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Minnesota Orchestra Announces 2020-21 Season Programming

Minnesota Orchestra Announces 2020-21 Season Programming


Music Director Osmo Vänskä and the Grammy Award-winning Minnesota Orchestra today announced plans for the ensemble's 2020-21 season, which runs from September 2020 to June 2021, and includes Classical, Holiday, Live at Orchestra Hall, Chamber Music, Music and Mindfulness, Young People's Concerts, and Sensory-Friendly and Relaxed Family Concerts.

"As we look to the 2020-21 season, it is music that gives us hope and that will bring us together to reflect, heal and celebrate," said Music Director Osmo Vänskä. "The communal concert experience has always been sacred to me, but in the season ahead it will have an extraordinary new meaning for us all."

Led by Vänskä in his penultimate season as the Orchestra's music director, the Classical season features 25 weeks of classical programming including a three-week Dvo?ák Festival in January; the U.S. premiere of a new work by Anders Hillborg; the continuation of a Rachmaninoff project with pianist Kirill Gerstein; large choral collaborations including Stephen Paulus' To Be Certain of the Dawn, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and Missa Solemnis; the return of many beloved soloists and conductors as well as 16 Minnesota Orchestra debuts; and Vänskä conducting Mahler's Third Symphony and Ninth Symphonies, both to be recorded during the season as part of the ongoing Mahler Symphonies recording project.

The Holiday season in December includes three programs that have become Orchestra Hall holiday traditions: Orchestra trumpet player Charles Lazarus in Merry and Bright; pianist George Winston in a solo concert; and the Orchestra's Home for the Holidays production. An additional special holiday concert this season will feature stage and screen star Audra McDonald onstage with the Minnesota Orchestra.

Live at Orchestra Hall, a popular series featuring jazz, Broadway classics, movie scores, popular music and other genres, is led by Sarah Hicks, principal conductor of Live at Orchestra Hall. Special guests on the 2020-21 series will include the U.S. Naval Academy Glee Club; Orchestra trumpet player Charles Lazarus and his jazz combo; travel writer Rick Steves; and singer-songwriter-producer Dan Wilson. The Movies and Music series this year brings five films to Orchestra Hall: Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Disney's The Nightmare Before Christmas, Disney Pixar's Toy Story, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix™ and Battleship Potemkin. The Orchestra also performs a concert highlighting the music of Broadway's leading ladies and a program celebrating the Lunar New Year.

The Chamber Music series presents four musician-designed concerts performed by a variety of small ensembles comprising Orchestra musicians. This season's programs will include a diverse array of compositions spanning everything from time-tested music by Mozart to a new work by 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winner Du Yun. See details on page 6.

Also returning this season are Young People's Concerts, Relaxed Family Concerts, Sensory-Friendly Concerts and Symphonic Adventures. The new season offers many opportunities and options for young audiences and families to hear live classical music. These programs serve an important role in the Orchestra's mission, designed so that people of all ages and abilities have access to classical music and opportunities to experience concerts and interact with the Orchestra's musicians and conductors.

The Orchestra continues its Music and Mindfulness program, offering yoga classes at Orchestra Hall and a series of guided meditation sessions onstage, with Orchestra musicians or small ensembles providing live music at each event. 

"In the 2020-21 season, we are excited to continue celebrating Beethoven's 250th birthday with his largest works, the Ninth Symphony and Missa Solemnis. We will also be bringing all the best orchestral works of Dvo?ák to our audiences in January, in a three-week festival led by our Music Director Osmo Vänskä," said Silver Ainomäe, associate principal cello and chair of the Musicians' Artistic Advisory Committee. "We look forward to introducing some new conductors to Twin Cities concertgoers, and we will welcome back some popular guests."

"In addition," says Ainomäe, "Osmo Vänskä is looking back at his tenure as our music director by conducting some of the works commissioned by the Minnesota Orchestra during his time here. A prime example of that is our opening week when the incomparable Jean-Yves Thibaudet will perform the Third Piano Concerto by James MacMillan-a concerto he premiered here with Vänskä in 2011. We are thrilled to see several leading soloists like Leonidas Kavakos and Truls Mørk return to Orchestra Hall, and we look forward to sharing fabulous music with our wonderful audiences!"


