Minnesota Orchestra 2017-2018 Annual Report
United Through Music: Harmony at Home and Abroad
The Minnesota Orchestra’s 2017-18 season was a year in which the Orchestra received a Grammy nomination and added to its Mahler symphony cycle; launched its first full-Orchestra Sensory-Friendly concert; toured to Mankato, Chicago, London and, in a first for a U.S. orchestra, South Africa—and achieved a balanced budget. Read these highlights and many more in our 2017-18 Annual Report.
“Music is a Great Blessing”
So said the late South African President Nelson Mandela, whose life and legacy the Minnesota Orchestra honored in a “Music for Mandela” Sommerfest and five-city tour of South Africa—the first ever by a professional U.S. orchestra. A standout Sommerfest concert led by Music Director Osmo Vänskä celebrated Mandela’s centennial as area church choirs, visiting South African singers and the Minnesota Chorale joined the Orchestra to perform South African songs; Mandela’s daughter Dr. Makaziwe Mandela spoke movingly from the stage.
In Minneapolis and South Africa, soprano Goitsemang Lehobye sang Mandela’s words in Harmonia Ubuntu by Bongani Ndodana-Breen, a work commissioned for the tour by Classical Movements. Orchestra members forged ties with local audiences and musicians throughout the tour, including a Side-by-Side rehearsal with the South African National Youth Orchestra, and the Gauteng Choristers and Minnesota Chorale joined two concerts. The tour capped Kevin Smith’s four-year tenure as President and CEO; he and his successor, Michelle Miller Burns, applauded musicians in Cape Town.
Many Happy Returns
The season also saw the Orchestra make much-anticipated return visits to several locales. In August Osmo Vänskä conducted the ensemble, to critical and audience acclaim, in a program of American music at London’s prestigious BBC Proms, where it last played in 2010. A January Midwest tour brought the Orchestra and Vänskä to Chicago’s Symphony Center for the first time in a half-century; the Orchestra also visited and performed at the University of Illinois and Indiana University, where horn player Herbert Winslow was among many who worked with music students.
Mankato, Minnesota, was the latest community to host the Orchestra for a Common Chords residency, strengthening ties to a city the ensemble first visited in 1908; there Principal Second Violin Peter McGuire, a Mankato native, starred in Mozart’s Fifth Violin Concerto under the baton of Assistant Conductor Akiko Fujimoto.
An Orchestra for All
In keeping with its mission to enrich, inspire and serve our entire community, the Orchestra emphasized greater inclusivity through its first full-Orchestra Sensory-Friendly Family Concert, which welcomed audiences of all ages and abilities to Orchestra Hall, including individuals on the autism spectrum. Lobby activities deepened audience connections with musicians such as Assistant Concertmaster Rui Du. Building on the success of a 2016 “Spirit of the Season” concert in north Minneapolis, the Orchestra presented a “Send Me Hope” program that brought many of the same guest performers and audiences to Orchestra Hall, who stayed after to mingle with musicians.
Performances in the community included the Orchestra’s first visit to The Commons in downtown Minneapolis, Symphonic Adventures concerts at high schools including Armstrong High School in Plymouth, Symphony for the Cities outdoor performances and Pint of Music brewpub chamber concerts.
The Community Connection
The Orchestra shared the stage with top-notch guest artists from the Minnesota community, including church choirs at “Send Me Hope”, led by Associate Conductor Roderick Cox; sibling quintet The Steeles, who performed alongside Orchestra trumpeter Charles Lazarus, also under Cox’s baton; local singer-actors who starred in a new “Home for the Holidays” program conducted by Principal Conductor of Live at Orchestra Hall Sarah Hicks, created and directed by Peter Rothstein and written by Kevin Kling; and genre-crossing multimedia collective Cloud Cult in its Orchestra debut, with Hicks again on the podium. A free 12-hour International Day of Music in July showcased 19 ensembles, among them Heart & Soul Drum Academy, on three stages in and around Orchestra Hall.
