Tag Archives: Minnesota Orchestra

Nineteen Memories of Osmo

July 2003

I’m thirteen years old and I’m at Orchestra Hall for the very first time. I’m dressed in a white lace dress that belongs to my mother, and it’s too big for my frame.

I page through a program book, palms sweaty. I have the alarming feeling that, through no fault of my own, I might be falling in love with music.

My mother leans over and points out an ad. “They’re getting a new conductor this fall.”

“Yeah,” I say. “Osmo something.”

The Minnesota Orchestra plays well that night.

But…I can tell it can be so much better.

July 2010

It’s the week I turn 21. As a birthday present, my mother has taken me to see the Minnesota Orchestra play Beethoven under Osmo in Winona. It is life-changing. A Minnesota Orchestra violist has noticed the blog entry that I wrote about it and has written one of his own praising mine. I know that no one makes a living writing about music, but I dream about doing it anyway.

My mother and I go to dinner at my grandparents’. I may have just turned old enough to drink, but they will go to their graves thinking of me as a sick little girl who will never find her way.

“It’s even possible,” I offer after explaining my news of the week, “that Osmo – the conductor… He might read what I write.”

My grandmother lifts a bowl and announces to the table that the beans aren’t salted. Either she hasn’t heard me, or it’s her German way of letting me and my unlikely fantasies down gently. I glance at my mother for support. She smiles at me sympathetically. We begin to eat. The subject is dropped. The dream isn’t.

July 2012

I’ve just turned 23 years old, and my birthday present is going to see the Minnesota Orchestra play in Winona. The orchestra has a new concertmaster named Erin Keefe. She plays the Beethoven concerto like a goddess, and she looks like one, too, with her long skirt of lavender pleats. Osmo accompanies her.

The aggression of the Coriolan Overture that opens the program leaves me breathless and a little unnerved. Afterward, the musicians file out of the middle school auditorium into the thick July heat. Everyone seems so grim.

Something isn’t right, I remember telling Mom on the dark drive home.

Autumn 2012

I’ve started to blog about how the management of the Minnesota Orchestra has locked out its musicians. I’m too sick to go to college, so why not? I can scroll through 990s laying in bed. The proposals that have been made are draconian and threaten to destroy the entire institution, or at least render it unrecognizable, and I want to understand what’s going on.

Something hits me. I open the orchestra’s website. I don’t go to the blog. (I can’t. That has been deleted by upper management without fanfare.) But I do try to find last season’s schedule.

It’s then I realize that the Winona concert was the last time Osmo and the orchestra would perform together. My birthday present meant I’d inadvertently witnessed the end of an era.

February 2013

It’s so cold outside that it feels as if all of the buildings in the city must be made of ice. My mother and I have just left the orchestra performance at the Convention Center. The lockout is still ongoing, but this was a “neutral” concert brokered by the mayor and a major donor, meant to celebrate the orchestra’s Grammy nomination for their most recent Sibelius recording.

But even so, in an apparent demonstration of their bad faith, the orchestra’s president and his most prominent backers on the board have chosen not to attend.

Afterward, Mom and some orchestra friends and I find our way to a bar, the booths and stools filled and lined by patrons and musicians alike.

A figure enters wearing a coat. Even out of his standard glamorous surroundings, I recognize him.

Someone – I don’t remember who – secures me an introduction. I give the man a hug. I tear up. I don’t know what to say.

“I have read your work,” is what he says to me as the snow swirls.

What do you say to one of the greatest musicians of the age, whose work helped you figure out your own, who is on the brink of having his orchestra destroyed despite your very best efforts? Any words I can think of won’t suffice.

A group gathers around him. “Together we can do miracles,” he says solemnly.

October 2013

I’m 24 years old, and the lockout has not ended, and Osmo has endured a solid year of being fucked over by three people at the top of Minnesota Orchestra management. It’s clear now they have no desire to see him stay. There is no fair or timely deal offered to musicians, and so, as he promised he would do, he resigns.

I’ve come down with a cold, and I can’t see the final concerts he’s going to play with his orchestra. To soothe my lungs, I take a long bath and fill it with the hottest water I can run, and then I cry. “I tried so fucking hard,” I scream as the water pours.

