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Wednesday April 27, 2022

Minnesota Orchestra Performs Joel Thompson's Seven Last Words of the Unarmed May 19-21

Conductor Thomas Wilkins makes Minnesota Orchestra debut with a program that also features Liszt’s Les Préludes and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5

Minnesota Chorale and Twin Cities Choral Partners to join Minnesota Orchestra as collaborators

George Floyd Global Memorial offers “Everything is Somebody’s Offering” exhibit at Orchestra Hall in conjunction with performances 

Conductor Thomas Wilkins makes his Minnesota Orchestra debut May 19-21 leading a program that begins with Franz Liszt’s beloved tone poem, Les Préludes, and ends with Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s hopeful Fifth Symphony. Wilkins also leads the Orchestra in the first Minnesota performance of Atlanta-based composer Joel Thompson’s Seven Last Words of the Unarmed, a seven-movement work for choir and orchestra that draws upon the last words of seven Black men who were killed by authority figures: Kenneth Chamberlain, Trayvon Martin, Amadou Diallo, Michael Brown, Oscar Grant, John Crawford and Eric Garner. The Minnesota Chorale and Twin Cities Choral Partners join the performance of Thompson’s work and were prepared for the concerts by Kathy Saltzman Romey, Dr. Adrian Davis and Shekela Wanyama.

“These last words are organized according to the seven last words of Christ—that liturgy in the Christian world, which takes the last sayings that Jesus said from the cross and sets them to music,” said Thompson of his work, Seven Last Words of the Unarmed. “It’s a time-honored tradition held by Haydn and Schütz among others. In using that liturgy, my aim is to focus on the humanity of these men.” This cantata, which was premiered by the University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club in 2015, is presented alongside two giants of the Romantic 19th-century orchestral repertoire that lend musical support to the humanity and hopeful aspirations of Thompson’s work: Liszt’s Les Préludes and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5.

The concert is performed at Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis on Thursday, May 19, at 11 a.m.; Friday, May 20, at 8 p.m.; and Saturday, May 21, at 8 p.m., with ticket prices ranging from $30 to $99. Young listeners ages 6 to 18 may attend free with Minnesota Orchestra Hall Pass. Individual tickets are available at minnesotaorchestra.org and by phone at 612-371-5656. For further purchasing details, see the information section at the conclusion of this press release. 

Thomas Wilkins, conductor

Thomas Wilkins serves as principal conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, artistic advisor for Education and Community Engagement of the Boston Symphony and holds Indiana University’s Henry A. Upper Chair of Orchestral Conducting. He ended his long and successful tenure as music director of the Omaha Symphony Orchestra at the close of the 2020-21 season. Past positions have included resident conductor of the Detroit Symphony and Florida Orchestra (Tampa Bay), and associate conductor of the Richmond (Virginia) Symphony. Following his highly successful first season with the Boston Symphony, the Boston Globe named him among the “Best People and Ideas of 2011.” In 2014, Wilkins received the prestigious “Outstanding Artist” award at the Nebraska Governor’s Arts Awards for his significant contribution to music in the state; in 2018, he received the Leonard Bernstein Lifetime Achievement Award for the Elevation of Music in Society conferred by Boston’s Longy School of Music; and in 2019 the Virginia Symphony bestowed Wilkins with their annual Dreamer Award.

Liszt, Thompson and Tchaikovsky

Finding inspiration in many sources and written in a form new to the orchestral repertoire, Franz Liszt’s Les Préludes is the work that laid the foundation for many great symphonic poems. As an orchestral composer, Liszt eschewed traditional symphonies for the most part, favoring instead a new form: the single-movement orchestral piece, accompanied by a written program that the audience was intended to read prior to hearing the performance.

Joel Thompson’s Seven Last Words of the Unarmed speaks of the grief, sadness and horror that the composer felt after witnessing recent killings of Black men by police and other authority figures in the U.S. The final words of seven of these unarmed men— Kenneth Chamberlain, Trayvon Martin, Amadou Diallo, Michael Brown, Oscar Grant, John Crawford and Eric Garner—serve as the text of each of the cantata’s seven movements, in a structure inspired by Haydn’s The Seven Last Words of Christ. Learn more about Thompson and the work at sevenlastwords.org.

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s very popular Fifth Symphony—which journeys from minor to major and darkness to hope—is filled with wonderful mottos, orchestral color, balletic beauty and high drama. The finale’s false conclusion is a great climax that tricks many listeners into thinking the performance is complete.

Everything is Somebody’s Offering: George Floyd Global Memorial Exhibit

In conjunction with the performance of Joel Thompson’s Seven Last Words of the Unarmed, the Orchestra will host a George Floyd Memorial Exhibit at Orchestra Hall. Titled “Everything is Somebody’s Offering,” the installation is a collection of items given by people from all over Minneapolis and the world in response to the atrocity of George Floyd’s killing. Offerings were given to the space at 38th and Chicago to remember the names of many who died unjustly before and after George Floyd took his last breath. Curated by the George Floyd Global Memorial, the exhibit will be available for viewing free of charge and open to the public May 19-21 from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and during performances in the Orchestra Hall lobby.

Minnesota Orchestra Classical Concert


Thursday, May 19, 2022, 11 a.m./ Orchestra Hall
Friday, May 20, 2022, 8 p.m./ Orchestra Hall
Saturday, May 21, 2022, 8 p.m./ Orchestra Hall

Thomas Wilkins, conductor
Minnesota Chorale

Twin Cities Choral Partners

Choirs prepared by Kathy Saltzman Romey, Dr. Adrian Davis and Shekela Wanyama

LISZT Les Préludes
THOMPSON Seven Last Words of the Unarmed
TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 5

Tickets: $30-99

Young Listeners Ages 6-18 free with Hall Pass


Packages and tickets can be purchased at minnesotaorchestra.org. For packages, visit minnesotaorchestra.org/subscribe. For groups of 10 or more, call 612-371-5662.

The Minnesota Orchestra welcomes, but does not require, the wearing of masks by audiences at this performance. Any changes to this policy will be announced online and by email prior to the performance.

All programs, artists, dates, times and prices subject to change.

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

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