The Minnesota Orchestra's 2020-21 season begins with Season Opening concerts on September 24, 25 and 26, led by Music Director Osmo Vänskä and featuring virtuoso pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet in James MacMillian's Piano Concerto No. 3, The Mysteries of Light. The opening concerts also include Berlioz' dramatic and show-stopping Symphonie fantastique. Other masterworks programmed throughout the season include Shostakovich's Symphonies No. 1 and No. 5, Bruckner's Seventh Symphony, Tchaikovsky's Pathétique Symphony, Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 1, Richard Strauss' Sinfonia domestica, Robert Schumann's Third Symphony, Ravel's La Valse, and Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and Missa Solemnis. Vänskä and the Orchestra will also perform Mahler's Third Symphony and Ninth Symphony, and both will be recorded by the BIS Records label as part of the ongoing Mahler Symphonies recording project.

In a special performance commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of World War II Nazi death camps, Vänskä and the Orchestra will reprise Stephen Paulus' To Be Certain of the Dawn, an oratorio with libretto by Michael Dennis Browne that the ensemble premiered in 2005 at the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis. Joining them onstage for this Orchestra Hall performance will be the Minnesota Chorale, Minnesota Boychoir, Basilica Cathedral Choir and Basilica Cathedral Choristers.

Throughout the classical subscription season, the Orchestra performs many works written by 21st-century composers and that are new to the Orchestra's repertoire. Among them are Anna Clyne's Within Her Arms, Sebastian Fagerlund's Ignite, James Lee III's Sukkot Through Orion's Nebula, Missy Mazzoli's Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres), Jessie Montgomery's Strum and Bent Sørensen's Evening Land. The Orchestra also presents the U.S. premiere of Through Lost Landscapes by Swedish composer Anders Hillborg and is one of the first to perform Pachamama Meets an Ode, a new work by American composer Gabriela Lena Frank, co-commissioned by Classical Movements on behalf of the Minnesota Orchestra.

Pianist Kirill Gerstein joins the Orchestra in October and December to continue the project that began in March of this year, featuring Gerstein as soloist for Rachmaninoff's major works for piano and orchestra with the Minnesota Orchestra. Gerstein plays the Fourth Concerto in October under the direction of Osmo Vänskä and the Third Concerto in December with conductor Xian Zhang.

Continuing in the style of the January 2016 Beethoven Marathon and January 2019 Tchaikovsky Festival, the Minnesota Orchestra will offer three weeks of music by Antonín Dvo?ák in a January 2021 Dvo?ák Festival. Over the course of the Festival, Osmo Vänskä and the musicians will perform the composer's Symphonies No. 7, 8 and 9; the Cello Concerto, featuring Principal Cello Anthony Ross; the Violin Concerto, featuring violinist James Ehnes; the Piano Concerto, featuring pianist Sunwook Kim; the Serenade for Strings and Serenade for Winds; and the Carnival Overture. The Festival will also include a special Symphony in 60 performance of Symphony No. 9, From the New World, led by Vänskä, and a Relaxed Family Concert showcasing more than one dozen selections of music by Dvo?ák. The Dvo?ák Festival begins with a performance on New Year's Eve-a special concert that includes an after-party in the Orchestra Hall lobby-and a matinee performance on New Year's Day for those who prefer to ring in the New Year during the daylight hours.

New works by young composers will receive their first major orchestral performances during May's MusicMakers concert, which is the culminating experience of the Orchestra's 18th annual Composer Institute, led by Composer Institute director and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts. Composers and works will be announced at a later date.

Two additional special concerts are scheduled for February 2021. The first is a one-night-only program dedicated to celebrating the Lunar New Year, a holiday centered around new beginnings, good health, fortune and unity that has been celebrated in China for more than three thousand years. The second is a collaborative performance with Minnesota's two largest youth orchestra programs: the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies and Minnesota Youth Symphonies. Both groups will join the Minnesota Orchestra onstage for side-by-side performances under the direction of Sarah Hicks.

