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Osmo Vänskä /// Music Director

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Meet a Musician: Fei Xie

Minnesota Orchestra member since: September 2017
Position/section: Principal Bassoon
Tang Shan, China
M.M., Rice University, B.M., Oberlin College

What is currently on your music stand?
On my stand, I always have the music for the next 2 to 3 weeks of orchestra programs, plus some etudes and French solo bassoon pieces. 

Do you come from a musical family?
Yes, my parents are both Peking Opera musicians, and my uncle is a composer who introduced me to classical music at the age of three.

How did you choose to play the bassoon?
The bassoon kind of chose me. I started playing piano when I was three years old, and I studied it until I was 12 years old. When I finished elementary school, I wanted to audition for the middle school attached to the Central Conservatory of Music, one of the best music schools in China. After taking a lesson with one of the professors, she told me that I would not be accepted that year as a pianist, but that I should try to audition for the wind department if I really wanted to get into the school. The wind department would sometimes accept students who had musical talent but hadn’t learned to play any particular wind instrument yet. I went to the audition and one very nice lady asked if I would consider learning the bassoon. I had no idea what the bassoon was at that time. It wasn't until the next day, when I brought my parents to meet the professor, that I first saw and heard the bassoon, and I fell in love with its beautiful sound! Now I am here!  

Fei Xie with bassoonist J. Christopher Marshall onstage at Orchestra Hall

Where did you play before coming to Minnesota?

I always knew that I wanted to play in an orchestra, so I started taking orchestral auditions when I was in college. My very first job was as the principal bassoon of Mansfield Symphony in Ohio, while I was a junior at Oberlin. My second job was as the second bassoon of the Houston Grand Opera. I won that position while I was a graduate student at Rice University. One year after I graduated from Rice University, I won the second bassoon job in Baltimore Symphony, and later won the principal bassoon audition there. After serving 5 years as principal bassoon in Baltimore, I joined the Minnesota Orchestra.

Which moment in the bassoon’s orchestral repertoire is your favorite?
I love them all! The bassoon doesn't get as many solos as the other woodwind instruments, so I love it anytime one is written for bassoon. I really have an interest in story-telling, so if I had to pick one, I’d choose the solo from Scheherazade by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

Principal Oboe John Snow and Principal Bassoon Fei Xie (both at center) after a masterclass with students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, January 2018

What Minnesotan activity are you excited to try for the first time?

Since I am new to Minnesota, I am trying my best to adapt to the weather. One of the things I have never done but am looking forward to is skiing. I just signed my son up for ski lessons, and I hope I will also become a skier soon.

What would you recommend to audience members here?
Come to as many concerts as you would like. The Minnesota Orchestra really puts on variety of music. You can find so many different genres of music in the concert hall.

Fei Xie with a student at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, January 2018

What upcoming performances are you looking forward to?

I am really looking forward to the Mahler symphonies we are playing and recording this season. I am also looking forward to the collaboration with Pink Martini. I love that group. 

What do you like to do when you aren’t performing? 
I love to cook, particularly authentic home-style Chinese food. I think cooking is so much like making music. Everyone can look at the same notes, but you play it differently. With cooking, everyone is working with the same ingredients and yet the food always comes out a little bit different. I like to apply things I learn while cooking to music-making, and vice versa. I probably would have become a chef or had a cooking show if I wasn’t a musician. 

Click here to read more about Fei Xie. 

Meet a Conductor: Nathalie Stutzmann

French conductor and contralto Nathalie Stutzmann visits Orchestra Hall on October 12, 13 and 14 to conduct the Minnesota Orchestra in music by Prokofiev, Mozart and Beethoven. We’ve asked her a few questions about her early musical memories, life as a traveling musician, her hobbies and upcoming projects, and the music she conducts here this weekend.

How did you get your start in music?
I grew up in a family of singers, and there was always music at home and at my grandparents’ home. Whether it was someone playing the piano or putting on the radio or a disc, there was always music around, so I was permanently immersed right from the childhood and it already fascintated me.

What are some of your favorite spots to travel for performances?
It has to do with the beauty of the acoustics: Carnegie Hall, Berlin’s Philharmonie, Vienna’s Musikverein, Amsterdam’s Concergebouw and São Paulo’s Sala São Paulo—they all have wonderful acoustics! When I travel for performances, I also like to find some free time to simply walk into the city to feel the atmosphere, the people, eat local food if possible and soak up the atmosphere of real life.

