Symphony Ball is less than a month away! The Minnesota Orchestra’s gala fundraiser, “A Night on the Silk Road,” will be held on June 24 and will feature a very special performance by the Minnesota Orchestra. We caught up with Kenneth Huber, Chair of the Symphony Ball’s Music/Entertainment Committee, for a Q&A session to learn more.
We’re hearing exciting things about the Minnesota Orchestra performance at the center of this year’s Symphony Ball! What will the performance consist of?
For the main event, the Minnesota Orchestra and Osmo Vänskä will perform the world premiere of the Silk Road Symphonic Fantasy, a 22-minute “medley” of excerpts from great symphonic repertoire. The Fantasy, which I helped create during the past year, is a musical journey by composers who were inspired by the Silk Road aura and composed some of the most colorful, exciting, beloved and well-known works in the symphonic canon. Each excerpt has a Silk Road connection—though none are literal representations or examples of music from that era. We’re very excited to have Brian Newhouse, the “voice of the Minnesota Orchestra” on MPR, as our narrator and host. In addition to the Fantasy, singer-rapper-essayist Dessa will perform with the Orchestra in two new pieces that she has created for the occasion followed by a 30-minute set with her own musicians.
How did you get involved in the Ball’s Music/Entertainment Committee, and what made you the right person for the job?
My involvement with the Symphony Ball happened when the Co-Chairs of this year’s Ball, Paula DeCosse, MaryAnn Goldstein and Laurie Hodder Greeno—all good friends of mine—asked my partner Stephen Hamilton and me to help them out almost the day after Marilyn Carlson Nelson asked them to Chair this year’s Ball. Paula, Laurie, and MaryAnn sort of left us no choice since we had worked on so many Minnesota Orchestra projects prior to this together. It seemed a logical extension of that process. Since I am a professional concert pianist, retired professor, and former director of a concert series, chairing the Music/Entertainment Committee of the Ball seemed like the right fit. And I know most of the musicians in the Orchestra either as personal friends or having performed collaboratively with them.
Did you start out with a vision for the Minnesota Orchestra Concert portion of the Ball?
From the moment I spoke with the Co-Chairs, an idea about the concert started to percolate in my artistic imagination. It was clear that a customary though truncated version of an orchestra concert would not suffice. The focus would be different—rather than on the performance repertoire it should be on the institution itself and its virtuoso musicians. From the beginning I felt it was important to make the focal/high point of the Ball the concert component of the evening. After all this is a major fund raising Gala supporting an internationally acclaimed institution that IS music. So the music and the musicians that produce it should receive the brightest spotlight given its world-class stature. Considering the shape of the entire event, there should be a big crescendo throughout the evening culminating in the concert.
Who worked on this with you?
From the beginning Minnesota Orchestra violist Michael Adams was in sync with my artistic concept. His involvement was crucial and part and parcel to this creation. It could not have been more fun batting repertoire ideas around and narrowing down the myriad choices. While working we cobbled together an audio CD of the excerpts coupled with a spoken narration so we could actually hear how the finished piece would sound. That went through countless incarnations. Most recently Orchestra trombonist Douglas Wright has been indispensable in shepherding all this through various channels to get it to the finish line.
Kenneth Huber and Music Director Osmo Vänskä reviewing the musical selections for the Silk Road Symphonic Fantasy.
Early last February Osmo Vänskä weighed in as well. His enthusiasm was palpable, and his perceptive suggestions were readily incorporated. My final meeting with Osmo to nail down the concert details was a highlight of the process. His keen artistic sensibilities as well as dramatic flair couldn’t have been more welcome! He remarked that we all benefit by collaborating! In addition, the members of this Committee (including musicians from the Orchestra) have been enthusiastic and supportive throughout the entire process and have offered critical insight at every step.
What symphonic excerpts are included?
In addition to the theatrical Orchestra entrance to The Procession of the Sardar (Ippolitov-Ivanov), we will hear how Beethoven, Mozart, Saint-Saëns, and Nielsen all embraced Silk Road elements. And Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances are musts. The heartfelt emotional highlight may very well be Chinese composer Tan Dun’s Crouching Tiger Cello Concerto, only to be topped by a blazing conclusion with the Russian Easter Overture.
How was the Silk Road Theme factored in to your creative thinking about the concert?
The Silk Road Theme always seemed like a wonderfully rich idea that leant itself to a wealth of imaginative ideas suggesting musical and artistic choices. The colors, textures, variety, and ambience associated with it have historically inspired spin-offs and ideas for hundreds of years. The music spawned by its scope and influence seemed endless and like the perfect jumping off place to construct an unusually engaging, unique, and fantastically accessible Minnesota Orchestra concert as part of the Symphony Ball. In my mind the Silk Road theme pretty much dictated the model for this concert.
How did you get Dessa involved as part of the concert?
An ad hoc meeting with Jim Watkins (a former student of mine and owner of Sociable Cider Werks) with some musicians and Symphony Ball Chairs led to the idea of how exciting and fortuitous this occasion might be for a collaboration between a marquee pop star and the Orchestra. Luckily that brainstorm resulted in inviting Dessa who immediately accepted our offer and has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic and cooperative. Being a Twin Cities original but now enjoying national celebrity, she seemed like the perfect choice. And of course her generous offer to write two new collaborative pieces for the occasion is a remarkable stroke of luck!
Any last thoughts on the Symphonic Fantasy and Symphony Ball?
I, for one, remain incredibly excited to hear the final version in Orchestra Hall. I would hazard a guess that all of those in attendance will experience a memorable, one-of-a-kind Symphony Ball Concert. It has been remarkably stimulating to be part of such a creative process including a kind of “world premiere” for what is destined to be an over-the-top successful Symphony Ball 2017.