My mom and I lay down on her bed and tune into Minnesota Public Radio to listen to Osmo’s farewell. After players and conductor perform The Firebird, Osmo’s soft broken voice introduces the encore, Sibelius’s Valse Triste. It’s the musical depiction of a young woman who goes dancing and realizes too late that she is dancing in the arms of death.

It breaks me. “How could they do this?” I demand of my mother.

It’s one of the few times I remember her not having anything comforting to offer.

“I don’t know,” she says.

February 2014

Audiences, patrons, musicians, board members…somehow, finally, with scores of people working behind-the-scenes and in-front-of-the-scenes, the lockout has finally ended, and nobody can really believe it. The terms are concessionary, but within reason. Now the audience has been left with an orchestra president we don’t like and no long-term conductor.

Osmo, however, is still present in Minneapolis, like some kind of baton-wielding ghost. Schrödinger’s music director.

It seems a difficult, if not impossible, situation to orchestrate a successful conclusion to. Egos have been bruised, and badly. These things have to be finessed. Surely an understated Scandinavian man will understand how carefully we as a community are going to have to strategize to –

My thoughts are interrupted when I open a link and see the blazing headline “Osmo Vanska says MN Orchestra President Michael Henson ‘must go’”.

I blink.

“Holy shit.”

It has been said about Finnish people that no one can control those stubborn people! And I am very proud of that.” – Osmo Vänskä during the 22 September 2017 MPR broadcast

March 2014

I’m with my mother at the greatest concert I’ve ever been to, and the greatest one I ever will go to. Osmo has been hired for a weekend – just a weekend – to conduct another Sibelius concert to celebrate another Grammy nomination. But the audience wants more, and we only have one concert to drive the point home. So we’ve desperately banded together to dress in blue and white, the colors of the Finnish flag, in a visual attempt to convince the board to hire Osmo back. We bring flags and we bring banners. We Euro-clap in unison before the stage doors open and the musicians pour out to piercing screams of adoration. The poor staff is so frazzled, they never ordered a bouquet for the podium, so my patron activist friends order one and have it delivered to the stage door.

On March 21st, the orchestra president announces he is stepping down, and a few weeks later, the board votes to rehire Osmo.

“It will be a comeback story like no other. The enthusiasm of the audience will blow the roof off Orchestra Hall…and isn’t audience enthusiasm desperately needed right about now? If anyone took Osmo or the Orchestra for granted before, they sure as heck won’t anymore. Chapter two of his tenure could be completely electrifying for everyone. And everyone loves a good comeback story. With hard work, this could become the king of all comeback stories. One for the history books, for all the right reasons.” – Me writing about whether Osmo should be hired back, 11 February 2014

Autumn 2014

I’m 25 years old, and I’ve spent the last couple of years taking a real-world crash course in arts journalism, activism, and non-profit governance, with the help of the greatest group of people I’ll ever know. And somehow…we got what we wanted. We took on powerful interests, and we made ourselves so persistently annoying that we won.

I haven’t had much time to celebrate, though. My mom’s not feeling well. She has a back injury, and it keeps getting worse and worse.

We look at the upcoming season to distract ourselves, trying to prioritize what concerts to attend. We have to see Erin Keefe and Osmo perform The Lark Ascending, we decide, and on Black Friday, we buy two tickets. We both have a weakness for it. It’s actually the piece Mom wants played at her funeral.

“There is something very, very, very special right now going on in this community, thinking about the Minnesota Orchestra and classical music. And I think that those terrible things which have been here during last two years, they just gave us a great idea about how much we love music, and how much we need it. And right now, that’s the new normal, that the audience obviously would like to show, that we love you, that we are happy that you are back, and we are happy that you are giving music to us. And if that’s the new normal, then I’m – I’m – I’m clapping my hands for this. It’s great.” – Osmo Vänskä during an October 2014 Minnesota Orchestra broadcast

January 2015

My mother has started regularly weeping in pain. She begs me to rub her back at night. The doctors are no use. Hematoma on the adrenal gland, we’re told. Wait it out. Exhausted, I tune into Minnesota Public Radio and listen to Osmo conducting an evening of new works by young composers. I email a review of every piece to an orchestra musician, too tired and timid to actually post my thoughts in public, but relieved to get to write them out for a friend. It’s one of the first times I’ve ever written about new music, and I really enjoy it.

