Minnesota Orchestra 2016-2017 Annual Report

Triumphant performances, community collaborations and musical tributes

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The Minnesota Orchestra’s 2016-17 season was a year in which the Orchestra launched a new Mahler recording project, toured the state of Minnesota, extended Music Director Osmo Vänskä’s contract, piloted its first Young People’s Concert webcast—and achieved a balanced budget for the third consecutive year. Read these highlights and many more in our 2016-17 Annual Report.

“There was nothing routine...about the performance [of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony].... Vänskä, always an animated figure at the podium, looked on this occasion to be in constant motion, urging the musicians to deliver ever-bigger, ever-more-vivid sound, as if his life depended on the outcome; and the orchestra...responded with 86 minutes of precise, artfully sculpted, cohesive playing.” —Michael Anthony, Star Tribune, June 18, 2017

A Great Virtuoso Orchestra

A Great Virtuoso Orchestra

The Minnesota Orchestra showed great virtuosity and great versatility during the 2016-17 season, with Music Director Osmo Vänskä guiding a year that featured four centuries of repertoire ranging from Handel to Hollywood to hip-hop. Among high points were a subscription-season opener with violinist Joshua Bell; performances of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony with the Minnesota Chorale; a halftime mini-concert at the Minnesota Vikings home opener for which musicians including Principal Bass Kristen Bruya entered the field to a rock star’s welcome; performances of Copland’s Lincoln Portrait with retired Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan C. Page narrating; and the release of two acclaimed albums, including the first in a Mahler symphony project, which was honored with a Grammy nomination for Best Orchestral Performance in November 2017. Cheers greeted the news that Vänskä’s contract was extended through 2022.

“The recording of the Mahler Fifth is, in a word, revelatory.” —Classical Voice, August 22, 2017

Farewells and Tributes

Farewells and Tributes

The season will also be recalled as one of tributes and sad farewells. Former Music Director Sir Neville Marriner passed away in October at age 92; three months later, concerts he had been scheduled to conduct instead became tributes to his memory, with Courtney Lewis leading the repertoire Marriner had chosen. Conductor Laureate and former Music Director Stanislaw Skrowaczewski led two moving Bruckner performances in October that proved to be his last in the Hall he inaugurated in 1974; he died in February at age 93. The Orchestra saluted the late Minnesota composer Stephen Paulus with a performance of his Mass for a Sacred Place, and mourned the passing of Life Director Nicky Carpenter and Directors Emeritus Hella Mears Hueg and Dolly Fiterman. Carpenter and Fiterman are shown here with Principal Cello Anthony Ross in 2004.

Stars Light up the Hall

Stars Light Up the Hall

Musical stars in all genres visited Orchestra Hall throughout the season. Among prominent names on the classical subscription series were violinists Joshua Bell and Leila Josefowicz, and cellists Yo-Yo Ma and Alisa Weilerstein—the last of whom also joined the Orchestra on a three-city Florida tour. The Live at Orchestra Hall series, led by conductor Sarah Hicks, was headlined by stage and screen star Kristin Chenoweth, Grammy-winners the Okee Dokee Brothers, R&B icons Boyz II Men and, in her Orchestra debut, Minnesota-grown singer-rapper-writer Dessa, who took audiences on a memorable musical journey of love, heartbreak and perseverance.

Connecting to the community

An Electric Connection to the Community

The 2016-17 season brought the Orchestra into its community and vice versa. Shiloh Temple International Ministries welcomed the Orchestra to its north Minneapolis home, where Associate Conductor Roderick Cox led a collaborative concert that featured the Orchestra and Shiloh soloists, dancers and choirs. Cox also led the Orchestra on a Common Chords State Tour to Willmar, Bemidji and Grand Rapids. Chamber ensembles served as musical envoys in the Twin Cities community, as a brass quintet delivered the national anthem before the Twins home opener, while Pint of Music brought small groups to six brewpubs. At Minnesota Orchestra Fantasy Camp, 51 amateur musicians rehearsed and performed alongside Orchestra musicians at Orchestra Hall, where First Associate Concertmaster Susie Park shared a light moment with participant Julie Lin.

