on Friday evening, February 23rd, with Jacques Thibaud as soloist.

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It’s a funny thing how history repeats itself…and also oddly heartwarming. The tales echo through the decades: this is an orchestra that is willing to go the distance to tour, whether it’s in 1917 or 2018. Call me a sap, but that spirit of service moves me. It moves me especially deeply because I don’t need to make the concert tomorrow night, and can admire the modern-day “superhuman efforts” from my safe cozy house, lol.

Wishing safe travels for everyone associated with our orchestra!

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Also, wish me safe travels! I’ll be in Chicago this weekend to cheer the orchestra on (a few patrons will be, actually), and also provide as many social media updates as I can! This was a bit of an impulse decision… A generous anonymous gift from a reader helped pay for my coverage. I couldn’t be more grateful. So keep an eye out here on the blog, and especially on Twitter and Instagram. And if you’re interested in making a day trip yourself, there are still tickets available!

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How Anna Schoen-René Nearly Founded the Minnesota Orchestra

If you want to learn about the early life of Anna Schoen-René, check out this entry.

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In her 1941 memoir, America’s Musical Inheritance: Memories and Reminiscences, soprano Anna Schoen-René claims she originated the idea of the Minnesota Orchestra.

The orchestra was to be called the Northwestern Symphony Orchestra, and was to serve Minneapolis, St. Paul, and the surrounding cities, thereby appeasing the rivalry which traditionally existed between the first two named.

She writes she went so far as to raise $30,000 (the rough equivalent to $800k today), arranging players’ contracts and even hiring conductor Walter Rothwell (who went on to become the first music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic).

But she faced, in her words, “a good deal of opposition.” While she took her annual trip to Europe, shadowy unnamed forces conspired to raise $60,000 and poach her players. “A wealthy citizen of Minneapolis had been persuaded to give that city its own orchestra, which was not to be shared with other places,” she writes. Presumably she’s referring to Elbert L. Carpenter, the Minneapolis lumberman who organized the Minneapolis Symphony and who bestowed its first music directorship upon local conductor Emil Oberhoffer. Her insinuation here is clear: she saw herself as champion of an egalitarian ensemble belonging to all Minnesotans, in contrast to the unnamed “wealthy citizen” who saw the orchestra as a tool to advance the interests of a particular set of people.

How did a young female immigrant come so close to founding one of America’s great orchestras? Why did her efforts to do so excite such intense antipathy? And how on earth have we forgotten her so utterly? Much of the story remains buried in the archives; it will take months, if not years, of work to interpret in all its nuance. But thanks to the Minnesota Historical Society’s online newspaper archives, portions of the history are in plain sight, provided you have the interest and the time to chase them down.

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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.

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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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