How about the Minnesota Orchestra?

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Ralph
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How about the Minnesota Orchestra?

Post by Ralph » Sat Dec 16, 2006 9:29 pm

From The New York Times:

December 17, 2006
A Most Audacious Dare Reverberates
By JAMES R. OESTREICH

MINNEAPOLIS

SO much for Finnish reserve. Local legend has it that when Osmo Vanska became music director of the Minnesota Orchestra in 2003, he brashly told the players that he wanted to see them at the top of the American orchestral heap within a decade.

“Sooner, sooner,” he said here over dinner in late November. “Well, we had a meeting, and at least no one laughed when I said would like to see us be the best orchestra in this country in four or five years.”

And how far has the orchestra climbed, with Mr. Vanska in his fourth season? “That is not for me to say,” he replied, “but for you and others.” Most agree that it has made big strides. And on one night in early December the Minnesota seemed, if not the best American orchestra (whatever that may mean), at least the most important.

In a striking concert on that Friday night, Mr. Vanska, 53, conducted short works by nine young American composers to crown the annual weeklong Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute. And, oh yes, the orchestra sounded great, just as it had the day before in remarkably assured first rehearsals of those teeming, difficult and innovative pieces.

New Yorkers, who had an opportunity to assess the orchestra’s qualities under Mr. Vanska at Carnegie Hall two years ago, will have another in two concerts in February. But they need not wait. They and others can sample a recorded cycle of the nine Beethoven symphonies now well along on the Bis label. The Third, Eighth and Ninth Symphonies were released this year, joining the earlier Fourth and Fifth.

You may well question whether the world needs yet another survey of the Beethoven symphonies, especially on the heels of Bernard Haitink’s acclaimed series with the London Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Vanska himself wondered at first.

“When Bis asked me to do Beethoven, I was, ‘Why, why?’ ” he said in his idiomatic English. “There are probably more than 100 cycles already recorded. Usually I do my decisions very quickly, but that took more than three weeks to think about. I needed many conversations.”

The decisive factor, Mr. Vanska said, was his realization “that over many years when I have conducted Beethoven, I have heard a lot of comments from people, that they heard many things that they didn’t know before, that there are some new things going on.” Things, that is, resulting from close and faithful readings of the scores without undue regard for tradition.

Mr. Vanska is, of course, hardly alone in making such claims, which go at least as far back as Arturo Toscanini. But there are indeed aspects of these recordings that sound freshly imagined. With good reason, the cycle has evoked widespread enthusiasm, which might have been even greater if not for that Haitinkian eclipse.

More generally, in discussions of Mr. Vanska’s relationship with the orchestra, the word chemistry keeps coming up, as it did with Christoph von Dohnanyi and the Cleveland Orchestra 15 and 20 years ago. The chemistry is right, we are told, though no one seems entirely sure how to analyze it.

To hear Mr. Vanska and some of the players describe it, it may involve little more than sheer hard work: his Protestant ethic reacting burblingly with what remains of its American counterpart in the upper Midwest.

“I don’t know what the mechanism is,” he said. “People just make the decision, do we want to allow this guy to do his job or not? Sometimes I can ask quite many tasks, and so far I have felt very strongly that they have accepted what I am doing, and then it’s like jumping together into the water: it might sometimes be very hard, very demanding, but O.K., let’s do it. It’s some kind of secret, some kind of miracle. Because I have also had those experiences where I try to do something and — no way!”

William Schrickel, a double bassist, echoed Mr. Vanska’s comments from the players’ point of view. “The only way to do something wonderful is to work hard,” he said. “He wants to work hard, and this orchestra is primed to do whatever it takes. We want it to be great.”

As Mr. Schrickel pointed out, the conductor and the orchestra both had something to prove. Mr. Vanska, born in Saaminki in 1953, studied conducting with Jorma Panula at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki in the same class as Esa-Pekka Salonen and Jukka-Pekka Saraste, both of whom quickly developed splashy international careers: Mr. Salonen with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Mr. Saraste with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Vanska, meanwhile, labored for two decades with the obscure Lahti Symphony Orchestra, building it into a significant force and achieving international notice chiefly through recordings, especially of Sibelius, on the Bis label.

The century-old Minnesota Orchestra, né Minneapolis Symphony, proudly recalls — at least in institutional memory — its glory days under Eugene Ormandy, Dimitri Mitropoulos and Antal Dorati. The subsequent music directorships of Neville Marriner, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski and Edo de Waart had moments of distinction, but the more recent reign of Eiji Oue amounted to little more than a holding action, despite his many good choices of personnel.

