In all the election turmoil over the past year, it might have escaped general notice that an orchestra that had almost been given up for lost only three years ago has recovered in award-winning form.
It’s been three years to the month since the 16-month musicians’ lockout of the Minnesota Orchestra ended, an experience that left that arts-loving community reeling but that ended with the orchestra more closely bonded than they had been before.
“It’s unmistakable that the lockout for all parties involved was agony. It was a very difficult time,” said Anthony Ross, the orchestra’s principal cellist, speaking by phone Saturday night from Sarasota. “I think the biggest thing that came out of it was that all parties — musicians, board, staff and community — reassessed why they were doing this: Why do we want to have a great orchestra?
“And we all came to the same conclusion: That we wanted and needed to have a great orchestra for our great city,” he said.
Tomorrow night in the Knight Concert Hall at the Arsht Center in downtown Miami, the orchestra wraps up its tour of Florida with its artistic director, Osmo Vänskä, at the podium. He’ll be conducting two works from his Finnish homeland, including the Fifth Symphony of Sibelius and Geija, a tone poem evoking western China by the contemporary composer Kalevi Aho. Also on the program is the First Symphony (in C, Op. 21) of Beethoven.
Ross, a Michigander who’s been principal cellist since 1991, said Geija is about 16 minutes long and is distinguished by its evocative orchestration. Aho, 67, is a prolific composer who just won a Finnish state prize for his 16th symphony.
“It’s a very atmospheric piece,” Ross said. “It has some beautiful writing, some great viola solos … I think even the skeptical modern music listener will enjoy the colors and rhythms.”
Ross, who solos in Ernst Bloch’s Schelomo in Minnesota concerts this May, said the orchestra’s performances of the Beethoven First are notable for the clarity they bring to the music’s inner lines. And the Sibelius Fifth, one of the composer’s most popular, has an unusual brass-only series of chords for an ending that’s like nothing else in the literature.
“It’s just so individual, and every one of Sibelius’s symphonies is like that. They’re just such individual masterpieces,” Ross said.
The Minnesota Orchestra won the 2014 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance for its recording of the First and Fourth symphonies of Sibelius. In May 2015, it became the first major orchestra in 15 years to visit Cuba, and that same year it renegotiated contract extensions through 2019 for Vänskä and for 2020 for the musicians.
“I think the future looks bright. Everything’s increasing for us. We have many, many more donors than we had before the lockout. We’ve raised more money. Our audience is bigger,” Ross said, and that audience is more of a single-ticket-buying audience than the subscription-buying public of old.
“The place for great classical music has never been more important for our society,” he said. “When you get 2,000 people in Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, and they come and they listen to a great piece that’s brought to life by their great orchestra, there’s an emotional and a human content to that you can’t get anywhere else. It feeds the soul of the community.”
Tickets for Tuesday’s concert range from $50-$135 and are available by calling the Arsht Center box office at 305-949-6722 or visiting www.arshtcenter.org.
Casals Istomin joins Kronberg musicians for weekend matinee
Marta Casals Istomin was the wife and muse of two great musicians – cellist Pablo Casals and pianist Eugene Istomin – and a fine musician herself who became a notable administrator, running the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for 10 years and the Manhattan School of Music for 13 years.
This Sunday, Casals Istomin will be the special guest at the second of two concerts presented over the weekend at the Sea Gull Cottage on the grounds of the Royal Poinciana Chapel in Palm Beach. The two “musical matinees,” featuring conversation and performance, are being offered by the Kronberg Academy, the Germany-based graduate school for advanced string players whose American fundraising arm is in Boca Raton.
Casals Istomin is a member of the Kronberg Academy’s artistic advisory council.
Performing over the weekend will be two American musicians that are part of the Kronberg Young Soloists. Violinist William Hagen, 23, won third prize in 2015 in the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Belgium, the highest-ranking American to finish in the competition since 1985. Cellist Zlatomir Fung, 17, who won first prize at the Enescu Competition in Romania, has frequently been featured on NPR’s From the Top young musician broadcasts.
The two will be joined Saturday by pianist Tao Lin, and on Sunday by pianist Rachel Naomi Kudo. Music will include works by Bach, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms.
Saturday’s discussion will be with Dutch-born conductor Albert-George Schram, former leader of the Lynn Philharmonia, who recently retired as pops conductor of the Columbus Symphony, and has held conducting positions with the Charlotte and Nashville orchestras.
The two discussion-concerts are set for 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free, but seating is limited.