Musicians in the spotlight

Our Musicians in the Spotlight

Orchestra musicians taking turns in the solo spotlight included Concertmaster Erin Keefe, Principal Second Violin Peter McGuire, Principal Cello Anthony Ross, Principal Flute Adam Kuenzel, flutist Wendy Williams, Principal Horn Michael Gast, horn player Brian Jensen and Principal Harp Kathy Kienzle. Trumpet player Charles Lazarus starred in a “Merry and Bright” holiday show, while violist Sam Bergman continued as host of the audience-favorite Inside the Classics series, with Sarah Hicks conducting. Associate Conductor Roderick Cox made his subscription debut, earning acclaim and becoming a social-media phenomenon via a concert clip seen by millions worldwide. Chamber and NightCap performances showcased small ensembles in the Target Atrium. New Orchestra musicians included Principal Clarinet Gabriel Campos Zamora, Associate Principal Cello Silver Ainomäe, violinist Sarah Grimes and Principal Librarian Maureen Conroy.

“Privileged as always to hear these first-rate performances in my home city!” — Andrew Keller, @akeller4265 on Instagram | #MNorch

Today and Tomorrow

Today and Tomorrow

The Orchestra kept an eye on the future by championing contemporary music and establishing new traditions. Composer-performer Claudio Puntin premiered his own Clarinet Concerto, and seven young composers were on hand for the Future Classics concert and Composer Institute—in its third year under Kevin Puts’ leadership. New audiences turned out in droves for Campus Nights, and for film music concerts, including screenings of the first Harry Potter film with John Williams’ score played live. Pianist Jeremy Walker enlisted jazz stars, including bassist Jeff Bailey, in the Jazz in the Target Atrium series. OH+ activities engaged audiences in the lobby and established new and lasting partnerships with dozens of local organizations.

Education initiatives

A Foundation of Education

Young People’s (YP) Concerts, led by Roderick Cox, engaged tens of thousands of students at Orchestra Hall, and many more worldwide accessed the first-ever YP Concert video webcast. The Orchestra visited three high schools for Symphonic Adventures concerts, and worked alongside students at Side-by-Side Rehearsals with MYS and GTCYS youth orchestras, as Principal Clarinet Gabriel Campos Zamora offered advice for his student stand partner. Key volunteer organizations also served students, including YPSCA, which provided volunteer ushers and funding for select schools’ tickets and busing, and FRIENDS of the Minnesota Orchestra, which offered Kinder Konzerts and lobby activities at Family Concerts, among numerous other initiatives. Clarinetists Jonathan Cohen and Anders Peterson, past winners of YPSCA and FRIENDS competitions, made solo debuts at YP Concerts. The Orchestra collaborated with students from ComMUSICation, Ascension School and Harvest Preparatory School through an Arts Access program funded by the Minnesota State Arts Board.

Summer concerts

Summer Celebrations

Sommerfest Artistic Director Andrew Litton was celebrated as he concluded his record-setting 15-year tenure as the festival’s leader; summer highlights included a Gershwin collaboration with dancers from New York City Ballet, a visit from eminent pianist André Watts, and a finale of Strauss’ provocative opera Salome—a Sommerfest first. The Orchestra saluted another key figure in its history, Pops Conductor Laureate Doc Severinsen—flanked above by Principal Trumpet Manny Laureano and Charles Lazarus—with a pair of 90th birthday concerts showcasing Doc’s masterful skills as a trumpet soloist, conductor and storyteller. Roderick Cox led four Symphony for the Cities concerts in the great outdoors, drawing large crowds to venues including the Hilde Performance Center in Plymouth.

“...the Minnesota Orchestra honored [Litton’s] 15 years’ service with playing of thrilling commitment and viscerality.” —Star Tribune, August 6, 2017

Symphony Ball 2017

Symphony Ball 2017

The 2017 Symphony Ball was a fabulous success, raising $1.4 million—the most in the Ball’s 61-year history—thanks to the contributions of the many committed people who invested their time and energy on the Symphony Ball Committee, led by Co-Chairs Paula DeCosse, Laurie Hodder Greeno and MaryAnn Goldstein, shown here to the right of Marilyn Carlson Nelson, who became the Orchestra’s Board Chair in December. Under the direction of Osmo Vänskä, the Orchestra performed a custom created Silk Road Symphonic Fantasy, then was joined onstage by special guest Dessa.

Thank you to our audiences and donors for their wholehearted support which has made the achievements of the past season possible.

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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.

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Music is a Great Blessing

“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

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

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 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

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

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

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

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

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.

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