“It was some kind of very positive atmosphere which I met here,” Mr. Vanska said. “People were ready to show what they could do, and maybe they were a little bit hungry. Then for me, who is a nut for working and trying to put things together, it was like heaven.”

He has increased his commitment to the orchestra from 16 weeks a season to 18 (this in contrast to the 12 or so typical in American orchestras). He professes not to mind the social and fund-raising demands on an American music director, which have driven other European conductors around the bend.

“I have to eat every day, and I can do it together with some other people,” Mr. Vanska said. “I like to meet people. I like to listen to what they are telling us. I speak about music. I think I haven’t sold my soul to anyone in this process.”

To judge from conversations with a few key players — none of whom disputes for a moment how stubborn and demanding Mr. Vanska can be — the proverbial honeymoon seems to be holding up for the musicians as well. “He loves to hear what people have to say,” said Jorja Fleezanis, the orchestra’s longtime concertmaster. “He’s asking all the time and available all the time. And whether or not you like this apple or that orange, we feel the music is in good hands.”

Mr. Vanska cannot take credit for every good thing happening at the Minnesota Orchestra. The composer institute predated his tenure. But when he arrived, it was struggling financially. It took a level of commitment from him beyond that of his predecessors to keep it alive. And this year he upped the ante further, adding the public concert to what used to be closed readings by the orchestra.

The idea behind those readings was to give young composers a rare opportunity to hear their orchestral works actually performed at a high level and to interact with the musicians. Computer simulations, while affording an advantage unavailable to composers of earlier eras, can give only a sketchy notion of instrumental balances and none of the sheer sonic impact or sense of space.

The program took root in 1996 as a single day of readings of works by Minnesota composers. It gained steam and national scope in 1998, when the dynamic composer Aaron Jay Kernis signed on as the orchestra’s new-music adviser; he has been a guiding force in the program ever since. It took its official title in 2002, and it has now presented 79 works by 75 composers. The nine composers represented this year — six men, three women, all in their 20s or 30s — were chosen from among 143 entrants (and thus 143 scores for Mr. Kernis to read).

The earlier part of their week here consisted of seminars with orchestra players, who discussed the capabilities and limitations of various instruments; instruction in producing better scores and parts; and sessions in writing grant applications, in marketing and promotion, and in dealing with contracts and legal issues. On Friday, after the rehearsals and before the concert, they were given individual feedback sessions by Mr. Vanska and Mr. Kernis.

Comments by Mr. Vanska confirmed much of what his players had said about his basic modesty and honesty as a conductor. On one occasion, trying to coax assertiveness out of a young composer, he said: “You are the composer. I’m just a performer.” And his repeated advice to all the composers was that they look deep within themselves.

“If there’s something you have to say,” he told one, “do it. Don’t think about your colleagues.”

To another, he said, “You have to be brave enough to write music that no one may like.”

He did suggest to several that they keep listeners in mind: “Write from one human being to another human being.”

On the other hand, he added, “if you don’t want to please anyone, that’s great.”

Might any of those brief works find their way into one of the orchestra’s regular concerts sometime soon? Yes, one of them, Mr. Vanska suggested and Tony Woodcock, the orchestra’s president, confirmed. Neither would specify which one.

But when the interviewer, asked about his preference by Mr. Vanska, singled out Missy Mazzoli’s “These Worlds in Us,” Mr. Vanska muttered assent. The Mazzoli piece also seemed to be a favorite of the audience, to judge from the applause of the 900 listeners who turned out. (The orchestra had fondly hoped for 500.)

“This is really the most important thing I’ve done as a composer,” Ms. Mazzoli, 26, said last week from her home in Brooklyn. “For young composers, it’s very hard to be excited about the orchestra. It’s such a scary medium. If you’re doing anything beyond writing for a marching band, the computer won’t help you. The only way to learn to write for an orchestra is to do it. I have a totally different view of the orchestra now, and I feel that I may have a future in writing for it.”

