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Midwest Tour: Indiana and Michigan

Midwest Tour: Indiana and Michigan

From January 20 to 25, 2020, the Minnesota Orchestra traveled on a Midwestern U.S. tour that featured an immersive residency at Indiana University, as well as the Orchestra's first performance at the University of Michigan since 1972. Below are daily updates from the road on the tour's activities, including masterclasses, side-by-side rehearsals and other highlights.

Monday, January 20

More than 300 students from Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music showed up with instruments in hand on a school holiday Monday evening to participate in masterclasses and sectionals with musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, kicking off the Orchestra’s multi-day residency at Indiana University. Spread throughout four buildings on the school’s impressive campus, musicians led two-hour sessions for each instrument of the orchestra.

In one large rehearsal room, the four members of the Orchestra’s low brass section performed for more than 40 students, before each taking a turn to give up their seats so that student musicians had a chance to join the section to rehearse orchestral excerpts. Principal Trombone R. Douglas Wright explained to the group that a great orchestral colleague should have a “sixth sense”—the intuition to quickly adapt and fit in well with a section—and this class provided a great opportunity for the young musicians attending to practice just that.

Across the hall, Associate Principal Viola Sabina Thatcher worked one-on-one with violists while members of the studio observed.

Principal Trumpet Manny Laureano played alongside a young trumpet player, applauding his technical abilities and encouraging him to play the selected excerpt as loud as he possibly could.

Kathy Kienzle, Minnesota Orchestra’s principal harpist, sat side-by-side with a young harpist to help her with techniques specifically involving her left hand in Verdi’s La Forza del Destino.

Orchestra audition practice was the main topic in many of these sessions, particularly in the violin masterclass led by Concertmaster Erin Keefe and Principal Second Violin Peter McGuire, where the standard audition screen was brought in and students of former Minnesota Orchestra Concertmaster Jorja Fleezanis, who left the Orchestra in 2009 to become a professor of violin and director of orchestral studies at Indiana University, participated in a mock audition. Keefe and McGuire listened from behind the screen and offered feedback after a round of candidates performed their solos and excerpts.

Down the hall, Orchestra horn players Michael Gast, Herbert Winslow and Brian Jensen coached several Indiana University horn sections on repertoire they will be performing at upcoming concerts.

Principal Timpani Erich Rieppel is a recent graduate of the Jacobs School of Music, and he was welcomed back to his alma mater with a room packed to the walls with young percussionists. Rieppel and Principal Percussion Brian Mount also led a mock audition and provided feedback to the students.

In another crowded classroom, Principal Clarinet Gabriel Campos Zamora encouraged a group of wide-eyed clarinetists to find their own voice within the music: “When you are playing anything, I’d rather you have a strong musical point of view that I disagree with than no point of view at all.”

Principal Oboe John Snow worked with an oboist, emphasizing articulations and expanding her dynamic range.

Tuesday, January 21

On Tuesday morning, two string quartets made up of Minnesota Orchestra musicians visited Fairview Elementary School and Batchelor Middle School in Bloomington, Indiana, in partnership with the Indiana University Auditorium's outreach initiatives in the Bloomington community. 

At Fairview, Hanna Landrum, Emily Switzer, Minji Choi and Kenneth Freed played for a classroom of very young students, inviting them to clap along with the rhythms and to ask questions about the instruments. 

At Batchelor Middle School, students from the school's band and orchestra programs were invited to sit on stage with the musicians. Violist Richard Marshall asked the students to observe up close how they interacted throughout the performance and how they played as though they were having conversations with each other. The students commented on how they could physically feel so much more of the music by sitting that close to the quartet. 

Music teacher Joel Brainard asked for advice about the differences between playing in a chamber ensemble versus a full band or orchestra, as many of his students are playing in small groups for the first time this year. Violinist Michael Sutton asked the other quartet members to turn around and play with their backs facing each other to demonstrate how valuable internal rhythm is to playing in a chamber ensemble.

As has become a tradition for the Minnesota Orchestra, Tuesday evening's activities included a side-by-side rehearsal with the Indiana University Symphony Orchestra.

Each music stand across the stage at IU Auditorium was shared by a Minnesota Orchestra musician and his or her counterpart from the IU Symphony.

Music Director Osmo Vänskä led the combined orchestras through Wagner's Prelude to Die Meistersinger and Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. 

Wednesday, January 22

Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen, who performed in the Minnesota Orchestra's season opening concerts in September 2019, now joins the Orchestra in Bloomington, Indiana, to perform Grieg's Piano Concerto Wednesday night. Indiana University Auditorium has recently purchased a new Steinway D Concert Grand Piano, and Wednesday night's concert will be the premiere performance on this new instrument.

Minnesota Orchestra musicians who attended Indiana University. (Missing: Principal Percussion Brian Mount)

Music Director Osmo Vänskä with a class of IU conducting students. 

Minnesota Orchestra Music Director Osmo Vänskä and pianist Juho Pohjonen performed at IU Auditorium on Wednesday night. The concert opened with Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 3 before Pohjonen took the stage to play Grieg's Piano Concerto in the inaugural performance on the auditorium's new Steinway D Concert Grand Piano. Each key that Pohjonen struck on the shiny new instrument sparkled all the way to the back row of the venue.  After intermission, the Orchestra shared one of its signature symphonies, Sibelius' Fifth, and followed it with the same composer's Valse Triste as an encore. 

Thursday, January 23

Orchestra President and CEO Michelle Miller Burns visited a class of Arts Administration graduate students on Thursday afternoon for a discussion about career paths, leadership and fundraising in the arts industry. Burns emphasized the value of learning about and adapting to the culture of your institution and community, and highlighting the importance of finding ways to invest in and further your organization’s overall mission.

Saturday, January 25

2,500 people came out to Hill Auditorium at the University of Michigan on Saturday night to hear an all-Sibelius program performed by the Orchestra and Music Director Osmo Vänskä. The UMS Choral Union joined them to sing Sibelius’ Snöfrid for the opening piece.

Finnish violinist Elina Vähälä took center stage for a riveting performance of Sibelius’ Violin Concerto. Vähälä last played with the Minnesota Orchestra in Minneapolis in September 2017.

Vänskä led the Orchestra in Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony and the evening concluded with an encore, Valse Triste from Kuolema.

Principal Librarian and University of Michigan alumna Maureen Conroy attaches a Michigan decal to the Orchestra’s traveling library case.

Minnesota Orchestra members who attended the University of Michigan.



  • 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.
    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.
  • Official Airline of the Minnesota Orchestra
    Official Airline of the Minnesota Orchestra