The Minnesota Orchestra, now in its second century and led by Music Director Osmo Vänskä, ranks among America’s top symphonic ensembles, with a distinguished history of acclaimed performances in its home state and around the world; award-winning recordings, radio broadcasts and educational outreach programs; and a visionary commitment to building the orchestral repertoire of tomorrow.
Founded as the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, the ensemble gave its inaugural performance on November 5, 1903, shortly after baseball’s first World Series and exactly six weeks before the Wright brothers made their unprecedented airplane flight. The Orchestra played its first regional tour in 1907 and made its New York City debut in 1912 at Carnegie Hall, where it has performed regularly ever since. Outside the United States, the Orchestra has played concerts in Australia, Canada, Europe, the Far East, Latin America and the Middle East. Since 1968 it has been known as the Minnesota Orchestra.
The Minnesota Orchestra’s international tours have reaped significant praise, most recently in August 2010. During a critically-lauded tour of European festivals, the Orchestra performed at the Edinburgh International Festival, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw and the BBC Proms in London—before stomping crowds totaling 12,000 for two concerts at Royal Albert Hall, one of which culminated in a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Critic John Allison subsequently wrote in The Sunday Telegraph:“The Minnesotans are among the world’s most cultivated bands. And under Vänskä…their Beethoven Ninth was everything one hopes for but seldom hears in this towering masterpiece.”
The ensemble presents nearly 200 programs each year, primarily at its home venue of Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis, and its concerts are heard by live audiences of 400,000 annually. Its Friday night performances are broadcast live regionally by Minnesota Public Radio—a weekly tradition for more than 35 years—and many programs are subsequently featured on American Public Media’s national programs, SymphonyCast and Performance Today. In 2010, the organization launched Minnesota Orchestra Music on Demand, offering downloads of select major works recorded live in concert and available online.
In the early 1920s, the Minnesota Orchestra became one of the first ensembles to be heard on recordings, as well as on the radio—in 1923 it played a nationally broadcast concert under guest conductor Bruno Walter—and it has been recording and broadcasting ever since. Its landmark Mercury Living Presence LP recordings of the 1950s and 1960s, under Music Directors Antal Dorati and Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, have been reissued on compact disc to great acclaim.
Under Music Director Osmo Vänskä, the Orchestra has completed several acclaimed recording projects, including a two-CD set of Tchaikovsky’s piano-and-orchestra works with Stephen Hough, a disc featuring Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony and a five-disc cycle of the complete Beethoven symphonies. The New York Times wrote that the Beethoven set “may be the definitive [cycle] of our time,” and Gramophone magazine called it “one of the finest available.” The Orchestra’s recording of Beethoven’s Ninth received a 2008 Grammy nomination for “Best Orchestral Performance,” and the CD featuring the Second and Seventh Symphonies was nominated for a 2009 Classic FM Gramophone Award.
Vänskä and the Orchestra are now recording all five Beethoven piano concertos with Russian pianist Yevgeny Sudbin for the BIS label, a cycle of which the first CD, featuring the Fourth and Fifth Concertos, has been released. In June 2011 Vänskä and the Orchestra began a new project to record all seven symphonies of Sibelius, also for BIS. The first CD, featuring Sibelius Symphony No. 2 and 5, was released in January 2012.
In addition to traditional concerts, the Minnesota Orchestra connects with more than 85,000 music lovers annually through educational programs including Young People’s Concerts—a series which marks its centennial during the 2011-12 season—and Target Free Family Concerts. In the last decade more than half a million students have experienced a Minnesota Orchestra Young People’s Concert. Musicians also engage in such Orchestra-sponsored initiatives as the Adopt-A-School program, Side-by-Side rehearsals and concerts with young area musicians, and the UPbeat program, which establishes multi-year relationships with communities throughout the Twin Cities and around the state.
Extending a long tradition of performances throughout the state of Minnesota, in October 2011 the Orchestra launches the Common Chords Project, a multi-year initiative designed to create partnerships between the Orchestra and participating Minnesota cities, culminating in a celebratory festival week that features performances and dozens of activities that reflect the interests, diversity and heritage of each community. Launched with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Common Chords will present its first festival week in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, in October 2011; a second partnership in Willmar, Minnesota, will culminate in May 2012.
Pops, jazz and Sommerfest
The ensemble also offers numerous pops concerts in a series led by conductor Sarah Hicks, presenting the greatest contemporary pop performers in genres ranging from Latin, jazz and Big Band to Broadway, country and world music. In 2008, the Orchestra established Jazz at Orchestra Hall, a jazz series featuring top performers from around the nation, and named Irvin Mayfield as the series’ artistic director. American conductor Andrew Litton serves as artistic director for the Orchestra’s beloved urban summer music festival, Sommerfest, which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary season.
With a long history of commissioning and performing new music, the Minnesota Orchestra continues to nourish a strong commitment to contemporary composers. Its annual Composer Institute offers up to seven emerging composers from around the nation an intense immersion into the orchestral world, culminating in a Future Classics concert, led annually by Music Director Osmo Vänskä. Since 1903 the Orchestra has premiered and/or commissioned nearly 300 compositions, including works by John Adams, Kalevi Aho, Dominick Argento (Minnesota Orchestra Composer Laureate), Aaron Copland, John Corigliano, Charles Ives, Aaron Jay Kernis (Director of the Orchestra’s Composer Institute), Libby Larsen, Stephen Paulus and Stanislaw Skrowaczewski (the Orchestra’s Conductor Laureate). In the Orchestra’s 2011-12 season, Vänskä will lead the premieres of two major works by American composers: TimePiece for Jazz Soloists and Orchestra by father-son collaborators Stephen Paulus and Greg Paulus, and James Stephenson’s Violin Concerto, the latter with Jennifer Frautschi as soloist and commissioned by the Minnesota Commissioning Club.
The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) has bestowed upon the Orchestra 19 awards for adventuresome programming, including Leonard Bernstein Awards for Education Programming in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2011 and, in 2008, the John S. Edwards Award for Strongest Commitment to New American Music.
The Orchestra welcomed Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä as its tenth music director in the fall of 2003. Praised for his intense and dynamic performances, Vänskä is recognized for compelling interpretations of the standard, contemporary and Nordic repertoires. During his tenure, he has drawn extraordinary reviews for concerts both at home and abroad, including appearances at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, four European tours, and Minnesota tours in 2005, 2007 and 2008. Vänskä has extended his tenure with the Minnesota Orchestra through 2015.
The Minnesota Orchestra makes its home at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, a venue which will undergo a $50 million renovation set for completion in 2013.