And that is music to Mr. Vanska’s ears. An “old-style music director,” he calls himself, and it may turn out that the old style is that of Serge Koussevitzky, the Russian maestro who did so much for contemporary American music 50 years ago at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Or so we can hope.
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Micha

Post by Micha » Sat Dec 16, 2006 9:56 pm

It is nice to hear that Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra get along and work together so well, but this fixation on the empty "the best" is so hollow and meaningless.
I can understand that musicians are happy when their work and the audience if "their" orchestra are very successful locally and also well known abroad, because of good tours and recordings, but why are Americans so fixated on that "the best" thing?
Why isn't it sufficient to be recognized as a "top class orchestra" (whatever that may actually mean, probably basically that they are really "on top" of playing their repertoire, not on top of each other) in general?
In Germany, where there is a much higher density of real top orchestras than anywhere else (I think there is no place from which you have to drive more than 2 or 3 hours to hear a true "top" orchestra), people are happy to acknowledge every really good ensemble and all the happier that there are so many of them.
That whole "the best" thing is so provincial, and so is, BTW, the fact that even the "New York Times" can't spell Vänskä's name correctly.

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Post by Barry » Sat Dec 16, 2006 10:28 pm

I agree. I've long thought that when you get into the elite orchestras, that it's more a question of individual taste as to the type of sound they have and their style of play than anything else. Naming one as the best is kind of pointless, but we all have our favorites.
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Post by Lance » Sun Dec 17, 2006 12:04 am

Micha wrote: [snipped] That whole "the best" thing is so provincial, and so is, BTW, the fact that even the "New York Times" can't spell Vänskä's name correctly.
Most American newspapers/publications do not generally use European accents since many/most American readers wouldn't know how to pronounce the words anyway. I always try to use the proper spelling with accents wherever possible and I sometimes get taken to task for it. However, that is MY style and I choose to do it this way. People are either lazy not to want to place proper accents or, computer-wise, they don't know how to do it. I have trouble with a few kinds of accents, such as in the case of Dvorák. I can't get the combination of numbers right-on for the accent over the "r." However, I DO TRY.

Is it easy for you, in contrast, NOT to place accents on certain words when you are writing in English? For example: debut vs. début? Or facade vs. façade. Kodaly vs. Kodály, etc., et al.

As to the rest of your post, I think you are being a tad harsh in your opinion on why an orchestra and its conductors want to be strive to be the very best. Why not? Who wants to be satisfied with just being a "well known" mediocre one? In the case of the Minneapolis/Minnesota Orchestra, they were, indeed, considered one of the top orchestas in the USA under, especially Mitropoulos, who brought it to substantially new heights, which took him to the New York Philharminic, and Dorati; the orchestra was also the vehicle that took Ormandy to Philadelphia. Not a bad way to go in my estimation.
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Post by miranda » Sun Dec 17, 2006 12:35 am

I really, really love Osmo Vänskä's and theMinnesota Orchestra's recordings of Beethoven's Symphonies #3,4,5,8, and 9, as I noted in the "What are you listening to?" thread. And since I have a limited amount of storage space for my music collection, I feel no need to obtain any other recordings of these symphonies. Are they the "best" recordings of these works? I have no idea--I haven't listened to enough recorded versions of these masterpieces to have an opinion on that, and I don't much care about finding the "best" recordings anyway, since I have neither the time nor the funds to do so. I enjoy them, I am enlightened and enriched by them, they are wonderful recordings in my uninformed opinion, and that is all that matters to me.
Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

Sapphire
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Post by Sapphire » Mon Dec 18, 2006 7:10 am

Lance wrote:Gads ... GOOD RIDDANCE to Micha.
And now for something completely different:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_D7WtOHZd0

Meet:

Mr Hilter (I am not a racialist),

Mr Viventrop (born in Somerset)

Mr Bimmler (retired window cleaner and pacifist, and NOT head of Gestapo).

........

Saphire

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Post by Wallingford » Mon Dec 18, 2006 2:14 pm

Actually, Minnesota's two previous music directors, DeWaart & Oue, did a pretty good job of building the orchestra up before the current guy.

I don't mind Minnesota being a "world class" orchestra (I'VE always kinda resented that term myself)--just as long as it doesn't do away with its quirky woodwind section (perhaps a side result of that chilly Minneapolis air?).
If I could tell my mom and dad
That the things we never had
Never mattered we were always ok
Getting ready for Christmas day
--Paul Simon

Heck148
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Post by Heck148 » Mon Dec 18, 2006 8:02 pm

Wallingford wrote: I don't mind Minnesota being a "world class" orchestra (I'VE always kinda resented that term myself)--just as long as it doesn't do away with its quirky woodwind section (perhaps a side result of that chilly Minneapolis air?).
quirky?? how so?? I take it that has a rather positive connotation for you?? :D 8)
BTW - Bassoon I - John Miller - is definitely one of the finest bassoonists in the world...a very highly regarded player...