Tell us a bit about your Minnesota Orchestra this week with Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto and Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony.
Prokofiev's Classical Symphony and Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony are related by the fact that Haydn was the master teacher of Beethoven, and Prokofiev was truly inspired by Haydn to write his Classical Symphony. They are two very joyful, happy works. Beethoven was very much in love at the time he wrote his Fourth Symphony, of a countess named Therese, and Prokofiev was very cheery in his way of imagining the use of the classical period writing, referring to Mozart and Haydn.

Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto is also quite cheerful—this is actually quite a bright programme!—and of course there’s the Adagio, which is a particularly beautiful and moving moment and one of the great summits of Mozart’s meditative music. I discovered it when I was very young and I really loved this passage as well as the Beethoven symphonies by Herbert von Karajan. I also loved Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, which I discovered soon after Peter and the Wolf.

Watch Nathalie Stutzmann conduct Beethoven’s Third Symphony.

When you get a chance to attend a concert as an audience member, what do you love to listen to?
As a member of the audience, I like to go everywhere, to symphonic concerts, to operas, to listen to recitals, string quartets... Each genre mutually contributes to one another, and I think it’s quite a pity that some audiences only go to one type of concert. Music is so vast, and that’s what’s great! And of course, I also try to listen to artists or conductors who take risks and arouse emotions in me, rather than people who are too cautious and not totally invested in their role of interpreter.

What do you enjoy doing while away from the concert hall?
I love to drive boats on the sea in summer, and I would love to play golf again but I don’t have time for it anymore.

We hear that your dog has a unique name.
Yep—Pamina! Here’s a photo of us.

Do you have any advice for aspiring conductors?
If your will to conduct is not burning in you, just do something else because it's really tough! And conducting is about sharing, inspiring, communicating, much more than just giving orders.

What are some of your upcoming projects?
I’m just coming from Washington where I conducted the National Symphony. I’ll return to the U.S. next year, to the Philadelphia Orchestra and Houston Symphony, and in following seasons to the San Francisco Symphony and St. Louis Symphony. I have many projects with great European orchestras including the Rotterdam Philharmonic, Konzerthausorchester Berlin and Royal Stockholm Philharmonic. This is also my first season as Principal Guest Conductor of RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland in Dublin, and I’m Associate Artist of São Paulo State Symphony Orchestra (Osesp). I will open the famous French opera festival Les Chorégies d’Orange in 2018 conducting Boito’s Mefistofele with Erwin Schrott in the lead role. And my new recording of Italian arias, Quella Fiamma!, will be released under Warner/Erato in just a few days, on October 27!

Nathalie Stutzmann conducts the Minnesota Orchestra in Guarantors’ Week: Beethoven and Prokofiev on October 12, 13 and 14. For more information on these concerts, visit

For more about Nathalie Stutzmann, visit or


Meet a Musician: Alessio Bax

Pianist Alessio Bax performs Grieg's Piano Concerto with the Minnesota Orchestra in concerts on October 5 and 6. We asked him a few questions about where he finds inspiration, what he likes to do for fun on tour and about the concerto he performs in Minneapolis this weekend.

When you travel around the world to perform, what do you like to do when visiting a new city?
I try first to seek great local food and explore the markets if I have time, and especially in exotic places, I always try to sample something new. I love to walk everywhere I can so I can explore a city on foot. I would love to have time to sight-see more, but that is quite rare nowadays. I also try to connect with old and new friends wherever I am.

What is one of your favorite places to travel for performances?
You mean, other than Minneapolis? I like too many places for many different reasons, so I really can't pick one!

Describe Grieg's Piano Concerto in ten words or less.
Sergei Rachmaninoff’s favorite concerto. Who am I to argue?

What should audiences listen for in this concerto?
It truly is the perfect Romantic concerto: from the big dramatic cadenza to the glorious themes, from the intimate and beautiful second movement to the folksy Finale, it’s a concerto full of contrasts and one that manages to say so much in such short time. I love the way it is incredibly romantic but always imbued with a Nordic feel. It has a very special atmosphere throughout—I honestly don’t know how Grieg managed to create it! 

Do you come from a musical family?
My parents loved music, but are not musicians. They have supported and encouraged my passion all my life. I clearly remember listening to a recording of Bruch and Mendelssohn violin concertos with Jascha Heifetz that we had at home. I was also in love with the organ and the music of Bach.

What or who influences you most as a musician?
That’s a tough one! Definitely I need to thank everyone in my extended family of teachers, of whom there are many in my life. Nowadays, my biggest influences are my colleagues, from my chamber music partners and conductors to my wife, pianist Lucille Chung, who always offers an exceptional extra set of ears anytime I need one! Also, I try to listen to the great old recordings, as well as some new ones. As pianists, we are confronted on a daily basis with some of the greatest music ever written, and that is itself a great inspiration. The biggest motivation to keep going and to find beauty in what I do, however, definitely comes from Mila, my three-year-old daughter.

