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Minnesota Orchestra Announces Plans for Sommerfest 2017, Celebrating Andrew Litton and Doc Severinsen

Andrew Litton announces his final season as Sommerfest Artistic Director

Sommerfest programs feature André Watts, NYC Ballet dancers, a Waltz concert and Strauss’ opera Salome

Two Sommerfest concerts celebrate Doc Severinsen’s 90th Birthday

Click here for a complete Summer 2017 Calendar. (PDF)  Browse online schedule.

The Minnesota Orchestra announces plans today for Sommerfest 2017, unveiling a celebratory summer festival in which the Orchestra salutes two of its artistic leaders: Doc Severinsen on his 90th birthday, and Sommerfest Artistic Director Andrew Litton, who has announced that this summer will mark his final season as the head of the festival. Running from July 3 to August 5, Minnesota Orchestra’s summer season includes two tribute concerts to Pops Conductor Laureate Severinsen; performances by Litton and his friends André Watts, William Wolfram and New York City Ballet dancers; and culminates with the opera Litton has long wanted to conduct in Minnesota, Strauss’ Salome. The summer season also involves the annual Symphony for the Cities concerts, two previously announced regular season programs and the return of the Minnesota Orchestra Fantasy Camp.

Andrew Litton’s tenure as artistic director of the Minnesota Orchestra’s Sommerfest is the longest in the festival’s history, spanning 2003 to 2017. “It has been one of the great joys of my career to lead Sommerfest,” says Litton.  “I have always connected with the spirit of this festival and the curiosity and enthusiasm of its audiences. I value beyond measure my partnership with the exceptional musicians of this Orchestra, and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished together.” Litton, who recently began an appointment as music director of the New York City Ballet, will continue to conduct the Minnesota Orchestra in its 2017-18 classical season, appearing in June to lead performances of Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast.

“Andrew has become a part of Minnesota Orchestra history for his 15-year leadership of Sommerfest,” says President and CEO Kevin Smith. “His prodigious skills as a conductor and pianist and his uncommon gift for communicating with audiences will leave a real legacy. In light of Andrew’s announcement, the Orchestra will take time over the next year to assess programming and leadership plans for future Sommerfests.”

SOMMERFEST 2017: A Summer of Celebrations

Celebrating Doc Severinsen

The Minnesota Orchestra opens Sommerfest with two concerts in recognition of Pops Conductor Laureate Doc Severinsen, who first conducted the Orchestra in 1965, served for 14 years as Principal Pops Conductor and has been the ensemble’s Pops Conductor Laureate since 2007.

Music Director Osmo Vänskä conducts A Severinsen Celebration concert, hosted by Severinsen himself, during which the Orchestra will perform Doc’s Symphony, a unique combination of movements from Doc’s all-time favorite classical works (July 21). Minnesota native Andrew Staupe will also appear on this program as soloist in the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto. Then, the next evening, Principal Conductor of Live at Orchestra Hall Sarah Hicks conducts A Big Band Birthday Bash, celebrating Severinsen’s 90th birthday with musical surprises, guest artists and more (July 22).

Celebrating Andrew Litton

In his celebratory final Sommerfest season, Litton conducts four different programs with the Orchestra and performs alongside Orchestra musicians in a chamber concert. Two guest soloists who are friends of Litton join the conductor and ensemble in back-to-back concerts. First, André Watts performs MacDowell’s Second Piano Concerto in a program that is bookended by elegant pieces from Tchaikovsky (July 28). The following night, William Wolfram plays Tchaikovsky’s Third Piano Concerto in a program that includes a large selection of waltzes and polkas from the Strauss family—a nod to the much-loved Viennese programs Litton has conducted at Sommerfest in past seasons (July 29). And in an afternoon chamber concert, Litton plays sonatas on the piano along with several Orchestra musicians (July 30).

Sharing artistry from his new post in New York, Litton invites four dancers from New York City Ballet to join the Minnesota Orchestra for a performance of George Gershwin’s Who Cares? (August 4), a ballet choreographed to a collection of the composer’s popular songs including I Got Rhythm, Embraceable You and The Man I Love . Lastly, as is tradition, the Sommerfest Finale will be a complete concert performance of an opera—this season, it is Richard Strauss’ opera Salome, a work that Litton has always wanted to lead in Minnesota. The performance of Salome features Patricia Racette as Salome, as well as virtuoso vocalists Dennis Petersen, Stephen Powell, Denyce Graves-Montgomery, and an all-star cast of vocalists both new and returning to the Orchestra Hall stage (August 5); Gregory Keller will direct this new concert staging of Salome.

“Programming our busy summer schedule is a challenge each season, and Andrew has always had the incredible talent of navigating the twists and turns quickly and easily,” says Associate Principal Flute and Artistic Advisory Committee Co-Chair Greg Milliren. “His natural creativity and musicianship have been enormous assets to Sommerfest for 15 years. We are pleased that in his final Sommerfest with us, we will be presenting world-renowned soloists and spectacular orchestral showpieces, along with stunning chamber music.”

