The 2021-22 Season welcomed audiences back to Orchestra Hall at full capacity–and quite a range of sounds and emotions accompanied the return. Osmo Vänskä’s final season as music director brought memorable moments both intimate and epic, and we invite you to revisit some of these highlights below.
A Long-Awaited Reunion
The season opened with a virtuosic performance of Max Bruch's Scottish Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra by guest soloist Joshua Bell. The Grammy Award-winning violinist was also the featured guest soloist at the first concert Vänskä ever conducted at Orchestra Hall in October 2000, three years before he became music director.
The Tama Takes Center Stage
Senegalese master percussionist Massamba Diop joined the Orchestra with his tama drum for a live performance of Black Panther’s Academy Award-winning score, which Diop co-produced.
An Extraordinary Feat to Celebrate
We cozied up to the music of Jean Sibelius, the Finnish composer who Vänskä has wholeheartedly championed. Between December 31 and January 16, the Orchestra pulled off the extraordinary, performing Sibelius’ seven symphonies and two versions of his violin concerto. Despite the realities of a Minnesota winter and a global pandemic, Elixir Haus’ outdoor bar provided the heat during intermission with fires to gather around and a menu of cocktails to warm audiences.
Ringing in the Year of the Tiger
Centered around unity and family, a pair of Lunar New Year concerts were conducted by Junping Qian, with Principal Bassoon Fei Xie providing artistic guidance. Pipa player Gao Hong performed the world premiere of her pipa concerto and Orchestra violinist Rui Du gave the Minnesota Orchestra premiere of The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto. Xie's parents, Mei Hu and Zhengang Xie, also took centerstage as soloists on the yue qin and jinghu respectively, showcasing their mastery of these traditional Peking opera instruments. Activities spanned from the mezzanine to the auditorium with everything from dance performances to festive decor to welcome the new year.
A 20-Year Catalog, Reimagined
Twin Cities-based, cult-favorite indie rockers Cloud Cult made their much-anticipated return to Orchestra Hall, performing 22 songs alongside the Orchestra, with Sarah Hicks on the podium.
Seven Last Words
From May 19 to 21, Orchestra Hall’s lobby was transformed into a living memorial by the George Floyd Global Memorial's exhibition project, which shares the thousands of offerings that have been brought to the intersection of 38th and Chicago in the two years since George Floyd’s murder as well as works of art, including the portrait of Emmett Till displayed here. Inside the auditorium, Thomas Wilkins conducted Joel Thompson’s Seven Last Words of the Unarmed, a seven-movement choral and orchestral work that shares the final words of seven Black men killed by police.
“It was the best performance of Ein Heldenleben that I’ve ever been part of.”
So said Principal Trombone R. Douglas Wright, reflecting on the performance of Richard Strauss’ work under the direction of Thomas Søndergård. The concert marked the Danish conductor’s first appearance with the Minnesota Orchestra–a prelude to the brilliance to come for the Orchestra’s next music director, an appointment announced with great fanfare at the end of July.
Reliving the Remarkable
Speaking of Brilliance, that was the theme of this year’s Symphony Ball–the annual gala celebration of the Minnesota Orchestra in support of its artistic excellence and education programs–returning to its in-person form for the first time in three years. Grammy-nominated guitarist Cory Wong captivated audiences as the evening’s featured soloist.
Vänskä and Keefe, and Kuusisto and Kuusisto, and Foley and Ginastera and…
In an evening of true intimacy and excellence, the Sphinx Virtuosi performed string orchestra works before joining the larger ensemble for Felix Mendelssohn’s Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra—featuring Concertmaster Erin Keefe and pianist Juho Pohjonen as soloists—before concluding with the world premiere of the late Jaakko Kuusisto’s Symphony, which was completed by his brother Pekka after his passing.
A Grand Conclusion
Who said anything about checking out? Four choirs, eight soloists and an orchestra of epic proportions: That was the recipe for Vänskä's season finale. The performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand was the penultimate performance of Mahler’s symphonic cycle–a monumental mission that Vänskä will complete this November.
A Golden Anniversary
The beginning of summer saw the Orchestra popping up on stages from Winona to Hudson, Wisconsin, for free outdoor shows. Their July 6 performance in Plymouth commemorated 50 years of the Orchestra’s collaboration with the city’s beloved Music in Plymouth festival.
Summer in the City
The International Day of Music kicked off the annual Summer at Orchestra Hall festival, which saw 20 acts perform across four stages, all culminating in a spectacular pealing of church bells across downtown to conclude Modest Mussorgsky’s The Great Gate of Kiev.
The Search Ends
After a four-year global search to find Vänskä’s successor, President and CEO Michelle Miller Burns introduced Thomas Søndergård as the Orchestra’s next music director on July 29. Søndergård returns to Minnesota from October 20 to 22 to conduct Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, initiating another year to remember.