Center Stage

The 2020-21 season features more than 30 internationally-acclaimed soloists, as well as two of Minnesota Orchestra's own musicians. Returning instrumental soloists include violinists James Ehnes, Karen Gomyo, Leonidas Kavakos and Baiba Skride; pianists Ingrid Fliter, Kirill Gerstein, Sunwook Kim, Juho Pohjonen, Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Simon Trp?eski; and cellists Truls Mørk and Johannes Moser. Performing with the Minnesota Orchestra for the first time are violinists Isabelle Faust, Tobias Feldmann and Ning Feng; pianist Olga Kern; and harpist Grace Roepke, who in 2019 became the first harpist to win the grand prize of Friends of the Minnesota Orchestra's Young Artist Competition.

In a season showcasing several major vocal and choral-orchestral works, the Orchestra welcomes many vocal soloists to the stage. Returning to Orchestra Hall are cantor Barry Abelson; soprano Carolyn Sampson; mezzos Christina Baldwin, Sasha Cooke, Michelle DeYoung and Kelley O'Connor; tenors Barry Banks and Siyabonga Maqungo; and bass-baritone Mark S. Doss. Making their debut appearances with the Minnesota Orchestra are sopranos Leah Brzyski and Melody Moore; tenor Joseph Leppek; and bass-baritones Gábor Bretz, Aaron Keeney and James Rutherford.

Two Minnesota Orchestra musicians will be featured as soloists in classical concerts. Erin Keefe, the Orchestra's concertmaster, shares the solo spotlight with Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen for Mendelssohn's Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra, and Principal Cello Anthony Ross performs Dvo?ák's Cello Concerto in the first concerts of the Dvo?ák Festival.

On the Podium

Returning to the podium this season are some of the world's finest conductors and friends of the Minnesota Orchestra, including Juanjo Mena, Donald Runnicles, Dima Slobodeniouk, Nathalie Stutzmann, Juraj Val?uha and Xian Zhang.

Making their conducting debuts with the Orchestra are David Afkham, chief conductor and artistic director of the Spanish National Orchestra and Choir; chief conductor of the Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam, Marc Albrecht; Quebec Symphony Orchestra's music director, Fabien Gabel; Christoph König, principal conductor and music director of the European Soloists of Luxembourg; chief conductor of the NDR Radiophilharmonie, Hannover, Andrew Manze; and Thomas Søndergård, music director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

Symphony in 60

Symphony in 60 concerts offer the full experience of a Minnesota Orchestra concert, with masterworks by classical music's greatest composers, in a shorter format that includes a one-hour-long performance and earlier start time at 6 p.m., plus extras including a pre-concert happy hour and post-concert onstage reception with the musicians. The 2020-21 season includes three of these casual format concerts: the first is led by Osmo Vänskä and takes place on January 16 as part of the Dvo?ák Festival, featuring Dvo?ák's Ninth Symphony, From the New World; the second, on February 27, features Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony, Pathétique, conducted by Nathalie Stutzmann. Vänskä also conducts the final Symphony in 60 concert of the season, on April 10, leading Brahms' Third Symphony.

Choral Collaborations

The Minnesota Chorale, the Orchestra's principal chorus, led by Kathy Saltzman Romey, will collaborate four times with the Orchestra in the 2020-21 season. The first collaboration takes place in October in performances of Stephen Paulus' oratorio To Be Certain of the Dawn (October 16-18). A few weeks later, the ensemble returns to Orchestra Hall for Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, Choral, joining the Orchestra for a continuing celebration of Beethoven's 250th anniversary year (November 5-7). In the spring, the women of the Minnesota Chorale will sing in concert and record Mahler's Third Symphony with Vänskä and the Orchestra (March 18-20), and then the full Chorale returns for performances of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis (June 17-19).

