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.

Inside the Music

Ringing in the Summer

In a sight not seen on Peavey Plaza since 2008, the entire Minnesota Orchestra is performing a free concert outside Orchestra Hall on the night of Saturday, July 16—culminating in sounds of unusually epic scope. As part of a long-planned collaboration with City of Bells, a Minnesota nonprofit dedicated to celebrating bronze bell installations, the Orchestra’s performance of The Great Gate of Kiev from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition will be joined by the surrounding sounds of some of the city’s grandest musical instruments: the coordinated pealing of bells from five downtown churches. 

The concept originated in 2017, when City of Bells co-founder and president Rebecca Jorgenson Sundquist approached Music Director Osmo Vänskä with the idea of an outdoor concert featuring the Orchestra and all metro-area bells—a vision that eventually melded with this year’s International Day of Music featuring free performances by 20 ensembles in and around Orchestra Hall throughout July 16. On that day City of Bells will also present bell demonstrations, bell tours and a 6 p.m. carillon concert by Kieran Cantilina at Central Lutheran Church.

“I think of bells as the heartbeat of the community—they invite the listener to pause and reflect,” says Sundquist. “Minnesota is home to hundreds of bells, and one of my dreams for City of Bells is that we can connect with all those bronze bell installations, so our bells sing out in unison on appropriate occasions.”

History of City of Bells 

City of Bells was born over ten years ago when Sundquist, a member of the Central Lutheran Church congregation in downtown Minneapolis, completed coordinating the installation of a 47-bell traditional carillon. It was a plan the congregation had made in 1927 and it had finally come to fruition, joining congregations across the Twin Cities and Minnesota and making the state one of the most dense concentration of bell installations. "Minnesota has some of the largest bell installations by count, carillons and by weight of bells,” Sundquist explained. "We have a tremendous bounty of bells, and our goal is to coordinate for more impact."

Notable Minnesota Bells

Carillons—groups of 23 or more cast bells in fixed suspension and tuned in chromatic order—are abundant here in Minnesota. House of Hope Presbyterian Church in Saint Paul is home to the 49-bell Noyes Memorial Carillon; Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis is home to a 47-bell Paccard carillon; and Saint Mark’s Cathedral by Loring Park has a 24-bell carillon. A 24-bell carillon is beautifully presented within the two copper clad towers at Church of Saint Louis, King of France, in downtown Saint Paul; the Rochester Carillon, located atop the Plummer Building on the campus of Mayo Clinic, boasts 56 bells and has a full-time carillonneur. Often, these large carillon installations happened over many years through gifts of congregants honoring or memorializing loved ones.

The largest bell (the Bourdon) in Minnesota is located at Westminster Presbyterian Church—that bell weighs in at almost 10,000 pounds. There are 4 bells that “compete” for the next largest bell; they all sound the pitch B-flat below middle C and weigh in at between 7,500 and 8,000 pounds. They can be found at Minneapolis City Hall, the St. Paul Cathedral, St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville and the Plummer Carillon in Rochester. Some of the oldest-known tower bells in the state are at Assumption Catholic Church in St. Paul (before 1871), Hastings High School in Hastings (1868) and St. Mary’s Catholic Church in New Trier (1868 and 1874). 

City of Bells Day of Music Schedule

Bells will peal out at the conclusion of the Orchestra’s performance of The Great Gate of Kiev, with the help of Director of Live at Orchestra Hall Grant Meachum, who will have radio contact with carillon ringers at Central Lutheran Church, Westminster Presbyterian, St. Olaf Catholic Church, the Basilica of St. Mary and St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral—all of which are in a five-block radius around Orchestra Hall. Ringers will determine the timing of the execution based on a minute-by-minute countdown from Meachum. Manual bells need about a 45-second wind up, while electric bells are automatic. All five carillons together will give a new definition to surround-sound as we close out the July 16 Minnesota Orchestra performance on Peavey Plaza. 

But that’s not the only chance to engage with City of Bells that day—attendees of the International Day of Music will have several opportunities to experience downtown Minneapolis’ abundance of bells in several ways. Central Lutheran Church will present a carillon performance from soloist Kieran Cantilina, tours of bells will be given at several of the congregations listed above and handbell performances will be presented as part of the day’s lineup. 

See the bells at the International Day of Music

2:30-3:15, Orchestra Hall Stage: Twin Cities Bronze handbell ensemble
2-4 p.m., various congegations: tours led by City of Bells
6 p.m., Central Lutheran Church: Carillon concert from Kieran Cantilina, followed by a tour of the Central Lutheran Church carillon
8 p.m., Peavey Plaza stage: Minnesota Orchestra concert featuring City of Bells

Learn more at cityofbells.com, and visit minnesotaorchestra.org/summer/day-of-music for the full schedule of activities. Read more about Summer at Orchestra Hall here