Watch Alessio perform an NPR Tiny Desk Concert with his wife Lucille Chung and daughter Mila


If you could only perform music by one composer for the rest of your career, which composer would you choose?
That's a very cruel question. If it is performing, possibly Beethoven’s, because of its range, but I would definitely miss everything else. It would be a sad occurrence indeed.  

When you get a chance to attend a concert as an audience member instead of as the soloist, what do you love to listen to?
I like listening to friends’ concerts, although I can get quite nervous for them. I love great singers, string players, and anyone with the ability to make an instrument sing and to inspire me to look beyond the piano.  

What fun fact should the Minnesota Orchestra audience know about you?
I love food and mostly I love to cook for friends. I also am moderately proud of my little wine cellar in New York.

Do you have any exciting upcoming projects to share?
Since last year, I have been spending quite a bit of time organizing a week-long music festival in the stunning Val d’Orcia in Tuscany, called Incontri in Terra di Siena. It is a 30-year-old festival, but it’s new for me. This past summer, we had Joshua Bell, Henning Kraggerud, Paul Watkins, Antonio Lysy, Radovan Vlatković, the Escher String Quartet, Sarah Connolly and many others in residence. I am loving the challenge of putting musicians and programs together, but also coming up with other events, deciding on chefs and menus for the meals, and exploring different venues, from opera theaters to medieval churches and outdoor sites. It is a great joy when everything works well and a great satisfaction to sit in the audience at a concert you’ve been dreaming of for years, and just enjoy it.

Other than that, there are many exciting programs and projects this season. I have a couple of duo tours with Joshua Bell and Emmanuel Pahud, I am releasing a new Beethoven recording for Signum Records and performing the Grieg Concerto with an excellent band in Minnesota very soon!

Alessio Bax performs Grieg's Piano Concerto on October 5 and 6, 2017. For more information on these concerts, visit

For more about Alessio Bax, visit or

Meet A Musician: Silver Ainomäe

Member since: 2016
Associate Principal Cello   
Tallinn, Estonia
Sibelius Academy, Guildhall School of Music and Drama   

When did you know you would make a career in music:
When people were willing to pay for a ticket to hear me play :)

Where did you grow up?
I lived for 8 years in Estonia (part of the Soviet Union at the time) and then moved to Finland in 1990. 

Tell us a little bit about your orchestral journey so far.  
My parents encouraged me to play the cello. After freelancing with different orchestras in Finland and London, I won the Principal Cello position in Colorado Symphony in 2009 and moved to the U.S. I held that position until I started my job here in Minnesota in September 2016.

Is there a performer who has been a great influence in your life? 
Yo-Yo Ma has definitely been one of the biggest motivators through the years. The first encounter I had with him was in 1998 when he played Strauss' Don Quixote with an orchestra I played in, the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra. I accompanied him once with the Colorado Symphony and then this past June with the Minnesota Orchestra. I really appreciate how enthusiastic he is about music—not only about classical but also jazz, tangos and folk music. The first CD I owned was Yo-Yo playing Haydn concertos. It was cool for me to perform Haydn’s C-major Concerto with him more than two decades later.

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma gives the Minnesota Orchestra a thumbs-up after a June 2017 concert at Orchestra Hall. Silver looks on from his place in the cello section: front row, second from the right. 

What is one of your proudest moments as a musician?
Perhaps performing a Mahler symphony with Claudio Abbado in Vienna's Musikverein.

What is one of your most unusual experiences as a musician?
Well, I was not yet part of the Minnesota Orchestra when the 2015 Cuba trip took place. However, one of my first symphony orchestra experiences was as a member of the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra and we stopped in Havana to perform in July 1998. The security at the hall seemed very strict and we joked that Fidel Castro must have been coming to the concert. Much to our surprise, he actually was there and he held a private party for us afterwards. There I was, 16 years old, standing in front of Castro thinking how I should greet him. The best I could come up with at the time was a head nod. 

Silver (third from right), with members of the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra and conductor Claudio Abbado, on tour to Havana, Cuba in 1998.

In the Minnesota Orchestra season ahead, which concert is most exciting to you and why?
Feb 23rd and 24th. I'm always excited to perform music by Shostakovich. His Tenth Symphony paired with Beethoven's Emperor Concerto will be a delicious program!

Which solo or moment in the cello’s orchestral repertoire is your favorite?
The Andante from Brahms' Second Piano Concerto. In my opinion this concerto is some of the best of Brahms’ music. Also, the slow movement starts and ends with a beautiful cello solo. The warmth of that movement is mind blowing. 