“This is absolutely what we want to do. We want to give a connection to everyone who is going to listen to this which is written today, and we can learn something about our own future from these pieces.” – Osmo Vänskä during an MPR broadcast, 18 January 2019

February 2015

When my mother is diagnosed with cancer and goes to see one of the world’s best oncologists in Rochester, Minnesota, I don’t go in to the appointment where I’m assuming they’re going to discuss how long she might have left to live. I’d like to know everything else, but I don’t want to know that. I don’t know if this is selfish, but I know it’s very human. I plug in my earbuds and I sit in the waiting room, and I listen to a bootleg live performance of Sibelius 2 that I recorded off of MPR. I don’t allow myself to feel anything more beyond what the music makes me feel. But that something is enough to get through the day.

April 2015

In early March, when it becomes clear that my mother only has a few days left to live, I blurt out to her before the last doses of morphine send her to sleep, that the orchestra and Osmo will play The Lark Ascending in her honor. The idea seems to bring her comfort.

I remember so little from those months, but I do remember being approached and asked if they could play it for her. I said yes, and they do.

I find Osmo and Erin after the concert. (They’ve just played an ethereal post-concert Quartet for the End of Time with their colleagues. I will never understand how or why the repertoire they and their orchestra choose always speaks to what I need to hear at any given moment.) We hug. I tear up.

It’s strange. I feel like I’ve lived some of the most important moments of my life with both of them, and yet over the years we’ve barely spoken. And I don’t even feel like I need to. The music speaks on our behalf.

It’s Easter weekend, and they’ve fallen in love, and they’re getting married. Life, death, love, resurrection, endings and new beginnings all intertwined. We’ve lived it all, and we’ve lived it all to the biggest, most beautiful, most achingly gorgeous soundtrack ever composed. Amid all the heartbreak, I feel a sense of gratitude for life, and the way the two of them seize it, that I can barely speak.

“It is cleaning something inside of our mind. I’m not shy if I have tears in my eyes. It’s part of the process.” – Osmo Vänskä during the 2 October 2020 MPR broadcast

December 2015

It comes to my attention that a local company is selling a paper doll of Osmo. I order it, and it arrives at my new St. Paul apartment. I cut it down and prop it up and take a picture of it in the windowsill.

“Leaving the show one of the audience members pointed at the poster of Osmo and said, “There’s the hyper little man!!” I about died” – Me writing to my friends in our patron Facebook group, 18 June 2017

January 2016

I sit next to a new friend – a reader who I’ve recently met for the first time, who I feel like I’ve known for all my life. I’m in the front row at Orchestra Hall, and it’s after intermission, and there’s an empty seat beside me, and I want her to sit next to me. So I say “Sit with me,” and she does.

I invite this stranger, this sudden friend, back to my home for late-night tea. We trade stories about the orchestra, the music, Osmo. Our lives. I tell her to message me when she gets home.

When I close the door behind her, I’m reminded of how I don’t believe I will ever have a soulmate; I believe I’ve been lucky enough to be blessed with soulmates. She’s one of mine. (How did music end up being the thing to teach me that?) If I don’t want to be alone in life, I never have to be.

I finish the week having seen my first Beethoven symphony cycle. When Osmo finishes the Fifth, the final dash of the marathon, he lifts the score above his head to thunderous applause.

“You can always tell when Osmo’s happy with a performance… He takes his right hand and quickly sticks it under the back cover of the score and slaps it shut, as if to say, THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is how you play Tchaikovsky four.” – Brian Newhouse, hosting the MPR broadcast on 5 January 2018

March 2016

I am 26 years old, and my first glimpse of the auditorium of Carnegie Hall is from the stage, when I arrive for an open rehearsal and sneak in backstage with a violist. The orchestra is playing Sibelius 3 and 1, with Hilary Hahn soloing in the violin concerto.

I take my seat in the hall. The rehearsal begins.

To my ears, they sound like the greatest orchestra in the world.

But – they could still be better.

That’s when Osmo sets down his baton – and begins to clap his hands to keep time. I laugh in wonder, and suddenly, everything comes together.

