Minnesota Orchestra announces concerts, including six with former director Vanska

Renovated Orchestra Hall
The Auditorium in the renovated Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis.
Jeffrey Thompson / MPR News, file

The Minnesota Orchestra announces its classical concert season today, leading to the musicians' first concerts in a newly renovated Orchestra Hall following a 15-month lock out.

There will be 41 concerts and some big names — including former director Osmo Vanska, who stepped down during the lockout.

View the Minnesota Orchestra's performance calendar
Orchestra returns; Classical MPR broadcast planned

After the bitterness of the orchestra's lengthy labor dispute, the season is meant as a crowd-pleaser.

"I think the notion was we wanted to find some of the greatest and most popular pieces of our repertoire," Minnesota Orchestra General Manager Bob Neu said.

There have been no concerts in Orchestra Hall by the Minnesota Orchestra since June 2012, when it closed for renovation. The locked-out musicians played dozens of concerts elsewhere.

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Neu doesn't hesitate when asked which concerts excite him the most.

"Well, the opening concert of course," he said of the Feb. 7 date featuring the music of Beethoven, Strauss and Bach to be led by Minnesota Orchestra Conductor Laureate Stanislaw Skrowaczewski. "To finally hear the orchestra in this hall, this renovated hall, is just going to be so terribly exciting."

There had been a skeleton of a season in place all along but when the settlement with musicians came, Neu and his staff, in consultation with the musicians, made it a real season.

The orchestra season folds in three concerts the musicians had planned independently during the lockout, including an appearance by violinist Joshua Bell on April 15.

"All credit goes to the musicians on that," Neu said. "That was a fairly easy transference because the date worked very nicely in our schedule. And Josh is a good friend of our musicians, but also of the [Minnesota Orchestral] Association so that whole thing just on a relationship basis just ended up moving very naturally to us."

Something else that will appear natural to many fans will be Vanska's return to the podium. He'll conduct the Bell concert and five others, including Grammy celebration concerts of Sibelius in late March, and two concerts to mark the reopening of Northrop Auditorium in early May.

Many audience members want Vanska to return. When asked what it means that Vanska is on the schedule so often, Neu was brief.

"It means that we love having Osmo on the stage," he said.

The orchestra's principal cellist, Tony Ross, said he doesn't have any inside information on the Vanska situation, but he is hopeful.

"I think everybody is trying to read something into that," Ross said of Vanska's appearances on the schedule.

"We know that Osmo is important to our organization on every level," he said, while noting that the musicians don't hire the music director. "He is a brilliant leader, a brilliant conductor and we look forward to working with him some more."

Orchestra managers say the board won't take up the question until after it has elected new leadership, which won't happen until at least the end of next week.

Ross, a member of the musicians' negotiating team who collaborated with management on the season, said the scheduled performances show a commitment to the classical repertoire that the musicians wanted.

Despite the settlement the musicians are still weeks away from getting their first paycheck as the lockout doesn't end until Feb. 1. Ross is looking forward to the new season but stepping back into Orchestra Hall for the first rehearsal?

"It will be an experience none of us will know...." he said. "I am sure it will be intense, but we don't know exactly how, in what way."

Subscriptions for the new season go on sale Monday, and single tickets on Feb. 9. Details of the renamed pops season, now to be called "Live at Orchestra Hall," and Sommerfest will be released next week.