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The Minnesota Orchestra is an American orchestra based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Founded in 1903, the Minnesota Orchestra plays most of its concerts at Minneapolis's Orchestra Hall.
Osmo Vänskä is the music director. Andrew Litton is the artistic director of the Orchestra's yearly Sommerfest concert series, and Stanislaw Skrowaczewski is Conductor Laureate.
Emil Oberhoffer founded the orchestra as the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra in 1903, and it gave its first performance on November 5 of that year. In 1968, the orchestra changed its name to the Minnesota Orchestra. It makes its home in downtown Minneapolis at Orchestra Hall, which was built for the ensemble in 1974. The orchestra's previous hall, starting in 1929, was Northrop Memorial Auditorium on the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus.
In 2007 the Minnesota Orchestra's assets began declining, a trend exacerbated by the financial crisis of 2007-2008. In August 2008, the Minnesota Orchestra Association's invested assets totaled $168.5 million, 13% less than the $192.4 million the Association had projected in its 2007 Strategic Plan. In fiscal year 2009, the Minnesota Orchestra's board "sold $28.7 million in securities at a nearly $14 million loss".
During 2009 and 2010, the orchestra's board reported a balanced budget and drew on its endowment to cover operational deficits. At the time, it was trying to secure $16 million in state bonding for renovations of Orchestra Hall and Peavey Plaza. The orchestra posted operational deficits of $2.9 million in 2011 and $6 million in 2012.
On October 1, 2012, the Minnesota Orchestral Association (the orchestra's governing body) locked out the orchestra's musicians and canceled concerts through November 18 after failing to reach a new collective bargaining agreement. The MOA stated that spending on musician salaries and benefits was depleting the organization's endowment, and that labor costs needed to be reduced by $5 million per year. The musicians and their union took the position that the proposed cuts were so deep and draconian as to represent an existential threat to the future of the orchestra.
The entire 2012-13 concert season was canceled. During the lockout, the musicians periodically presented concerts on their own, In December 2012, Vänskä sent a letter to the board of directors and the musicians warning that the lockout was causing severe damage to the orchestra's reputation at home and abroad. On April 30, 2013, Vänskä stated he would resign if the lockout continued: "I must make it clear that in the case Carnegie Hall chooses to cancel the Minnesota Orchestra's concerts this November, i.e. if they lose confidence in our ability to perform ... then I will be forced to resign". He acted on this threat on October 1, 2013, by resigning with immediate effect.
On October 4 and 5, Vänskä conducted three final concerts with the locked-out orchestra at the University of Minnesota's Ted Mann Concert Hall; Emanuel Ax took the solo part in piano concertos by Mozart and Beethoven, and the program ended with Stravinsky's Firebird Suite. As an encore, Vänskä conducted Sibelius's Valse Triste, which he described as a dance of death. At his request, the audience withheld applause afterward; many reportedly left in tears.
On January 14, 2014, the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra announced that they had reached a collective bargaining agreement with the Minnesota Orchestra Association to end the lockout on February 1, 2014. Concerts resumed at Orchestra Hall in February. On April 24, 2014, it was announced that Osmo Vänskä would return to his post as musical director for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.
In May 2015 the Minnesota Orchestra performed in Havana, Cuba, as a result of the Cuban Thaw, becoming the first professional U.S. orchestra to play in Cuba since 1999.
The orchestra has garnered significant critical praise, including a 2010 description from The New Yorker's Alex Ross as sounding, on one particular evening, like "the greatest orchestra in the world."
Music directors and conductors:
Emil Oberhoffer (1903-22),
Henri Verbrugghen (1923-31),
Eugene Ormandy (1931-36),
Dimitri Mitropoulos (1937-49),
Antal Doráti (1949-60),
Stanisław Skrowaczewski (1960-79),
Neville Marriner (1979-86),
Edo de Waart (1986-95),
Eiji Oue (1995-2002),
Osmo Vänskä (2003-13; 2014-),
As of 2015, the Minnesota Orchestra's principal players are:
Erin Keefe, concertmaster,
Jonathan Magness, acting principal second violin,
Thomas Turner, principal viola,
Anthony Ross, principal cello,
Kristen Bruya, principal bass,
Adam Kuenzel, principal flute,
John Snow, acting principal oboe,
Gregory T. Williams, acting principal clarinet and E-flat clarinet,
John Miller, Jr, principal bassoon,
Michael Gast, principal horn,
Manny Laureano, principal trumpet,
R. Douglas Wright, principal trombone,
Steven Campbell, principal tuba,
Peter Kogan, principal timpani,
Brian Mount, principal percussion,
Kathy Kienzle, principal harp,
Paul Gunther, principal librarian,
The orchestra first began recording in 1924, and produced some landmark records. Among these was the first electrical recording of Mahler's Resurrection Symphony with Eugene Ormandy, who recorded extensively with the orchestra for RCA Victor in the 1930s. In the 1940s, the Minneapolis Symphony was contracted to Columbia Records and made a series of records with Ormandy's successor, Dimitri Mitropoulos. These included the premiere recording of Mahler's First Symphony. Beginning in 1954 and continuing on through 1955, the group made the first complete recordings of Tchaikovsky's three ballets: Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker under the baton of Antal Doráti. In 1954, they also made the first recording of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture to include actual cannon fire, again under Doráti's direction. These recordings were made for Mercury Records as part of the Living Presence series. In the 1970s, the renamed Minnesota Orchestra made a series of recordings for Vox Records under the direction of Stanisław Skrowaczewski. In the 1990s, the orchestra recorded for the Reference Recordings label under the direction of music director Eiji Oue. More recently Osmo Vänskä has conducted a cycle of the Beethoven symphonies and begun a cycle of the Sibelius symphonies, both for the Swedish label BIS. Their recording of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, with the Minnesota Chorale, was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance in 2007, as was their recording of Sibelius's Second and Fifth Symphonies in 2012. On January 26, 2014, the Minnesota Orchestra and Vänskä won the Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance for their recording of Sibelius's 1st and 4th symphonies. In January 2015, the orchestra announced that it would complete its recordings of the Sibelius symphonies, to be released in 2016.
Begun in 1980 with Leonard Slatkin at the helm, the orchestra's summer festival has been known by several names, beginning with "Viennese Sommerfest," changing to "MusicFest" in 2001, and eventually reverting to "Sommerfest" in 2003. Sommerfest concerts are held at Orchestra Hall over a four-week period in midsummer. The orchestra also offers free live music on the plaza before and after each show, in genres varying from folk to jazz to polka. Slatkin was Music Director of Sommerfest from 1980 to 1989. Since 2003, Andrew Litton has been Music Director, and in June 2008, his contract in this post was extended to 2011.