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Meet the Musicians

Meet a Musician: Sonia Mantell

Sonia Mantell with cello
Sonia Mantell | Photo by Zoe Prinds-Flash

Minnesota Orchestra musician since: 2020
Section: Cello
Hometown: Orland Park, Illinois
Education: New England Conservatory, DePaul School of Music

What is your earliest musical memory?

I remember as a young child watching a VHS tape of the opera Where the Wild Things Are, based on the children’s book by Maurice Sendak, with music by contemporary composer Oliver Knussen. My parents, both musicians, had a lot of operas on VHS, but this one opened my eyes to how music can depict emotion and atmosphere so vividly. As luck would have it, I got to meet the composer during my undergraduate studies and told him how much his opera meant to me, and I’ll never forget that moment.

What have been your favorites concerts in your time with the Minnesota Orchestra so far?

So far, my favorite has been Thomas Søndergård’s performances of Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben in December 2021. It was our first time playing under his direction, and taking on such a huge, dramatic piece felt both exciting and raw. I heard many musicians say that those were some of the best performances they’ve ever experienced while being in the Orchestra. I do also have to say I had the time of my life playing Danny Elfman’s The Nightmare Before Christmas score this past October because it has been a bucket-list soundtrack I’ve been wanting to play since I was a kid.

Aside from making music together onstage, what do you enjoy about the Orchestra?

We do quite a bit of socializing outside of work on a weekly basis, and I feel incredibly grateful to have a job where so many people want to do things together after rehearsals and concerts. There’s even a group that goes to weekly Trivia Mafia nights at a local brewery and dominates practically every time! Also, one time an even larger group got together to see Everything Everywhere All at Once, and we nearly filled up the entire back row of the movie theater. I love that Orchestra musicians enjoy each other’s company and that we want to continue being around one another even after hours of playing together.

What sorts of performances do you enjoy attending away from Orchestra Hall?

One recent event that really sticks out to me was a Harry Potter-themed Drag Brunch at Union Rooftop. The level of creativity and fun that these drag queens bring for these themed brunches are so high—it would be impossible for you not to have a phenomenal time. I highly recommend going to one if you’ve never been! My favorite venue outside the Hall has to be Icehouse—every performance I’ve seen there has been so stellar and filled with a really attentive and loving community. 

An interest in movies seems to be a running thread in your life!

Yes, I love watching films and shows, but I especially love introducing my favorite films and shows to folks who have never seen them before. I’m a huge fan of hosting movie nights, and usually either pick something extremely over the top, or super artsy. I really like seeing and hearing the reactions of people watching something for their first time. At one point last year, there was a small group that got together each week to watch the episodes for the last season of Better Call Saul, and that was exciting to experience together.

What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

Knowing what you want for yourself is the key. Because if you know exactly what you want (and that could be numerous things!), that will allow you to build a thick skin, which is crucial as an orchestra musician because the audition process can be grueling. But if you’re determined and can see yourself making it, you have to just keep putting yourself out there and go for it.

Minnesota Orchestra cellists in performance, seated on the Orchestra Hall stage, including Sonia Mantell, center, and Katja Linfield, left
Sonia Mantell, center, and other Minnesota Orchestra cellists including Katja Linfield, left, performing at the Orchestra's season opening concert in September 2022 | Photo by Greg Helgeson