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Osmo Vänskä /// Music Director

Recent Articles: Marcia Peck

See You Soon!

Saturday August 27, 2016
It’s a cloudless morning in Copenhagen, and we are heading home, tired, but buoyed by the music and each other. Outside the concert hall last night, the cacophony and confusion of the Tivoli amusement park seemed to sum up the complex challenges that our staff and stage crew navigate so calmly and miraculously.

And now begins the long journey home.

How can I have failed to mention that my cello reached Finland, then Scotland, Holland, and Denmark, with all its fingers and toes! May there be a special place in heaven for our stage crew. Most of the musicians will be home in a day or two. But for our instruments, wardrobe trunks, music library, etc., (82 trunks weighing seven tons!) it will take a week.

Everything will travel by truck to Luxembourg, where it will be met by our stage crew and “palletized” for the cargo plane. (Oh dear, I really resist these made-up verbs.) Then flown to Chicago, where it will again be met by our stage crew, loaded onto the orchestra truck and finally off-loaded—again by our stage crew--at Orchestra Hall. They are the best.

One of the special pleasures of this tour has been having many of our board members and patrons traveling in tandem with us. Breakfasts in the hotels or backstage after a concert: it is a real joy to know you have shared both our excitement and our anxiety. This has been a truly joyful, deepening connection. Thank you for your steadying presence!

And thank you to all in Minnesota who have been following us and rooting for us. We’ll be getting ready to start a new season. See you soon.

Our Musical Heritage

Friday, August 26
We have just arrived in Copenhagen. Another unusually warm day, and we are trying to get our bearings. Tivoli Hall is a new venue for us; this is the orchestra’s first time in Denmark.

Since we left Lahti, the schedule has left little time to contemplate esoteric sunrises or much of anything besides finding a cup of coffee at strategic moments. Edinburgh, the second of our four concerts went by in a blur. Our very tight schedule was made significantly tighter by one Very. Thorough. Passport control agent.

Historic concert halls tend not to have all the modern conveniences for all the obvious reasons, and once again our heroic stage crew managed to shoe-horn our instruments and wardrobe trunks safely into and out of a very tricky, very cramped backstage.

Then, seemingly in a matter of minutes, we were in Amsterdam, warming up on the stage of the marvelous Concertgebouw. Playing in that legendary hall, we feel viscerally connected to our musical heritage. More than any other discipline I can think of, ours is passed from Master to Pupil. My teacher studied with Felix Salmond, who played chamber music with Brahms. Erin Keefe’s teacher studied with Efrem Zimbalist, who studied with Leopold Auer, to whom Tchaikovsky dedicated his violin concerto.

Each of us can trace a lineage to the musicians who formed the foundation of the symphony orchestra as we know it today. And few concert halls embody that history like this one. It’s so easy to forget that before the relatively recent advent of recorded music, live music was the only music. For our great treasury of magnificent western music to develop, it was necessary for one generation of composers to be heard by—and inspire—the next.

That’s the history we sense here. As we warm up onstage, it seeps into our bones. It’s a legacy we hope we are not just bringing back to Minnesota with our experiences, stories, and reviews, but a musical legacy of our own which we are also creating, day by day, year by year, for audiences at home.

Shining Bright in Finland

Saturday, August 20
On the flight over I found myself casually discussing jet-lag with Wendy Williams and Marni Hougham. “Oh, it never hits me hard travelling in this direction,” I said blithely in the Amsterdam airport, quite certain that I would not be the only person in Helsinki electrifyingly awake at 4am. And now, positively drugged, trying to wake up from a nap at 4 in the afternoon.

How do they do it—our stunning international soloists who show up week after week in Minnesota to bestow their brilliant performances on music-lovers in Orchestra Hall, and then depart for other concert halls in other countries around the world? Always at their best. Seemingly impervious to fatigue, hunger, nerves. How does Osmo do it?

Somehow I think there’s more to it than simply, “Drink more water.”

And so I am using our free day to try to adjust my clock, as all the other musicians are doing as well. And to remember that today would have been my father’s birthday. He died suddenly three days before our very first European tour with Eiji Oue in 1998. He was a conductor, studied in Leonard Bernstein’s class with Koussevitzky at Tanglewood. He conducted a few Beethoven 5ths in his time. How he would have liked to be on tour with us now to hear this orchestra play Beethoven’s 5th in Edinburgh and Amsterdam. Isn’t it bittersweet that I remember that tour more vividly than any other?

Tomorrow it’s Beethoven’s 3rd in Lahti. I’ll be ready. I’ll drink more water. But if that fails, I know I can depend on the music itself to make me new.

Sunday, August 21
The Helsinki sun seems very low in the sky to me, and bright. So much so that I checked and discovered that the latitude of Minneapolis is about the same as Bologna, Italy, and Helsinki’s is level with Anchorage, Alaska. I did not know that.

Can this be why the city seems so slow to wake up? I went for a walk at 8am, and the streets were so deserted, it gave me pause. But here I am an hour later, back in my hotel room, safe and sound.

The streets are still quiet. Not so, the hotel breakfast room. I’m reminded why touring does so much to knit an orchestra collegially, musically, and—dare I say?—spiritually.

Every tour is high-pressure, but this one is, I think, more so than most. Music lovers at home have had ample chance to witness the resurgence of the Minnesota Orchestra. But it’s still a question in the minds of audiences here in Europe, where our fans go back to the days of the Minneapolis Symphony recordings.

