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Osmo Vänskä /// Music Director

Recent Articles: Featured

I'm No Expert

Something funny has happened. People assume I know a lot about music.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, I’ve been regularly writing about the Minnesota Orchestra for the online version of Showcase, recapping concerts, interviewing musicians and even observing a rehearsal. Understandably, people might think I have expertise in this field—but really, I don’t.

It’s not that I’m completely ignorant. I went to an arts high school as a music student, managed to play flute in the top-level orchestra of Minnesota Youth Symphonies, and studied with some amazing teachers. But I was a bit of a laggard, only getting serious about my studies in my later years of high school. That was a long time ago, and it’s pretty much where my music education ended.

Fast-forward to the present. I’d been blogging for years, covering topics of interest to various communities, but never on a consistent theme. Feeling nostalgic one day, I wrote about my MYS days playing under Manny Laureano, the Minnesota Orchestra’s principal trumpet. I pitched it to the Orchestra’s editor and was invited to write more.

Repeatedly writing about a specific subject—particularly an art form and an ensemble I revered—was intimidating, and it was something I had never done before. But I decided to embrace my good luck, get over my nerves and give it my all.

I started telling people about my blogs. About our Orchestra. About our musicians. And then the questions started coming. What did I know about the Orchestra’s history, or the music’s structural elements, or critiques of past performances? I had no idea about these things, no good answers.

So, if I’m not a music expert, then what exactly am I doing? Just this: I write about how the music feels, and I write for the people who, like me, are head over heels in love with music.

My time at Orchestra Hall has connected me with people who can’t read a single note of music or tell you a thing about the composer. (Even though some have been coming for enough decades to remember when the Orchestra played at Northrop at the University of Minnesota.) We come to the Hall and mingle in the lobby, an assorted throng of the casual and the sophisticated, and take our seats in the auditorium.

We may start side by side as strangers, but as we hold our breath together, we become silent comrades as the music washes away our daily trials. We listen to notes that sound first like a thousand butterflies—uncontainable and magnificent in their abundance—then give way to something mysterious, lush and rounded and dark. We experience moments when the music is so sweet and pure and fleeting, we want to weep for its existence.

Sometimes, when I can’t make it to Orchestra Hall, I sit alone in the dark and listen to the Orchestra on Minnesota Public Radio. Without the grandeur of the Hall’s space and my high heels, the broadcast feels like an intimate conversation with an old friend.

These are the things I write about.

I like to think it’s universal and why music exists. To know what beauty is. And now when people ask me about my expertise in music, I finally have a good answer, one I say with heartfelt enthusiasm every time.

I’m not a music expert. I’m a music lover.

Midwest Tour 2018: Chicago

The Midwest tour concluded on Sunday afternoon with a performance at the Chicago Symphony Center, home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. This concert marked the Orchestra’s first performance on Chicago’s Orchestra Hall stage in over 50 years; the last was in 1966 under then-Music Director Stanislaw Skrowaczewski.

After the ensemble traveled from Urbana, Illinois, to downtown Chicago on Saturday, the musicians and staff spent the remainder of the day sightseeing in the Windy City, connecting with former classmates and colleagues, or just resting up for the final concert. Many of the musicians chose to attend the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s evening performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. In return, Chicago’s musicians appeared throughout the audience on Sunday afternoon.

Before the Orchestra’s final quick rehearsal, musicians arrived earlier than usual, taking time to explore the acoustics and aesthetics at Orchestra Hall. Many had performed here in the past, but for some, it was a dream come true, having never performed in Chicago or on that stage, which was built in 1904 -- just one year after the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra was founded!

Osmo Vänskä, the Orchestra musicians, and pianist Inon Barnatan gave a dazzling performance of Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, and Beethoven, and after a long standing ovation, they added a delightful encore of Sibelius’ Tanz-Intermezzo. The concert capped a weeklong tour that included a true Minnesota blizzard, countless connections with students in Indiana and Illinois, concerts at some of the Midwest’s most beautiful venues, and a long-awaited return to the Chicago Symphony Center.

The Orchestra returned to Minneapolis late Sunday night, greeted by crowds and excitement of a different kind: Super Bowl LII!

Photos by Greg Helgeson.

Midwest Tour 2018: Indiana University

Just as the Minnesota Orchestra was scheduled to head off on its Midwest tour, a blizzard hit Minneapolis, leaving hundreds of flights grounded. Many of the musicians would have to wait another day to begin their journey to Indiana.

However, a small group of Orchestra members made it out before the storm and started the tour as scheduled with a set of masterclasses at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.

The weather delays in Minnesota made Tuesday an exciting day of travel with many of the musicians arriving at Indiana University Auditorium just in time to change into their concert attire and quickly warm up for the performance. Students and community members from Bloomington, Indiana, filled the expansive hall to hear the Orchestra perform music by Sibelius, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven.

Music Director Osmo Vänskä conducts Sibelius’ En Saga.

Pianist Inon Barnatan performs as soloist in Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1.

The Orchestra receives a standing ovation after their concert at Indiana University.

Indiana University President Michael McRobbie welcomed the musicians and staff at a reception following the concert.

Wednesday's residency activities at the IU Jacobs School of Music included events with all of the Orchestra musicians and many of the IU's students and faculty.

The morning began with a violin masterclass led by Concertmaster Erin Keefe and Principal Second Violin Peter McGuire, a panel discussion about community engagement, and a rehearsal of the IU Philharmonic guest conducted by Music Director Osmo  Vänskä. The ensemble was working on Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra.

After the rehearsal, student comments included:

"We grew a ton in that single rehearsal." — Brian, violinist

"It was super inspiring. I think we played with many new colors today." — Ethan, concertmaster

"It was a lot of fun. Osmo Vänskä is full of energy!" — Alex, bass trombone

In the afternoon, a string quartet of Orchestra members performed for students at Fairview Elementary. Violinists Sarah Grimes and James Garlick, violist David Auerbach and cellist Silver Ainomäe played music by Mozart, Dvořák and Ravel. Many of the students listening are part of a new strings program at their school where they are learning to play the violin. During the one-hour session, they were also introduced to the viola and cello and they asked many questions about what life is like as a professional musician.

Afterwards, some of the youngest students stayed to meet the musicians and measure their height in relation to Silver's cello!

Across campus, several of the Orchestra staff and musicians presented about the Minnesota Model at a luncheon at the Hutton Honors College.

The full Orchestra returned to the Auditorium stage to rehearse side-by-side with IU's Symphony Orchestra. Totaling more than 150 musicians onstage, the group filled the hall with incredible sound as they played Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis with Osmo Vänskä conducting.

"At break, I thought it was great that almost no one left their seats. We all wanted to stay and learn more from the Minnesota Orchestra musicians!” — Grace, bassoon

Thank you for the warm welcome, Indiana University!

Photos by Greg Helgeson, Emma Plehal, Chris Marshall, Mele Willis, and Kari Marshall.