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Meet the Musicians

Manny Laureano earns a black belt; Kathryn Nettleman gives a toast

Five figures posed and smiling for the camera; behind them appears a city skyline amid lots of trees.
(Left to right): Violinist Milana Elise Reiche, oboist Julie Gramolini Williams, clarinetist and executive director of CAYO Rena Kraut, clarinetist Timothy Zavadil and bassist David Williamson during their return visit to Havana.

From start to finish, 2022 has proven to be a time to remember at Orchestra Hall. Beginning with a marathon of Jean Sibelius’ symphonies led by Osmo Vänskä in January, the year draws to a close this month with a run of holiday concerts that remind us of the joy of gathering and listening to live music—together. As we look towards the year ahead, we took a moment to ask a handful of musicians about their highlights—musical or otherwise—from these past twelve months.

Julie Gramolini Williams, acting associate principal oboist, had the opportunity to join fellow Orchestra musicians Milana Elise Reiche, Timothy Zavadil and David Williamson on her first return trip to Cuba since the Minnesota Orchestra’s historic tour in 2015.

One of the highlights of my year was returning to Cuba with CAYO (the Cuban American Youth Orchestra) in May. Alongside Rena Kraut, executive director of CAYO, Tim, Milana, Dave and I traveled together to Havana. In addition to bringing much needed supplies to the Cuban teachers and students, the primary focus of this trip was education, and our time was spent with the talented young musicians of Escuela Nacional de Música Cuba and Conservatorio Amadeo Roldán. During the 2015 tour, the oboe section had connected with a professional oboist who lives in Havana named Lauren Rios, and I have stayed in touch with her over the years. I was thrilled to work alongside her in the masterclasses that were held each day. In addition, we performed together in an impromptu house concert that ended up being a very special evening for everyone involved. As a bonus, spending time with my wonderful colleagues made this a week of memories that I will forever cherish! 

Principal Trumpet Manny Laureano’s personal highlight also took place far from Orchestra Hall—but not as far away as you might think at first glance.

Last February included, in addition to my regular duties at the Orchestra, the opportunity to take part in a weeklong seminar in Costa Rica for select students from Minnetonka Martial Arts under the direction of Allen Horner, master of the school. At the time, I only held a brown belt which I had for several years because of dealing with knee surgeries.

If you're wondering why I put myself in the position of making a busy life busier, that will be the point of this story. The elements of learning martial arts and music specific to trumpeting are so parallel that it has always been irresistible to me. Both require the discipline of regular practice with methodical monotony that is the lifeblood of developing instinct for each. You don't learn music in a six-week course at a local school, nor would you learn a thousand-year-old martial art form under similar circumstances. I accept each as a lifelong journey.
At the end of the week, we literally ran through every technique we knew while dressed in our black
gis, the clothing we wear for teaching and learning and performing. Master Horner had us line up and I was surprised to find the entire week was a test as he asked me to remove my brown belt so that he could replace it with a black one with my name inscribed. The other gentlemen that participated were also promoted in rank. To then be 66 and achieve that in the same calendar year that we finished recording our final Mahler symphony represented a shift of sorts in how I felt about myself.

While not working towards a black belt, Associate Principal Bass Kathryn Nettleman contended with a challenge of a different sort—trying to make an audience laugh. 

One of my favorite memories was being given the opportunity to lead a "musician toast" to Osmo out in the lobby, immediately following our final performance with him as music director, in Mahler's Eighth symphony. It was an epic situation—and I felt seriously stressed about it! I hoped to craft remarks that of course acknowledged his devoted leadership and honored the love our community feels for him; but I also wanted to be lighthearted and keep things from getting too heavy. So I decided to take a risk and try to be funny. In public. With a microphone in my hand. I hoped to communicate affection by, in part, gently roasting him with... an Osmo impression. (I know, ouch!) And I wanted to let the audience inside some of our orchestra jokes and the wonderful quirks that inform our onstage culture. I worried before the toast: Would people laugh?? Would Osmo fire me??? Well, they did and, thank goodness, he didn't! I will treasure the memory of hearing Osmo, a truly good sport, guffaw off to my side. And best: that everyone was smiling when we raised our glasses in salute. Kiitos, Osmo! 

Just five months after performing Gustav Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, the Orchestra played his Third. The concerts and subsequent recording sessions culminated Osmo Vänskä’s years-long project of performing and recording all ten of Mahler’s symphonies—an epic accomplishment that certainly was not lost on Concertmaster Erin Keefe. 

Aside from naming Thomas Søndergård as our next music director—which I am absolutely thrilled about—the most memorable thing about 2022 was finishing our Mahler cycle in November. The ten symphonies are all monumental pieces, and completing that multi-year journey with Osmo, BIS Records and Rob Suff, our amazing producer, gave everyone involved a sense of pride and a feeling of real accomplishment. 

For the first time in 19 years, the Orchestra underwent a change in its music director, as we bade farewell to Osmo and, as Keefe alludes to, said hello to Thomas Søndergård. Principal Bass Kristen Bruya played a key role in the transition and delivered a powerful speech on behalf of musicians during Søndergård’s welcome event. 

Having served on the Music Director Search Committee for a number of years, one of the highlights for me in 2022 was the hiring of Thomas Søndergård. It was exciting to work with Thomas in concerts last season and discover our chemistry in rehearsals and performances. I'll never forget the surprise and sincere excitement last July when Thomas’ appointment was privately announced to the Orchestra’s musicians. He walked through the door—an unexpected but welcome surprise—and there was an overwhelming feeling of joy and positivity from everyone in the room. I'll always remember that moment. 

With nearly 175 concerts a year, finding an afternoon free can be a challenge. But this fall, Acting Associate Principal Violin Cecilia Belcher was able to enjoy a concert from the audience. 

A favorite memory with the Orchestra in 2022 was having the opportunity to bring my two young children to the Symphonic Chills and Thrills Young People’s Concert in October. They loved the activities before the concert, especially the “creepy crawly” animals from the Minnesota Zoo, and they were enthralled by the incredible puppets from In the Heart of the Beast. It was a special experience to be in the audience with them instead of onstage, appreciating my amazing colleagues and seeing my children’s eyes light up hearing the exciting music. 

On behalf of our wonderful musicians, we hope that you will join us at Orchestra Hall in 2023 for another exciting year, which is sure to be filled with more memorable moments.