Several additional Minnesota choral ensembles will collaborate with the Orchestra during the season. Minneapolis' Basilica Cathedral Choir and Basilica Cathedral Choristers and the Minnesota Boychoir will perform in the October concerts of To Be Certain of the Dawn (October 16-18). The Minnesota Boychoir will also collaborate on the performance and recording of Mahler's Symphony No. 3 in March (March 18-20).


Vänskä and the Orchestra will continue an ongoing project to record all of Mahler's symphonies, performing and recording Mahler's Third Symphony in March 2021, joined by mezzo soloist Sasha Cooke and featuring the Minnesota Chorale and the Minnesota Boychoir. In addition, the Orchestra was originally scheduled to record Mahler's Ninth Symphony in June 2020 and has rescheduled those performances and recording sessions to June 2021.

Since June 2016, the Orchestra has recorded Mahler's Fifth, Sixth, Second, First, Fourth, Seventh and Tenth Symphonies. To date, five of the symphony recordings have been released by BIS Records, with the newest recording, featuring Mahler's Seventh Symphony, scheduled for release in June. Their recording of Mahler's Fifth Symphony received a 2018 Grammy nomination for Best Orchestral Performance.

Extending a longtime partnership with Minnesota Public Radio, the Orchestra's Friday evening classical concerts will be broadcast live regionally on Classical MPR stations, with host Melissa Ousley.


The Minnesota Orchestra's Common Chords program, which began in 2011, has brought the Orchestra to communities across Minnesota for week-long residencies focused on musical collaboration and education. In 2021, the Orchestra will travel on a Minnesota state tour, re-visiting several of the cities where it has held residencies in past seasons. Details about the 2021 Minnesota Common Chords tour will be announced at a later date.


New in the 2020-21 Holiday season is a special concert featuring stage and screen star vocalist Audra McDonald in a one-night-only show with the entire Minnesota Orchestra. The December 22 concert, conducted by leading Broadway music director Andy Einhorn, will include holiday classics as well as Broadway hits, art songs and pop tunes. Home for the Holidays-a concert led by Sarah Hicks, written and narrated by playwright-storyteller Kevin Kling and directed by Twin Cities-based theater director Peter Rothstein-returns for a fourth season, with original stories, music and Minnesota traditions (December 18-20). The Holiday season also features the audience favorite Merry and Bright with Charles Lazarus, now in its sixth year at Orchestra Hall (December 5), and a return visit by pianist-composer George Winston (December 21).


The Live at Orchestra Hall series presents performances and collaborations with great artists from across the world, as well as live performances of film scores while the major motion pictures are shown in high definition on a large screen above the stage. Many of these concerts are conducted by Sarah Hicks, the Orchestra's principal conductor of Live at Orchestra Hall.

"The Minnesota Orchestra is an ensemble that makes great music-whether that music is by Gustav Mahler or John Williams or Dan Wilson," says Director of Live at Orchestra Hall Grant Meachum. "The 2020-21 Live at Orchestra Hall season features classic and contemporary film music, Twin Cities songwriting and theatrical legends, and plenty of Broadway and Americana."

Highlights of the Live at Orchestra Hall season include a return visit by the U.S. Naval Academy Glee Club in Veterans Day celebration concerts with the Minnesota Orchestra (November 14); a Valentine's program comprising love songs and jazz originals with trumpet player Charles Lazarus and his accomplished jazz combo (February 13); a tribute to the women of Broadway, led by Sarah Hicks (January 31); a symphonic expedition with music and film, guided by television host and travel writer Rick Steves (March 12-13); and storytelling and songwriting with American music icon and Twin Cities native Dan Wilson, who rose to fame as a member of Minneapolis bands Trip Shakespeare and Semisonic (April 23-24). In addition, the Orchestra's recently-cancelled concerts with Cloud Cult, originally planned for March 2020, have been rescheduled for January 18 and 19, 2021, with limited tickets available.

