The Orchestra headed to the University of Pretoria on Wednesday, August 15, for an afternoon side-by-side rehearsal with the South African National Youth Orchestra (SANYO) and an evening rehearsal with the Minnesota Chorale and Gauteng Choristers.
Music Director Osmo Vänskä guest conducted SANYO in 2014 and his experience left a lasting impression an became an impetus for the Orchestra’s South Africa tour. Celebrating its 54th year, SANYO has become one of South Africa’s most successful institutions, nurturing the musical development of the country’s finest young musicians.
Gerben Grooten, principal conductor of the Pretoria Symphony Orchestra and a lecturer in conducting at the University of Pretoria, welcomed the Minnesota Orchestra and SANYO musicians at the top of the rehearsal. Grooten explained that the hallmarks of the American ethos—drive, energy, pioneering spirit—are much needed in South Africa, and that having the Minnesota Orchestra work side-by-side with SANYO was an incredible opportunity for the young musicians.
"I literally have no words to describe this feeling. It is really cool, so I am really happy I am here."
Casey Jacobs, 18 (SANYO Violinist)
Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
He said not many orchestras come to visit South Africa, and he instructed the SANYO students to lean in and seize the moment, ask questions and learn from the experience.
“You also have a gift to share with the Minnesota Orchestra,” he told the students. Grooten then presented Vänskä and concertmaster Erin Keefe with South African gifts: Biltong (dried, cured meat) and drinking glasses featuring images of South Africa’s “Big 5.”
Vänskä spent the afternoon rehearsing Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 with the students, in preparation for their performance this weekend. Throughout the first movement of the piece, Vänskä encouraged the ensemble to “play as soft as possible.”
A side-by-side rehearsal is designed to help train next-generation players. Here @mn_orchestra shares music stands w students in Pretoria. (Pop musicians do not have a similar tradition: most of us are locked in our own private fury with ProTools.) @ClassicalMPR #DessaInSAfrica pic.twitter.com/znea7U8CL3— Dessa (@dessadarling) August 15, 2018
At one point in the second movement, Vänskä asked that only the Minnesota Orchestra musicians play a particularly lyrical, melodic passage. Casey Jacobs, a violinist in SANYO who hails from Gordon’s Bay, outside of Cape Town, later gushed to her Minnesota Orchestra stand partner Michael Sutton, “That was so beautiful!”
During the rehearsal, Sutton swapped bows with Jacobs. “Your bow is nicer than mine,” Jacobs quipped. “We can swap violins, too!” Sutton chuckled.
“You see, there are many, many different languages that we speak when we play. And depending on who the conductor is, they might want a different language.”
Manny Laureano, principal trumpet
Story by Jenna Ross, Star Tribune
Sophia Welz, managing director for SANYO, explained that the ensemble's membership mirrors the diversity in South Africa.
“We have 78 musicians from a wide range of places and backgrounds,” she said. “While there may be more than 1,000 km between us, everyone here is working toward a common, shared goal. It doesn’t matter where you are from or who you are.”
The ensemble hosts anonymous auditions each year and every student’s selection is based on merit. In addition to musical coaching and training, the organization also offers courses on instrument repair and arts administration, creating a very well-rounded educational program for the young musicians.
Welz emphasized the importance of the immersion project with the Orchestra.
“This type of experience is a real confidence builder for them. Side-by-side rehearsals are like a booster shot,” she said. “While this might be a small amount of time together, it’s extremely intense and it makes a lasting impression with these students.”
After the side-by-side rehearsal, the musicians and SANYO students enjoyed dinner together at Adler’s, a nearby eatery on campus.
Not every orchestra would be so enthusiastic about the community engagement programming. But most of the Minnesota players seem sporting, many seem enthusiastic and some seem deeply moved during the outreach events.
Then, the Orchestra returned to Aula for their first rehearsal with the combined choir of Minnesota Chorale and the Gauteng Choristers, with SANYO students in the audience.
On Thursday, August 16, the students will spend the day working one-on-one with musicians in masterclasses and chamber music sessions. In addition, Vänskä will lead a conducting workshop and the Orchestra's administrative leaders will present an information session with SANYO students who are interested in arts administration.
Photography by Travis Anderson. Follow along throughout the tour on our South Africa landing page.