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Meet the Musicians

Retired Musician Spotlight: Mina Fisher

Minnesota Orchestra cellist Mina Fisher, standing and wearing sunglasses, outdoors in Argentina in daytime, with trees, water and land in the background.
Retired Minnesota Orchestra cellist Mina Fisher in Argentina.

In 2012, when cellist Mina Fisher retired from the Minnesota Orchestra after a 33-year tenure, she began pouring her time into three varied outlets—private teaching, managing the Bakken Trio chamber music ensemble and starting a boutique truffle business called Tour de Chocolat. As the decade progressed, an unexpected fourth outlet emerged: the creation of the musical play Nadia, which Fisher calls a “theatrical marriage of chamber music and storytelling” illuminating the life, career and inner thoughts of Nadia Boulanger, a giant of 20th-century music education who taught hundreds of classical composers—many of whom traveled to France to study under her guidance. Now, seven years after Nadia’s first performances in Minneapolis, the production is itself traveling to France for a special performance in Paris on March 10. 

The process that led to Nadia’s creation began in 2015 when Fisher was researching Boulanger to find didactic methods for use in her own teaching—bolstering her knowledge beyond just the lists of Boulanger’s well-known students including Aaron Copland, Astor Piazzolla and the late former Minnesota Orchestra Music Director Stanislaw Skrowaczewski. “My affection [at first] was all towards Nadia’s teaching and to the fact that she resembled my grandmother,” Fisher recalls. After six months of learning more and brainstorming possible projects, Fisher approached singer-actress Christina Baldwin to ask if she would collaborate on writing a play about Boulanger. “I was utterly flabbergasted when she immediately said ‘yes,’” Fisher says. “But then she got a lot of roles in succession, and it rained the whole month of May when I usually garden and bike a lot, so I just started writing. And Christina, bless her, encouraged me to keep on.”

After Nadia’s 2017 debut in a series of sold-out, critically acclaimed performances at MacPhail Center for Music in downtown Minneapolis—with Baldwin as Boulanger—St. Olaf College voice professor Tammy Hensrud took center stage in 2018 for additional performances at St. Olaf and Luther College. Nadia then toured to northern Minnesota in early 2020 thanks to a Minnesota State Arts Board grant, and mezzo Adriana Zabala took on the lead part for performances in Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Maria Jette has also stepped into the role of Boulanger. “So many Nadias—I’m in awe of them all!” Fisher remarks.

A black-and-white image of singer-actress Adriana Zabala portraying Nadia Boulanger,.
Singer-actress Adriana Zabala in the role of Nadia Boulanger.

The March 2024 performance in Paris is owed in part to a suggestion from Mariellen Jacobson, a longtime Minnesota Orchestra supporter and former president of the Young People’s Symphony Concert Association (YPSCA). “Mariellen is a great Francophone, and she once encouraged me to take Nadia to a theater at the American Church in Paris, a huge Gothic cathedral on the Seine,” Fisher explains. “Adriana Zabala’s  French sister-in-law is a violin professor at the Paris Conservatoire, and she enthusiastically endorsed the proposal and volunteered to play [the secondary role of] the Violinist, so I approached the director of the Atelier Chamber Music Series there in 2019. But then came the long period of COVID—until the series restarted this past fall.”

Although Fisher comments that she misses the excitement of playing in the Minnesota Orchestra—especially “the adrenaline kick from all those personalities and being cradled in that vat of sumptuous sound”—she finds herself at Orchestra Hall often, but now in the audience, specifically box A of the third balcony, alongside another dedicated fan of the ensemble. “My husband Fritz is a longtime full-season subscriber to the Orchestra—38 years faithful!” she says. In addition to the years-long journey of Nadia, Fisher has found her private teaching especially rewarding. “My students have won lots of competitions, but I care more that they become passionate about music and love to play and work hard,” she notes. It may be no coincidence that this outlook echoes the legacy of Boulanger—whose story comes vividly to life with every performance of Nadia, from the City of Lakes to the City of Light.