Musicians in the Spotlight
Orchestra musicians taking turns in the solo spotlight included Concertmaster Erin Keefe, First Associate Concertmaster Susie Park, Principal Second Violin Peter McGuire, Principal Cello Anthony Ross and Principal Flute Adam Kuenzel. A unique concerto for low brass by James M. Stephenson, Pillars, was premiered by Principal Trombone R. Douglas Wright, trombonist Kari Sundström, bass trombonist Andrew Chappell and Principal Tuba Steven Campbell. Trumpet player Charles Lazarus starred in a “Merry and Bright” holiday show, while violist Sam Bergman continued as host of Inside the Classics, notably guiding a thought-provoking “Speaking Truth to Power” program conducted by Sarah Hicks. Audiences bid farewell to retiring longtime Orchestra members Roger Frisch, Sachiya Isomura and Arnold Krueger, and to departing Associate Conductor Roderick Cox.
Artists and Anniversaries Aplenty
The season’s Featured Artist, violinist James Ehnes, was among many guest artists at the Hall; others included violinist Joshua Bell, pianists André Watts and Inon Barnatan, organist Cameron Carpenter, conductor Nathalie Stutzmann and, on the Live at Orchestra Hall series, singers Ben Folds, Audra McDonald and Leslie Odom, Jr. Several major anniversaries were marked, including the 50th year of Minnesota Public Radio; Finland’s centennial, about which Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Orchestra Board Chair Marilyn Carlson Nelson spoke from the stage; and 500 years since the dawn of the Protestant Reformation, commemorated with the premiere of RE-FORMATION by Sebastian Currier, who accepted applause alongside Osmo Vänskä and Minnesota Chorale Artistic Director Kathy Saltzman Romey. The Orchestra’s Composer Institute, directed by Kevin Puts and co-presented with the American Composers Forum, turned 15 years old.
“[Currier’s] work, in its shift from sacred to secular, from brimming confidence to the slimmest thread of hope, is harrowingly effective.” — James Oestreich, The New York Times, November 25, 2017
A Foundation of Education
Young People’s (YP) Concerts, led for the first year by Assistant Conductor Akiko Fujimoto, reached more than 35,000 students at Orchestra Hall, plus many worldwide through the second ever YP Concert video webcast. The Orchestra worked alongside students from the Minnesota All-State Orchestra at a Side-by-Side Rehearsal. Key volunteer organizations also served students: YPSCA provided volunteer ushers and funding for select schools’ tickets and busing, while FRIENDS of the Minnesota Orchestra offered Kinder Konzerts and ACCENT meet-a-musician events for adults, among other initiatives. Clarinetist Bixby Kennedy, pianist Kyle Orth and cellist Nygel Witherspoon, past winners of YPSCA and FRIENDS competitions, each performed with the Orchestra. OH+ (Orchestra Hall Plus) activities, tailored to each concert, included informative lobby displays, partnerships with other arts organizations, and concert previews, many hosted by Phillip Gainsley.
Mahler, Movies and More
The Orchestra’s multi-season project to perform and record Mahler symphonies continued under Osmo Vänskä’s direction. The series’ second album, Mahler’s Sixth, was released to critical praise, and the Fifth Symphony disc earned a Grammy nomination. Audiences reveled in the Orchestra’s Movies and Music concerts, including a program of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, led by Sarah Hicks. The Target Atrium’s intimate setting was ideal for jazz performances and chamber concerts, including one with horn player Bruce Hudson and Co-Principal Bassoon Mark Kelley. In the online realm, the Orchestra’s popular features included one-day “Instagram takeovers” and videos of the bassoon section describing favorite musical passages, while audiences, in turn, shared their concert memories via social media.
“No other American orchestra comes close to equaling the Minnesota Orchestra’s achievement as a recording powerhouse over the past quarter-century.” — Terry Blain, Star Tribune, October 28, 2018
Symphony Ball 2018: Sounds of the Cinema
The 2018 Symphony Ball was a fabulous success, raising $1.4 million—thanks to the efforts and contributions of the many talented and committed people who invested their time and energy on the Symphony Ball Committee, led by Co-Chairs Karen and Lloyd Kepple, with Dr. Stanley M. and Luella G. Goldberg serving as Honorary Chairs. Under Osmo Vänskä’s direction, the Orchestra played a wide variety of film music, narrated by H. Adam Harris, then was joined by singer-songwriter jeremy messersmith, who entered dramatically in villainous Star Wars regalia. The Orchestra thanks patrons, party guests and corporate sponsors—especially Presenting Sponsor Best Buy | Geek Squad—for supporting the Minnesota Orchestra’s artistic excellence.
Thank you to our audiences and donors for their wholehearted support which has made the achievements of the past season possible.