No audience is more important to us than concert-goers at home; they are why we exist. But we do feel a certain added excitement, and you can hear it in the animated conversations at breakfast.

Players who normally sit a few feet away from each other on stage, but who may not have actually spoken together in months, are exchanging tips on how they are coping with reeds, managing to practice without disturbing hotel guests, worrying about adjusting to each hall’s logistics and acoustics. We are aware that our collective sound and approach to playing is greatly shaped by Orchestra Hall, but how will that translate in Lahti, in Edinburgh, Amsterdam, or Copenhagen?

A major tour like this one fosters every aspect of our musical identity. Shortly we will be on our way to Lahti, where my cello awaits. First performance of the tour. It feels like a long-awaited sunrise, this chance to shine as one of the world’s great orchestras.

Readying My Cello for Departure

It's a little after ten. I've just come offstage following the Tour Send-Off concert. I change clothes and pack my concert attire in the orchestra wardrobe trunks, with extra shoes, a spare outfit, and a supply of strings. Just in case. (Thankfully, I'm not as prone to breaking a string as Tony is.) I don't want any emergencies!

I do all this first so that I can turn my full attention to my cello, which I fasten into its sturdy, made-to-measure case. I wipe the fine-grained wood free of rosin dust and loosen the strings, a small precaution against airplane pressure.

I won't see my cello again until we are reunited at Sibelius Hall in Lahti. I slip a silent blessing inside the case, and place that case in its padded trunk. Dave McKoskey approaches with keys (one is the size of a small crow-bar) to secure the two sets of locks. It feels as if I am sending off a dear and precious friend, one for whom I am responsible. And I know this friend is in good hands with the orchestra's exceptional stage crew. Dave waits as I take one last look. Something tells me he understands. But the good-bye is still hard. "See you in Lahti," I whisper.

This is the cello I played at my Minnesota Orchestra audition all those years ago. A gift from my parents when I was accepted to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. We studied in Germany together, travelled to cello competitions in Budapest and Florence, toured South America with the Camarata di Bariloche. It kept me company when I moved to Minnesota and didn't know a soul.

It had trouble adjusting to Minnesota winters and fussed the first few years: the dryness, the cold, the extremes. It needed a higher bridge. Or, when the season changed, lower. Different strings. Its wood swelled, then shrank. Seams came unglued. Just when it began to acclimate, the orchestra went to Hong Kong. Then Australia. Puerto Rico. Japan.

We have seen a great deal of the world, together.

We will be returning to Lahti for the second time, Edinburgh and Amsterdam for the third. Copenhagen will be new to us both, and I'm curious about the acoustic in this unfamiliar hall. Will it allow a full range of dynamics? Will I find it easy to blend with the other cellos in the section? I want these European audiences to know that Minnesota delivers unparalleled performances, music that is extraordinarily moving and memorable.

I watch as Dave swings the trunk door closed, fixes the heavy latches into place, and keys the locks. I call it "my" cello, but I am aware that, despite all the time we have spent together, as well as we know each other, this instrument isn't really mine. But it's my immense good fortune to be its steward, tasked with keeping it safe now for its next 250 years of music-making.

"Safe travels," I say.

Perseid and Prokofiev

Photo: Pekka Kuusisto, who will perform Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Minnesota Orchestra on our European tour.

I don't know about you, but I fully intended to get out of bed at 3:30 am last week to see the Perseid meteor showers. How well did I do? Well, two or three shooting stars after dinner one night, and perhaps one more through my bedroom window when a car horn went off at 4am.

But closer to home, sparks were flying with abandon at Orchestra Hall on Tuesday night. This was the Tour Send-off concert. There wasn't an empty seat, and yet it felt as if we were in a room together with a group of close friends, sharing an intimate moment: our mutual love of some extraordinary music and an ardent pride in the life that flourishes in Minnesota.

It was one of those evenings that feels entirely impromptu, yet succeeds only because of the great thought that goes into it. Included were a preview of the Stephen Stucky work we will play in Amsterdam and Copenhagen; Beethoven's 5th, that linchpin of orchestral repertoire and Minnesota Orchestra discography; and—to honor the recent death of Finnish composer Rautavaara—the short, memorable second movement of his Cantus Arcticus. Then two lusty Brahms Hungarian Dances for encores.

But for me, this time, it was the Prokofiev Violin Concerto that made me silently weep. I confess that I am a poor student of musicology. (I look forward to rectifying that in my next life.) Now, as I travel to Helsinki and look out at the night sky, those astonishing harmonies will be playing in my mind. I can hear the quirky immediacy of Pekka Kuuisto's phrasing.

How is it that a work of music can elicit such longing, such personal humanity? No one has a harmonic ear as sophisticated and surprising as Prokofiev's. This could be the bleak Russian landscape of Pushkin, the hopes and worries of a post World War II baby-boomer, or the uncertainty of a Millennial. Or a map of the stars we long to understand.

Where did he find a language of such curiosity and tenderness: concise, deeply complex, and moving? How did he put all that on the page, for us to make manifest in the concert hall?

Of course, every performance is a world unto itself, but—as I get ready to play Prokofiev in Lahti—I am convinced that, if the stars could speak, this is what they would say.