Vanska makes surprise appearance at Minneapolis school

Vanska conducts the orchestra at South High.
As he does with all his concerts, Osmo Vanska hurled himself into conducting at Minneapolis South High as part of the Symphonic Adventures series that brings the Minnesota Orchestra into local schools.
Euan Kerr / MPR News

When the Minnesota Orchestra arrived in the South High School auditorium today, what was to have been a make-up performance for an event cancelled by snow weeks ago quickly became a huge surprise.

Students filed in, took their seats and looked expectantly as the lights dimmed. After the musicians pulled out their instruments and music, tuned, and warmed up for the concert, violist Sam Bergman took the microphone and said the snow delay helped make for a better show.

"We have brought you a true international superstar of the music world to lead us through this program," Bergman said. "So without further ado would you please welcome the Grammy Award-winning Music Director for the last 10 years, Osmo Vanska."

More: Vanska negotiating possible return to Minnesota Orch.

The crowd roared as Vanska walked on stage. After having led a concert Tuesday night at Orchestra Hall, he wasn't scheduled to conduct the session of Symphonic Adventures, but he decided to make an appearance.

Bergman asked Vanska to talk about becoming a musician in his native Finland. The conductor said he began rather late, at age nine, but soon resolved to become a professional clarinetist.

Vanska said when he was 12, his parents bought a stereo and a recording of the New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

"That was something like a turning point in my life," he said. "I thought while it would be great to play the clarinet, but even greater if I could conduct one day the orchestra."

Vanska said both have been his dreams and he feels lucky to have fulfilled them.

Bergman told the students the orchestra was going to play Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition," and explained some of the ideas and themes in the piece.

Afterwards the Minnesota Orchestra, crammed onto the stage with Osmo Vanska on the podium, sprang to life.

The Symphonic Adventures concerts were launched by the musicians during the 16-month lock out.

As the concert concluded the students sprang to their feet to applaud.

Musicians and students then mingled around the hall, talking about music. Vanska joined the throng too, telling young musicians to practice, practice, practice, and posing for photo after photo, captured on the ever present cellphones.

"Can we have a picture too, please? What a thrill what a thrill," a teacher said, as he and a colleague approached. "Thank you so very much!"

Vanska said the appearance is important work.

"It's great to come here, to come away from fancy hall to see, let's say this kind of ordinary situation, where the kids are doing their daily work at school," he said. "And it's just a great experience for us, and I guess for them too. I think this is just a kind of international duty for every orchestra to go and to play and to meet young kids because they are the future."

The students did not ask questions about Vanska's future in Minnesota. He resigned as music director a year into the lockout and now musicians and audience members are calling for his return.

Vanska said he can't talk about it much.

"The talks are on, and they are still going," he said.

When told that is a good sign, he laughed and said, "Hopefully."

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