“‘I just been thinking more and more about Oprah’ – what I thought Osmo was saying before realizing ‘opera’ in a Finnish accent sounds like Oprah” – Me on Twitter, 5 January 2018

August 2016

I’ve just turned 27, and I’ve traveled to Europe with the Minnesota Orchestra to document a tour. I’m standing at the grave of Jean Sibelius and his wife. I’ve toured their home, seen their collection of tea kettles on the shelf on their kitchen wall, photographed the phlox in their garden. I’ve witnessed the golden quality of late summer light stretch across the fields.

I’m wandering the empty corridors of the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, waiting for the night’s concert to begin. I walk around and around and around, dazzled, losing track of time and space. Suddenly I hear a deep voice behind a door. I’ve accidentally wandered past Osmo’s dressing room, where he is consulting with soloist Pekka Kuusisto. I turn around.

I’m sitting in the auditorium in Copenhagen. It’s the final performance of a triumphant tour, and I am exhausted and exhilarated to my core. I have never experienced anything like this. Osmo begins the rehearsal speaking to the orchestra. I’m so far away, I cannot hear what he says to his players. It feels right, that whatever it was he shared with them, they shared it up there together, and alone.

December 2018

I’ve gotten the heads-up from the orchestra that there will be an announcement at the annual meeting. I’m already planning to attend. I know what the announcement is going to be. I am 29 years old, and I understand how time works.

And yet when I get home that night and see the signed Mahler disc propped up on my bookcase, with the For Emily written on it, I break into tears.

“I have no plans right now. No one knows what the future will bring. I’m just happy being here right now.” – Osmo Vänskä to MinnPost, 6 December 2018

September 2021

I’m 32 years old, and Osmo’s final season has begun. For several years now, my notes have appeared intermittently in the Orchestra’s program books. I write a note for the first concert of Osmo Vänskä’s last season here.

Whenever I attend a concert, and I know a room of 2000 people is reading what I write, and I look around and remember how unassumingly it started all those years ago, and how sure I was that I’d never make a life in music, I feel as if I can do anything. I remember the exhortation to an ad hoc group of people gathered in a bar: “Together we can do miracles.”

I always smile at the teenagers when I’m at the hall. I always wonder what their next twenty years will look like. I wonder how many moons they’ll return to this place under, how many clouds. I wonder if they’ll be lucky enough to live through a golden age, too.

“Osmo describing the mindset of a 60-year-old Sibelius composing the 6th: ‘I have done something well but could I have done it better? … Happy, and maybe sad at the same time… It gives you more question marks than answers.’ Ooof.” – Me on Twitter, 7 January 2022

June 2022

I’m almost 33 years old, and I’m sick. I’ve been very sick for a long time, the sickest I’ve been since I was in my late teens and early twenties. I’m not exactly sure what’s wrong with me, although I’ve had tests run, and I think I have a better idea than I did even a few weeks ago.

But it is very difficult to think, and (it hurts to say) it is very difficult to read, and (it hurts even more to say) it is very difficult to write. Maybe the doctors have finally found a reason why. Maybe they haven’t. But for a blessed couple of hours, I don’t have to think about it.

I go to MPR’s website and open the livestream. I try not to think about how it’s the last time I will do so when Osmo is music director. But I’ve imagined this moment for so many years, it’s impossible not to acknowledge the moment now that it’s here.

(I don’t remember what it was like before Osmo.)

I pick up a Kleenex.

(This is the end of an era, and it’s the only era I remember.)

I take a sip of water.

A memory:

(Remember that moment in Sibelius 5 when it sounds like the swans are taking off into the sky? And remember how unspeakably beautiful it is when they do?)

Then – I listen.


Everyone associated with the Minnesota Orchestra – listeners, patrons, big donors, small donors, current musicians, former musicians, board, management; everyone – has watched their life intertwine with that of the orchestra’s over the course of Osmo’s tenure. We’ve had the privilege of growing into each other in a wild, untrammeled, unpredictable kind of way, over the course of one of the most striking, most dramatic music directorships in American history. And as we’ve grown, we’ve all learned.

I’ve learned faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these has been love. Love for a group of musicians, love for a community, love for friends, and love for music. Love for the work that brought us all together.

