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Osmo Vänskä /// Music Director

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Meet A Musician: Peter McGuire

Arts Access: A musical collaboration across the Twin Cities

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Program Notes: Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1

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Tchaikovsky Marathon: Music by a (mostly) young composer
Some composers achieve success effortlessly. Others struggle for years. Tchaikovsky was in the latter camp. He made his first attempt at composition at age 4, but his apprenticeship was long and difficult. Compounding the problem was Tchaikovsky’s sensitivity to criticism, both from others and from continual self-doubt. Yet even as a young composer he produced some radiant scores, and this concert offers two pieces that had to overcome much opposition. The First Symphony attracted so much criticism while still in manuscript that Tchaikovsky could get only individual movements performed and had to wait years for a complete performance. The First Piano Concerto provoked the most destructive criticism the composer ever faced. But it also revealed a tough confidence beneath his perpetual self-doubt: Tchaikovsky refused to make any changes, and the concerto went on to become one of his best-loved works.

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Program Notes: Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4

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Tchaikovsky Marathon: Tchaikovsky and Italy
All three pieces on this program have a connection to Italy, and all three were at least partially composed there. The connection with Capriccio italien is clear: the music was inspired by Tchaikovsky’s visit to Rome in 1880. He fell in love with that great city and incorporated some of its music into the Capriccio. The other two works come from a less happy moment in Tchaikovsky’s life, the aftermath of his disastrous marriage, when the stunned composer left Moscow and fled to Western Europe. He did some of the work on the Second Piano Concerto in Rome and completed the Fourth Symphony in San Remo, on the shores of the Mediterranean. Italy is much less an “influence” on these two works than on the Capriccio, but the fact that Tchaikovsky—at a moment of great personal distress—would choose to live and work in Italy may tell us all we need to know about his feelings for that country.

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Program Notes: Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6

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Tchaikovsky Marathon: Slavic heritage
Like so many Russian composers, Tchaikovsky was proud of his Slavic heritage. “I love passionately the Russian character in all its expression,” he said, a sentiment that would be echoed by The Mighty Five—Cui, Balakirev, Borodin, Mussorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov—and by many other Russian composers. This program begins with two works, both written when Tchaikovsky was in his thirties, that make that passion clear. His Marche Slave (Slavic March) had a frankly political purpose: Tchaikovsky was enlisted to aid the effort to get the Russian government to intervene militarily to protect their Serbian cousins. The Violin Concerto had no such purpose, but this music—in a purely classical form—is infused with a Russian character all its own, as a hostile critic was quick to point out. Eduard Hanslick, doyen of the Viennese musical establishment, recoiled before the concerto’s “Russian-ness.” Today we value it precisely for that distinct character.

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Program Notes: Tchaikovsky Symphonies No. 2 & 5

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Tchaikovsky Marathon: Influences
We think of Tchaikovsky as so original, so unique, that it comes as a surprise to recognize that there were strong influences on his music. The first of these was Russian folk music. Like many other Russian composers of his generation, Tchaikovsky felt the charm of the music he heard sung around him on the streets and in the fields. His Second Symphony—which opens this program—incorporates a number of ancient folksongs from the Ukraine. Another (and quite unexpected) influence on Tchaikovsky was the music of Mozart. Those two may seem very different people and composers, but Tchaikovsky admired the clarity and emotional balance of Mozart’s music; the Rococo Variations represent his effort to write this kind of music. The Fifth Symphony, however, finds Tchaikovsky speaking in a voice that is very much his own.

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Program Notes: Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 3 and Piano Concerto No. 3

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Tchaikovsky Marathon: Hardly failures
At first glance, this program might seem to offer a collection of Tchaikovsky’s misfires. It opens with his least-familiar symphony, continues with a piano concerto he assembled from an abandoned symphony, and concludes with a ballet score that brought down on the poor composer the most painful failure he ever endured professionally. Though these three works were not immediate triumphs for Tchaikovsky, they clearly flow from the pen of a master, and are most worthy of listening.

It may seem incomprehensible that Tchaikovsky’s music for Swan Lake could have been attacked for its complexity or derided for being “too Wagnerian,” yet it was. Today it ranks as one of his most popular ballets (and in recent years, crossed paths with cinema through its central focus in the film Black Swan). The Third may be the least-played of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies, but it offers distinct pleasures of its own: it is Tchaikovsky’s only symphony in a major key, and one senses its kinship with ballet throughout. Tchaikovsky composed a symphony in 1892, but abandoned it. Rather than burning his manuscript, though, he converted the symphony’s first movement into a piano concerto. This concerto is rarely played, so enjoy this performance—Tchaikovsky himself never heard it.

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Program Notes: A Christmas Oratorio

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Program Notes: Brahms' Fourth Symphony

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Program Notes: Vänskä Conducts the Reformation Symphony

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Program Notes: Beethoven and Prokofiev

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Program Notes: Roderick Cox Conducts Rachmaninoff

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Program Notes: Celebrating Finland's Centennial

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Program Notes: Vänskä Opens the Season with Stravinsky's Firebird

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Program Notes: New York Rhythms

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Program Notes: Opera Finale: Strauss’ Salome

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Program Notes: The Danube Calls: An Evening of Waltzes

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Program Notes: Andrew Litton and André Watts

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Program Notes: Season Finale: Vänskä Conducts Mahler’s Second

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Program Notes: Osmo Vänskä and Yo-Yo Ma

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Program Notes: Mozart and Debussy

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Program Notes: Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra

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Program Notes: Mozart Sinfonia Concertante

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Program Notes: Haydn and Mozart

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Program Notes: Lise de la Salle Plays Ravel

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Program Notes: Edo de Waart Returns

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Program Notes: Vänskä Conducts Schubert

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Program Notes: Rite of Spring

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Program Notes: Mozart and Beethoven

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Program Notes: Hugh Wolff Conducts Mendelssohn

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Program Notes: Russian Nights

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Program Notes: A Tribute Concert to Sir Neville Marriner

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Program Notes: Roderick Cox Conducts Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky

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Program Notes: Vanska and Weilerstein

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Program Notes: Handel's Messiah

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Program Notes: Vänskä Conducts Mahler's Sixth

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Program Notes: New World Symphony

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Program Notes: Josefowicz Performs John Adams

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Program Notes: Celebrating Skrowaczewski

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Program Notes: Paulus Mass

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Program Notes: Season Opening

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Program Notes: Otello

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Program Notes: Beethoven Triple Concerto

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Program Notes: Tchaikovsky Symphony No.4

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Program Notes: Beethoven and Rachmaninoff

Please note: this program has changed. Read the press release for full details.

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Program Notes: Let's Dance

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The Best Piece

By my count, I’ve played on a couple of dozen Minnesota Orchestra recordings in the 15-plus years I’ve been employed here, and there are more than a few CDs in that stack that I’m quite proud to have been a part of. But it’s no hyperbole to say that I had been waiting my entire career to sit down and make the CD that we recorded in the spring of 2011.

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