Litton’s Sommerfest History

Andrew Litton’s connection to Sommerfest extends to the early years of the festival and of his own career. He first led the Minnesota Orchestra in a Viennese Waltz program in 1984, while Leonard Slatkin, Sommerfest’s founding Artistic Director, headed Sommerfest. Like Slatkin, Litton is a versatile conductor and pianist who has consistently brought these dual talents to the festival.

Litton’s leadership led to a resurgence of Sommerfest when he became its artistic director in 2003, during the Orchestra’s Centennial Season. He helped to reinvigorate the lively spirit of the festival by introducing late-night concerts, jazz programming, a return to the Festival’s chamber music concerts and its popular Opera Finale. He has collaborated with Orchestra musicians in dozens of chamber music works and often served as piano soloist with the Orchestra, performing Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, and Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F and Rhapsody in Blue frequently over the course of the festival. Particularly renowned for his skills as an opera conductor, his last-night-of-Sommerfest opera performance has become a highly anticipated event. Over his tenure, Litton has conducted Fidelio, Carmen, La Bohème, La Traviata, Aïda, Tosca, Der Rosenkavalier, Rigoletto, Die Fledermaus, Madame Butterfly and Otello. 

Sommerfest leadership has included the festival’s founder Leonard Slatkin (1980-89), Michael Steinberg (1990-1992), David Zinman (1993-1996), Jeffrey Tate (1997-2000), and then in 2001 and 2002 a new format introduced a variety of conductors to the festival. Andrew Litton first took the helm in 2003, making him the longest-serving Artistic Director of the festival.

Sommerfest Vendors and Partners

At all summer concerts from July 13 to August 5, audiences are invited to enjoy an array of food and beverage options, including a pre-concert Happy Hour, served outdoors on Peavey Plaza and in the Orchestra Hall lobby, while listening to free live music by local artists including The Jeremy Walker Trio, Patty and the Buttons, Minnesota Orchestra Band (a classical rock cover band made up of Minnesota Orchestra musicians) and pianist Chris Lomheim. Among the vendors participating in this year’s Sommerfest are Kramarczuk’s, T-Rex Cookie Company, Blue Moon at the State Fair and Cavalcade Creamery.

As part of Sommerfest, all outdoor and lobby entertainment pre- and post-concert is open to the public. A ticket is only required for entry to the evening’s full Orchestra performance in the auditorium.

Other Minnesota Orchestra Summer Concerts

In addition to the newly-announced events of Sommerfest, the Orchestra’s summer calendar features several additional concerts in the community and at Orchestra Hall. First are the beloved outdoor Symphony for the Cities concerts from July 3 to 9. These performances, which are free and open to the public, feature the Minnesota Orchestra performing at outdoor venues in Minneapolis, Plymouth, Winona* and Hudson (Wisc.).

Concluding the 2016-17 Live at Orchestra Hall and Inside the Classics seasons, Sarah Hicks conducts two programs. First, she leads the Orchestra in Michael Giacchino’s score for the 2009 blockbuster movie Star Trek as the complete film is shown on the large screen (July 13-14).  Then, she and violist-host Sam Bergman present an Inside the Classics concert exploring Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony (July 15).     

Returning for the first time since 2011 is the recently-announced Minnesota Orchestra Fantasy Camp, which brings community musicians to Orchestra Hall to rehearse and perform side-by-side with Minnesota Orchestra musicians. The Fantasy Camp runs for three days, culminating in a collaborative performance of Berlioz’ Roman Carnival Overture, led by Music Director Osmo Vänskä. This performance is part of the Orchestra’s 2017-18 Season Sampler concert, which is conducted by Sarah Hicks (July 20). Application materials are available at


Sommerfest tickets are available in advance for current Minnesota Orchestra subscribers, groups of 10 or more, or when purchased in a Create Your Own Series package starting on Friday, March 10, 2017. Individual tickets go on sale beginning on Friday, April 7, 2017, online at and by calling 612-371-5656 (612-371-5642 for subscriptions) or 800-292-4141. Packages and tickets can be purchased in person at the Orchestra Hall Box Office, 1111 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis (open Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and beginning two hours before all ticketed performances); and at the Minnesota Orchestra Administrative Office, International Centre, 5th floor, 920 Second Avenue South, Minneapolis (open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). For more information, call 612-371-5656, or visit For packages, call 612-371-5642 or visit For groups of 10 or more, call 612-371-5662.

All programs, artists, dates, times and prices subject to change.

 *The Orchestra’s performance on Thursday, July 6th, is presented as part of the 11th season of the
Minnesota Beethoven Festival, a classical music festival held from July 6 to July 23 in Winona, Minnesota.
For more information, visit

The Star Tribune is the Minnesota Orchestra’s media partner for the 2016-17 season.

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.



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Minneapolis, Minnesota 55403
Phone: 612.371.5600
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