All of us who were lucky enough to be a part of this work have borne witness to something. Every one of us comes away from the past nineteen years transformed. It wouldn’t have happened in this specific way with any other man. It couldn’t have.

As the penultimate sentiment of the text of Mahler’s eighth says:

The ineffable /
Here is accomplished.


“The most important guy on stage is the composer, not the conductor.” – Osmo Vänskä

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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.


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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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:


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.


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!


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.


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.


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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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: Thoughts From Over Reykjavik


As I type, we’re between times and days. It’s three-thirty in the morning in Reykjavik and ten-thirty at night in Minneapolis. The in-flight entertainment system reports that the temperature outside is seventy below, and we’re creeping toward the Labrador Sea. I just finished watching an arty Icelandic movie about two estranged brothers who both raise sheep. Scabies hits the farms in the valley and complications ensue. The brothers eventually decide to reconcile and work together to save their breeding stock. The film ends with their flock escaping in a blizzard, and the brothers clinging to each other naked in an ice cave that one of them dug while seeking protection from the wind. I’m beginning to get a sense of the pathos that awaits us in Scandinavia. For the flight from Reykjavik to Helsinki, I’m planning on lighter entertainment fare. (Namely, Fargo.) (“Prowler needs a jump!”)

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Is Twin Cities Business Publishing Clickbait About Our Orchestra?

Two weeks ago, Twin Cities Business ran an article about the Minnesota Orchestra called:

Does The Minnesota Orchestra Have Sustainable Labor Contracts?

Okay, Twin Cities Business: you’ve immediately pulled my Pissiness Pulley by using the words “Minnesota Orchestra” and “sustainable” in the same sentence. Much like the ideas of American exceptionalism or precooked meat products, the concept of sustainability in the orchestra world has been used to justify some truly terrible stuff. Twin Cities Business should know this, and tread carefully.

Next comes a worrying, intestine-twisting subheadline:

The orchestra’s finances might not be as stable as they seem

worried 2

we’re gonna die; we’re ALL GONNA DIE

Okay, let’s back up.

First off: the finances have recovered enough to seem stable? I missed that. The fact there’s even a perception of stability is news in and of itself.

Second, why the passive-aggressive tone? Is it sunny outside? I don’t know; it seems like it, but the weather might not be as stable as it seems.

Well, seeds of doubt as to the purpose and seriousness of this article have already been planted in the headline and sub-headline, so the actual article itself should be fun!!!!11!11!

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#livelarking: Minnesota Orchestra, Eric Whitacre

7:24 PM. I’m playing two concerts tomorrow, so I won’t be able to Microreview like usual tomorrow morning. The fact that I have a life is the bad (?) news. The good (?) news is that I’m liveblogging tonight’s Minnesota Public Radio broadcast. As I said on Facebook, “Mainly I just want to have FUN, enjoy a performance by my fave orchestra, and take a break from pesky extras like ‘correct grammar’ or ‘cohesiveness of thought.'”

Speaking of Facebook, I have a Facebook page, and if you want to join the liveblogging fray there, you can. Or you can hang out on Twitter with the hashtag #livelarking, because lower case letters are cool, and lower case letters with alliteration are even cooler. And I’ll be updating this entry, too. We’ll see how adeptly I can cycle between three sites.

We’ve got about half an hour before the broadcast starts, so pop some popcorn and tell all your two friends that might be interested in this. Standing by.

7:36 PM. For those of you who don’t know, I’m a violinist and violist. My sojourns in choir were sad, sad, tremendously sad failures. So I’m gonna be honest with you: I’m about to lose my Eric Whitacre virginity. In front of all of you. Publicly. I know he’s a guy with long blonde hair that I’m assuming moves around dramatically when he conducts or breathes, but other than that, I’m completely clueless. I also see he’s a social media star, with fifty bazillion Facebook followers. I can appreciate that.

I DID watch this, though: an Eric Whitacre interview with Minnesota Public Radio’s Brian Newhouse. Too bad I shared this seventy-minute video with you fifteen minutes before the concert started. But trust me, it’s good. You would have liked it.