Wallingford wrote
DeWaart & Oue, did a pretty good job of building the orchestra up before the current guy.
interesting, I played for Ejie Oue when he was around Boston - alot of hoopla, and self-promotion, but I didn't find him all that great. I've played for far better...

Vanska is puzzling to me - he's getting all of these rave reviews - but my first real exposure to him is pretty lousy - his Sibelius "Karelia" music complete with LahtiSO.
really lame, dull, not even close to Gibson/Scottish National, and esp not remotely comparable to Barbirolli/Halle's wonderfully rousing rendition of the Suite....
I suppose I should give him more of a chance.... :roll:

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Post by Barry » Mon Dec 18, 2006 8:51 pm

Heck148 wrote:Vanska is puzzling to me - he's getting all of these rave reviews - but my first real exposure to him is pretty lousy - his Sibelius "Karelia" music complete with LahtiSO.
really lame, dull, not even close to Gibson/Scottish National, and esp not remotely comparable to Barbirolli/Halle's wonderfully rousing rendition of the Suite....
I suppose I should give him more of a chance.... :roll:
I've seen him live three times now; twice with the Philadelphia Orchestra and once with the BBC Scottish Symphony when he was their music director. While I won't say I walked away from any of those concerts thinking poorly of him, he didn't live up to my expectations, which were so high precisely because of the raves he gets in the press and on message boards. But I've mentioned on here before that the Philadelphia is a somewhat fickle orchestra. They can be hard on new conductors. David Robertson is another one who everyone seems to love, but who never seemed to catch fire here when he was a frequent guest conductor for a few years. I liked his concerts even less than Vanska's. And I guess you can even say the same thing about music director Eschenbach in light of how that's turning out, although I personally have enjoyed many of his concerts tremendously and think he's getting a raw deal.
Yet other conductors will come in here and magic seems to happen immediately. A few that come to mind are Rattle, Vladimir Jurowski and now Ivan Fischer.
"If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee." - Abraham Lincoln

"Although prepared for martyrdom, I preferred that it be postponed." - Winston Churchill

"Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement." - Ronald Reagan

http://www.davidstuff.com/political/wmdquotes.htm
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pbp0hur ... re=related

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Post by Corlyss_D » Mon Dec 18, 2006 9:11 pm

Ahem . . . the . . . ah . . . unpleasantries were severed and transferred to the Pub under the title "Micha's Farewell Tour."

As you were . . . . smoke if you gottem.
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Post by living_stradivarius » Tue Dec 19, 2006 5:52 am

I had the chance to rehearse under Osmo a few years ago and must say he's a stickler for articulation!

He's become such an icon in MN since Eiji Oue left and even has a line of manufactured bobbleheads that play Finlandia.
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Post by Wallingford » Wed Dec 20, 2006 5:01 pm

Heck148 wrote:
Wallingford wrote: I don't mind Minnesota being a "world class" orchestra (I'VE always kinda resented that term myself)--just as long as it doesn't do away with its quirky woodwind section (perhaps a side result of that chilly Minneapolis air?).
quirky?? how so?? I take it that has a rather positive connotation for you??
Take a listen to a lotta old Minnesota recordings of Ormandy, Mitropoulos, Dorati, & even (to a slightly lesser extent) Skrowaczewski. The woodwinds have an individuality & character just not there in other orchestras I've heard.

When Marriner took over the helm, he practically did away with that sound.
If I could tell my mom and dad
That the things we never had
Never mattered we were always ok
Getting ready for Christmas day
--Paul Simon

Heck148
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Post by Heck148 » Thu Dec 21, 2006 10:58 am

Wallingford wrote:Take a listen to a lotta old Minnesota recordings of Ormandy, Mitropoulos, Dorati, & even (to a slightly lesser extent) Skrowaczewski. The woodwinds have an individuality & character just not there in other orchestras I've heard.
Oh, yes, going back to that period, yes, quite a unique sound...
When Marriner took over the helm, he practically did away with that sound.
yes, it fell out of favor, or whatever - it was quite different from the big, robust NY/Chicago/Cleveland sound that came to dominate so much of the American orchestral world.

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