Five incredible films are presented during the season, starting with a Minnesota Orchestra performance of John Williams' Oscar-nominated score to the 1983 film Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (October 8-11), conducted by Sarah Hicks. Also in October, Hicks conducts Disney's The Nightmare Before Christmas, featuring the music of Danny Elfman (October 23-24). A family favorite makes its first appearance at Orchestra Hall in November, when the Orchestra performs the score to Disney Pixar's Toy Story (November 28-29). The Orchestra continues its performances of the beloved Harry Potter series with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth installment of the film series (January 22 through 24). In an unusual twist for the Movies and Music series, the final movie concert of the 2020-21 season presents a silent film from 1925, Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin, set to a selection of great orchestral repertoire compiled by Nate Farrington and Sebastian Chang.


The Orchestra's Chamber Music series presents four Sunday afternoon concerts that are designed by the musicians and showcase small ensembles made up of Orchestra members. Three of the four concerts are held in the intimate setting of Orchestra Hall's Target Atrium (November 22, February 7 and April 25) and the Chamber Music finale will be performed onstage in the main auditorium (June 13). The 2020-21 season repertoire includes classics such as string quintets by Mozart, Dvo?ák and Mendelssohn; rarely-heard works such as Louis Spohr's Nonet, Walton's Suite from Façade and Hindemith's Sonata for Bass and Piano; and contemporary compositions new to the chamber music series such as Du Yun's Tattooed in Snow for string quartet and Andrew Norman's Gran Turismo for Eight Virtuoso Violinists.


Upholding one of the Orchestra's longest-standing concert series, the Orchestra will present five different Young People's Concert programs over the course of 22 total concerts. These concerts are created for students of a variety of ages from grade one through six, and include programs such as Symphony Spooktacular, featuring In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre and two works new to the Orchestra by Gabriela Lena Frank and Anna Clyne; Scheherazade, showcasing Rimsky-Korsakov's symphonic suite and featuring dancers from Black Label Movement; Philharmonia Fantastique, featuring new music by Mason Bates accompanied by a short film and a performance by the 2020 YPSCA Concerto Competition winner, violinist Catherine Carson; Taking a Stand Through Music, with works by Michael Abels, William Grant Still and Dame Ethyl Smith; and Musical Building Blocks. Young People's Concerts are scheduled during the school day and provide an educational field trip opportunity for students across Minnesota.

Two of these programs-Symphony Spooktacular (October 25) and Philharmonia Fantastique (February 21)-as well as an additional Family-designed program celebrating the music of Dvo?ák (January 10), will be performed for the general public as Relaxed Family Concerts on Sunday afternoons. Chia-Hsuan Lin conducts the October 25 concert, Osmo Vänskä conducts the program on January 10 and Sarah Hicks conducts the concert on February 21. Relaxed Family Concerts are one hour in length and are sensory-friendly experiences designed for audiences of all ages and abilities, including individuals on the autism spectrum and those with sensory sensitivities. These concerts feature the full Minnesota Orchestra along with special guests.

Smaller-scale Sensory-Friendly Concerts take place in the Target Atrium four times during the season (October 3, November 14, April 13 and May 22), and feature individual musicians or small ensembles, in addition to offering opportunities for audience members to perform.

Symphonic Adventures brings the entire Orchestra to metro-area high schools for one-hour concerts designed especially for secondary students. Each program is hosted by Orchestra violist Sam Bergman, who introduces students to the music, musicians and key concepts throughout the performance. The 2020-21 Symphonic Adventures season will include visits to four area schools. The schedule will be announced at a later date.


Minnesota Orchestra continues its Music and Mindfulness program throughout the 2020-21 season. This program includes the Yoga Class at Orchestra Hall and Music and Meditation series. Yoga at Orchestra Hall classes are offered three times during the season. Each class is held in Orchestra Hall's lobby and led by a certified yoga instructor, featuring live music performed by a Minnesota Orchestra musician or duo (November 8, February 14 and April 25). For the second year, this series also features three Music and Meditation sessions, presented in collaboration with the University of Minnesota's Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing. Each one-hour session takes place onstage at Orchestra Hall and features music performed by an Orchestra musician or small ensemble with guided meditation led by Mariann Johnson from the University of Minnesota (January 25, February 22 and April 5).

All programs are subject to change.


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