7:51 PM. So, somewhere in Minneapolis there’s a room of 2200 people reading these program notes. I’ll join them. Except I’m in my pajamas with no makeup on. #livingthedream

7:57 PM.Ecstatic Waters is music of dialectical tension—a juxtaposition of contradictory or opposing musical and extra-musical elements and an attempt to resolve them.” Sentences like these are why I’ll never be smart enough to be a composer.

8:00 PM. I’m hearing celestial choral sounds! Eric Whitacre must be in the house.

8:08 PM. First up is Lux Arumque, by Whitacre. These are hugely moving cinematic sounds. But I’m guessing they’re even more affecting in choral format, blessed by the humanity of the human voice.

8:13 PM. Blow It Up, Start Again: funky.

8:15 PM. So do choral geeks view Eric as like, choral Jesus? Is that a thing? Damn, he’s got charisma.

8:19 PM. Quiet City by Aaron Copland. Oh, Marni. Oh, Manny. Suddenly I feel like I’m in a big city, free and lonely. Which I guess is the point.

8:25 PM. The dynamics. I don’t want to type. The sound of my typing will cover the sounds up.

8:32 PM. Onto Stephen Bryant’s Ecstatic Waters. I’m interested in this piece within the first five seconds, so that’s a good sign.

8:35 PM. Thankfully I don’t need to understand the big composer words to enjoy the journey here. For this first listen, at least, the little soprano tinkling is such an effective device.

8:41 PM. Now it sounds like we’ve entered a cold warehouse. We’re characters in a movie thriller. There’s some kind of cyborg dragon in the next room. We are attractive and wearing skin-tight leather post-apocalyptic costumes, and we have buzzing devices that are telling us we need to move in for the attack right…now.

8:44 PM. That’s clearly Satan’s dental drill.

8:48 PM. I think the cyborg dragon has been vanquished, but I’m not sure. It might just be unconscious. Now we’re looking into each other’s eyes, haunted by the failures of our past. Our hands are shaking as we try to disarm the bomb. I know there’s a bomb we’re disarming cuz I hear it ticking.

8:53 PM. Wait a minute, I’m hearing slivers of Quiet City here. I think. Awesome. They aren’t direct quotes – I don’t think – but they’re emotional quotes, certainly. The programmer knew what he was doing. I see what you did there.

8:57 PM. Wait, intermission? What? Time flies when you’re having fun and talking to readers on three separate media platforms. This has been a really enjoyable concert. I like the feeling that I’m listening with you. Brief plug for the Minnesota Orchestra’s historic Cuba concerts: I’m planning on doing this #livelarking thing again next Friday.

9:07:15 PM. The all-enveloping ambiance of the Deep Field app sounds very cool. I’ll totally get the same effect as the audience in the hall. I have a $5 pair of headphones, and I’m listening over a compressed Internet stream.

9:07:20 PM. Also, this blog specializes in sarcasm.

9:16 PM. Looking at the program notes again, as you do during intermission. I have to appreciate a man who plays with animal crackers.

9:18 PM. Eric Whitacre shares a quote from the late Stephen Paulus: “Why go with your fifth bad idea when you can go with your first bad idea?” I feel sad I never had a chance to meet him except through his music.

9:20 PM. I can tell that the Minnesota Chorale enjoys singing under the direction of this man. I don’t know how I can tell that. I just can. And of course the Paulus is beautiful.

9:26 PM. We’ve gotta read a script, too, to fully appreciate the obscure intense plot-heavy masterwork that is Godzilla Eats Las Vegas. *balances reading script, blogging, tweeting, Facebook status updating*

9:29 PM. Over on Twitter, I formally requested an Eric Whitacre interpretation of Airport: 79, my favorite bad movie, and I’m going to repeat the request here.

9:35 PM. I’m gonna assume there is an army of Elvises advancing on stage. Gonna go with it.

9:37 PM. Oh no, in my Twitter- and Facebook-updating I got lost in the plot. I think we’re somewhere in between Wayne Newton’s death and the pirate ships.

9:41 PM. Oh the silly. Praise be to the silly. Remember how back in September, just a few short months ago, the Minnesota Chorale was nailing the ethereal Mahler Resurrection symphony? Versatility, thy name is Minnesota Chorale. Bravo.

9:47 PM. Off to the cosmos.

