Update browser for a secure Minnesota Orchestra experience

It looks like you may be using a web browser version that we don't support. Make sure you're using the most recent version of your browser, or try using of these supported browsers, to get the full Minnesota Orchestra experience: Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or Edge.

Meet the Musicians

Meet a Musician: Pamela Arnstein

A portrait of Pam Arnstein, wearing all-black and holding her violin.
Photo by Joel Larson.

Minnesota Orchestra musician since: 1983
Section: First Violin
Hometown: Fargo, North Dakota
Education: University of Illinois, University of Wisconsin

As you near your retirement from the Minnesota Orchestra after the New Year’s concerts, which standout concert memories are coming to mind?

The most emotional concert experience was during the South Africa tour four years ago—our Soweto concert combining choirs from Minnesota and South Africa, mixing cultures and traditions at the meeting place of the anti-apartheid movement led by Nelson Mandela. The stained glass windows at Regina Mundi Church told the whole story, and our music raised the roof. In 2006 we played Mahler’s Fifth Symphony in our debut at the Proms in London, and I can still visualize the “Prommers” standing silently in reverence for over an hour right near the stage—a proud feat as no sitting is allowed in that section.

How about your favorite performances back home at Orchestra Hall?

So many! I’ll always remember how Charles Dutoit became the puppet as he conducted Stravinsky’s Petrushka; Der Rosenkavalier was rapturous in Edo de Waart’s hands; Strauss’ Alpine Symphony was perfect with Juraj Valčuha; and my most favorite music is Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet in Osmo Vänskä’s logical sequence. Another very special occasion was performing La Pasión según San Marcos for composer Osvaldo Golijov, whose smile beamed from ear to ear as he hugged everyone (including me). My top pops concert memories include shows with Henry Mancini and Broadway star Audra McDonald.

How has the Orchestra grown and changed during your years here?

The collaboration across the organization has improved the atmosphere for everyone working at the Orchestra. The musicians are now directly involved in choosing the music, which gives us more investment in the success of the concerts. When I performed for the first time at Orchestra Hall since the start of the pandemic for the pilot concert of our livestream series, I knew we had entered the digital age. Audiences could see and hear us from afar on their TV or computer, and we were building a video archive for the first time—an unexpected silver lining of the COVID restrictions.

How did our education and outreach activities come to be one of your major interests?

Creative engagement always feels worthwhile. Young people are curious and full of potential, and I believe anyone can learn about our great music and our instruments if they are shown how it all works.

What are some top Orchestra memories that don’t involve performing?

During our Japan tour in 1998, the Orchestra rode the bullet train between several cities and visited the Hiroshima Peace Park, both extraordinary experiences. In South Africa, after standing in the strong winds at the Cape of Good Hope, our group visited a beach filled with penguins swimming, nesting and walking in line just as we musicians do when filing onstage in our concert black outfits. A hilarious comparison!

What do you plan to do in retirement?

I’ll continue coaching high school violinists and helping young readers who are in need of extra help. I’m also trying to increase youth access to my new book, Doctor May’s Cabin, available at public libraries in Minnesota. My sewing projects have been waiting for me too!

What will you miss the most about being a musician in the Minnesota Orchestra?

I will miss sitting in the middle of the glorious sound on stage, but I’m looking forward to listening from the audience. I think Thomas Søndergård will build on his trusting, cooperative relationship with the Orchestra and produce fantastic concerts starting next season!

Please join us in congratulating Pamela on a remarkable four-decade career with the Orchestra and wishing her a happy retirement!