Saturday, February 14, 2009

Classic Alchemy

I consider myself a casual classical music fan. Since moving to Minneapolis in 1983, I've been to a Minnesota Orchestra concert at least once a year. Initially the internationally renowned Neville Marriner was the music director. Reputation notwithstanding, I could never stay awake through his concerts. Apparently some local music fans came to knickname him "level Neville" for his flat, unexciting interpretations, so I was not alone.

The Dutch Edo de Waart followed, a marginal improvement, but my annual visits to the orchestra remained more opportunities to catch up on my sleep deprivation than my music appreciation.

In 1995 the orchestra took a rather bold move and appointed a lesser-known Japanese music director, Eiji Oue who, while personally providing more spark and energy on the podium than his predecessors, didn't seem to inspire the musicians to follow suit, or display the kind of disciplined playing that is required of a great orchestra.

Then, in 2003, the orchestra again appointed a relatively little-know music director from Finland, Osmo Vänskä. And almost immediately, something changed. There was a precision, attention to detail, and range of emotion emanating from the stage of Orchestra Hall during concerts that Osmo was conducting, which I had only rarely experienced at classical concerts prior.

There is clearly chemistry at work here... it would be easy to conclude that Osmo is a particularly effective leader, and brilliant interpreter of certain repertoire (Sibelius and Beethoven being the top two). But it's so much more than that. It's a given that only top musicians make it to an orchestra of this stature, and certainly all of those past music directors are in an elite class themselves. Ultimately, it's the right combination that makes the difference; Osmo Vänskä was the right person at the right time for this particular group.

The Minnesota Orchestra under Osmo Vänskä is currently the "buzz band" in the classical world internationally. If you have even a minor interest in classical music, or are just musically curious, and you live in the Twin Cities, you should be aware that there's really something extraordinary going on right now, and take advantage of the opportunity to see and hear truly great orchestral music playing in our own home town.

If you want a specific concert recommendation, on May 1 the orchestra will be playing both Sibelius and Beethoven, previewing a program they will take to Carnegie Hall a few days later

No video to embed, but there are some at this link here

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