9:51 PM. Grace in the face of hiccups is a trait that I admire greatly, and one in which I am completely lacking. (Someone’s phone went off as the piece was about to begin, in case you’re wondering where that vague philosophical thought came from.)

9:54 PM. Enjoying what I’m hearing so far. That being said, the work’s biggest highlight – the use of the app – could also be its biggest distraction. We’ll be able to judge in a few minutes.

9:58 PM. I think there’s one thing I know for sure, though: this is not a piece best appreciated using cheap headphones. Go see this one live, don’t judge it on recordings.

10:02 PM. Also, if you can’t hear a live version, try listening to it in the dark. You can absorb aural ambiances much better in the dark. One of my readers is listening under the stars. That is such a magical suggestion.

10:04 PM. I just opened my bedroom window. The spring air is cold, and smells rainy.

10:07 PM. What if we thought of Deep Field as less of a piece of music than an experience? How would that change how we listen?

10:10 PM. Don’t really want to turn on the lights. Just want to crawl into bed after that, and dream.

10:12 PM. So here are some quick preliminary thoughts on Deep Field, subject to change (as quick preliminary thoughts are apt to do). I think it’s probably more successful in person than on recording. I think it’s completely transporting. I think any hiccups with the app will clear up after more people get used to the idea. I think it is best listened to in the darkness, on the prairie. I liked it. And I think this has been a very, very fun night. Bravo Minnesota Orchestra, Minnesota Chorale, Marni Hougham and Manny Laureano, Eric Whitacre, et al. Nights like these bring fun into the concert experience. It almost…somehow…makes the quality of the music secondary, if the experience around it is fun and appealing enough.

I’ll catch you #livelarking next Friday, when we travel to Cuba together!


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Review: Minnesota Orchestra in Bernstein, Heitzeg, Copland, Greenstein

Giddy excitement, bittersweet reflection, screams from audience members…

Nope, it wasn’t a lockout concert (although it felt like it). Rather, it was the first show in the Minnesota Orchestra’s 2015 American Voices festival, a massive extravaganza held Friday night at Orchestra Hall. How massive was it? So massive that the ushers told us anxiously and individually as they scanned our tickets: “Intermission is only fifteen minutes.” Aww, yeah. This is my kind of concert.

The show – and it really was a show – opened with Bernstein’s Divertimento. Sassy, sassy, saucy. As the piece went along, the classical trappings of the instrumentation kinda clattered away, and by ten minutes in, it felt like we were in a classy 2000-seat strip club. The hams in the brass section were milking the Blues movement for every single penny it was worth. Maybe even a few pennies’ more. During this section, I noticed a violist or two glancing over at the brass with a raised eyebrow. I can’t tell if they were skeptical or just jealous.

Possibly the least sexy instrument in the orchestra.

We can’t really pull off the strip club vibe with this.

Next came the premiere of Steve Heitzeg’s American Nomad trumpet concerto, written for Minnesota Orchestra musician Charles Lazarus. It was a huge hit in the hall, and the Strib wanted to marry the piece and have its babies. I’m sincerely glad it was loved. But my own personal feelings were more ambivalent. I was discontent throughout the opening. The abundant movement, paradoxically, struck me as frustratingly static. The middle movement was more successful, its pale, sparse scoring gorgeous and affecting. The written part of the third movement struck me as rather stale and routine…until the improv started, and then it exploded to life. In general it felt like music you’d use for a Copland documentary if the original Copland was still under copyright. But of course your mileage will vary. I was definitely in the minority. And as I’ve said on the blog before, I think Heitzeg’s soundtrack absolutely made the unforgettable PBS documentary “Death of the Dream.” I have no ax to grind.

Also, here’s a shout-out to Charles Lazarus. I know nothing about jazz, trumpet, or jazz trumpet. But what a mesmerizing soloist he was, in a very understated Minnesotan way. He has the aura of a grown-up band geek, with the haircut and glasses. His stage presence combines a cool modesty and a steely confidence, and he was such a treat to watch.

But. Let’s face it. The inevitable highlight of the evening was always going to be the return of former Minnesota Orchestra clarinetist Burt Hara to play the Copland concerto. Continue reading


Filed under Minnesota Orchestra, Reviews