If you could play a different instrument, which would you choose and why?
Drums. I love drums.

If you weren’t a professional musician what would you be?
Maybe a carpenter or a dog trainer. 

What are you listening to lately?
Quite a bit of Sting and John Mayer, Mahler symphonies and, of course, this summer I spent a lot of time listening to Strauss' Salome, since that was the last work of our 2017 Sommerfest season.

When you’re not performing or practicing, what do you enjoy doing in your free time? I enjoy spending time with my wife Anne and our dog Enzo. I also love to take ski trips to Colorado and bike all over the Twin Cities.

Silver with his dog, Enzo

Click here to read more about Silver Ainomäe.

Hear Silver perform in the Minnesota Orchestra's Chamber Music concerts on April 15 and June 3


Meet a Musician: James Ehnes

Canadian violinist James Ehnes first performed with the Minnesota Orchestra in 1993 and has returned many times since as a soloist and chamber musician. He joins Osmo Vänskä and the Orchestra for Season Opening concerts on September 14, 15 and 16, performing the U.S. premiere of Anders Hillborg's Violin Concerto No. 2. Then, he returns in January 2018 to perform Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto during the Orchestra's Tchaikovsky Marathon. We asked him to tell us a little more about himself, what to listen for in these performances and his longstanding relationship with the Minnesota Orchestra.

Do you come from a musical family?
My father was, for many years, the trumpet professor at Brandon University (in Brandon, Manitoba, Canada, where I grew up), and my mother was a ballet dancer and had a ballet school, so I grew up around music, musicians and artists in general. 

What or who influences you most as a musician?
Difficult question! I guess I’d have to say the music itself. I spend a lot of time with scores, trying to figure out how to “decode” that mysterious written language and trying to get into the head of the composer. 

What are some of your favorite and most unusual venues in which you have performed?
A few favorites are Carnegie Hall in New York, the Musikverein in Vienna, and Wigmore Hall in London—from big, to medium, to small. But there are a lot of great places, for lots of reasons! I have definitely played in some unusual places, mainly in Canada—from hockey rinks to a fantastic igloo church in Iqaluit, Nunavut. 

When you get a chance to attend a concert as an audience member instead of as the soloist, what or who do you love to listen to?
I want to hear performances that are honest and 100% committed, and where I feel that the performer really believes in what they are doing. 

Do you have any favorite memories or standout performances among your previous Minnesota Orchestra concerts?
All of my memories with the Minnesota Orchestra are happy ones! I suppose I would have to pick my performances of the Brahms concerto in 2012, because that was the first time I had worked with Osmo Vänskä and the Orchestra together, and it was exciting to see the obvious chemistry that as we all know has blossomed into one of the great partnerships in the musical world. 

In the upcoming season, you will perform with the Minnesota Orchestra several times. What is exciting to you about this partnership?
I love the spirit of this orchestra. There is always a sense of 100% commitment and an openness to explore all options to make the music speak as powerfully as possible. 

What should audiences listen for in the Hillborg Violin Concerto No. 2 this week?
There are many striking features in the Hillborg Concerto, but I would particularly point out the use of color—the opening has an absolutely amazing atmosphere, and really draws in the listener. There is also very exciting virtuosity as the piece develops!

What should audiences listen for in the Tchaikovsky Concerto, which you perform when you return to Minneapolis in January 2018?
This piece really doesn’t need much of an introduction—it is one of the truly perfect pieces, and audiences should just sit back and enjoy! I can’t think of any concerto that has a more wonderful mix of lyricism and virtuosity. 

If you could learn to play a different instrument, which would you choose?
I play piano and used to play a lot, but I wish I was better than I am and wish I had more time to learn all of the piano’s amazing repertoire.

What fun facts should we know about you?
I am the world’s No. 1 Boston Red Sox fan (but I also like the Twins, unless the Red Sox meet them in the playoffs). And I’ve known concertmaster Erin Keefe for 20 years! She is one of my great friends, and I even like to take a little bit of credit for getting her together with Osmo Vänskä.

What is your favorite must-have food when visiting Minnesota?
I hope to discover one on this trip! I’ve been hearing great things about the Twin Cities’ food scene.

Watch James Ehnes perform Jascha Heifetz's arrangement of Flight of the Bumblebee for violin and piano, with pianist Andrew Armstrong.

James Ehnes performs Hillborg's Violin Concerto No. 2 with the Minnesota Orchestra on September 14, 15 and 16. For more information on these concerts, visit

He returns to perform Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto on January 13 and 14, 2018. For more information on these concerts, visit

To read more about James, visit or