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VÄNSKÄ CONDUCTS A NEW YEAR’S CELEBRATION

Livestream and broadcast performance without in-person audience. 

Osmo Vänskä conducts the final four works on the program.


This program series is made possible in part by a generous lead gift from 
Kathryn and Charles Cunningham.
 

Co-sponsored by Dr. Rick and Jean Simmons.

Artists

Program

    • James M. Stephenson
    • Fanfare for an Angel
      • Douglas C. Carlsen, trumpet
      • Charles Lazarus, trumpet
      • Michael Gast, horn
      • R. Douglas Wright, trombone
      • Steven Campbell, tuba
    • ca. 3’
    • Johann Sebastian Bach/arr. Michael Levine
    • My Spirit Be Joyful, from Cantata No. 146
      • Douglas C. Carlsen, trumpet
      • Charles Lazarus, trumpet
      • Michael Gast, horn
      • R. Douglas Wright, trombone
      • Steven Campbell, tuba
    • ca. 4’
    • Traditional/arr. Dean Sorenson
    • The Little Child (Det Lisle Bånet)
      • Douglas C. Carlsen, trumpet
      • Charles Lazarus, trumpet
      • Michael Gast, horn
      • R. Douglas Wright, trombone
      • Steven Campbell, tuba
    • ca. 4’
    • Wolfgang Amadè Mozart
    • Serenade No. 11 in E-flat major, K. 375
      • I. Allegro maestoso
      • II. Menuetto I
      • III. Adagio
      • IV. Menuetto II
      • V. Allegro
        • John Snow, oboe
        • Marni J. Hougham, oboe
        • David Pharris, clarinet
        • Timothy Zavadil, clarinet
        • Fei Xie, bassoon
        • J. Christopher Marshall, bassoon
        • Ellen Dinwiddie Smith, horn
        • Michael Petruconis, horn
    • ca. 25’
    • Jessie Montgomery
    • Starburst
      • Osmo Vänskä, conductor
    • ca. 3’
    • Ulysses Kay
    • Scottish Dance, Waltz and Galop, from Six Dances for String Orchestra
      • Osmo Vänskä, conductor
    • ca. 8’
    • Antonín Dvořák
    • Nocturne in B major for String Orchestra, Opus 40
      • Osmo Vänskä, conductor
    • ca. 9’
    • Johann Strauss, Jr., and Josef Strauss
    • Pizzicato Polka
      • Osmo Vänskä, conductor
    • ca. 3’

Profiles

Minnesota Orchestra

The Grammy Award-winning Minnesota Orchestra, founded in 1903 and led since its centennial by Music Director Osmo Vänskä, is recognized for distinguished performances around the world, award-winning recordings, radio broadcasts, educational engagement programs, and commitment to building the orchestral repertoire of the future. The Orchestra tours regularly throughout Minnesota and nationally, and has also toured abroad in Australia, Canada, East Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and South Africa. It performs a wide variety of music at nearly 175 concerts in a typical year, primarily at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. Its 2020-21 concert season began in October with a series of Friday night concerts in Orchestra Hall featuring smaller ensembles of Minnesota Orchestra musicians performing for TV, radio and online audiences, a series that will continue with two concerts in January and another two in March. In addition, in February the Orchestra will present a new Young People’s Concert Experience for online viewing.

At Home Video Collection

Osmo Vänskä, conductor

Since becoming the Orchestra’s music director in 2003, Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä has led the ensemble on several major international tours, including historic tours to Cuba and South Africa and six visits to Europe. His recording projects with the Orchestra have met with great success, including a disc of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony issued in summer 2020. In January 2020 Vänskä began a new tenure as music director of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra. He is also the honorary conductor of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. Vänskä, who began his music career as a clarinetist, has recorded Bernhard Henrik Crusell’s three Clarinet Quartets and Kalevi Aho’s Clarinet Quintet for the BIS label and is in the process of recording several duos for clarinet and violin which he has commissioned with his wife, violinist Erin Keefe.

Read More

Sarah Hicks, host

Sarah Hicks, the Minnesota Orchestra’s principal conductor of Live at Orchestra Hall, has led a broad range of programs since joining the Orchestra as assistant conductor in 2006. This fall she has served as host of the “This Is Minnesota Orchestra” series of Friday night live concert broadcasts. Her other notable projects with the Orchestra have included co-creating the Inside the Classics and Sam & Sarah series with Orchestra violist Sam Bergman; conducting a live-in-concert recording with singer-rapper Dessa, released in 2019 on the Doomtree Records label; leading numerous original Orchestra programs including Home for the Holidays, A Musical Feast and A Scandinavian Christmas; and conducting many of the Orchestra’s Movies & Music concerts. Away from Orchestra Hall, she recently conducted performances of Disney Pixar’s Coco at the Hollywood Bowl as well as the orchestra in ABC’s live televised production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid.

Read More

Program notes

  • Fanfare for an Angel

    James M. Stephenson

    • Born
      February 4, 1969
      Joliet, Illinois

    Fanfare for an Angel

    • Premiered
      April 16, 2010 (original trumpet version)

    Students of creative writing are often advised to “write what you know,” using lived experiences as a starting point. In the music world, many composers are at the peak of their powers following this adage—writing for the instrument families in which they have performance experience. Tonight, as we eagerly ring in 2021, the program begins with a trio of brief works for brass quintet each written or arranged by a composer who started out as a brass performer.

     

    The first is Fanfare for an Angel by the prolific Illinois-based composer James M. Stephenson, a graduate of the New England Conservatory who played trumpet in professional orchestras for 17 years before turning full-time to composition. Minnesota Orchestra audiences last heard his music in June 2018 when Osmo Vänskä conducted the world premiere of his Pillars for four low brass soloists and orchestra.

     

    Stephenson’s catalog includes more than 60 works for brass ensembles, but is far from exclusive to the brass family. It also includes three symphonies; hundreds of additional works for orchestra, concert band, choir and solo performers; and concertos for nearly every standard string, wind and brass instrument (plus a novelty “concerto” for cell phone and orchestra). His recent projects include a new ballet score for the San Francisco Ballet, a work for bass trombone and orchestra premiered by the Chicago Symphony under the direction of Riccardo Muti, and works for the Cincinnati Symphony Pops and the “President’s Own” United States Marine Band, as well as multiple collaborations with the Grand Rapids Symphony for “pandemic-sized” orchestral concerts. A new fanfare he composed following last month’s election, titled Fanfare for Democracy, was recently recorded in Washington, D.C., for debut during the Presidential inauguration week in January 2021.

     

    “…in the heroic spirit”

    Stephenson originally conceived of Fanfare for an Angel in 2010 as a trumpet etude while undertaking an exercise to write an etude per day, noting that “the Winter Olympics were on at the time, and I strove to create something related to the heroic spirit of the games.”

     

    That same year, a musical acquaintance of Stephenson’s, trumpet player and teacher Jeanne Pocius, was in Haiti working with young musicians when a devastating earthquake struck. Stephenson recalls that “even with a severely injured leg, she remained there to help those in dire need. A group of trumpeters asked for me to compose a fanfare they might play in the Boston Logan Airport terminal to honor her, and surprise her upon her arrival back in the states after her services in Haiti. Short on time, I remembered the heroic fanfare nature of that etude, and added accompanying trumpet parts and delivered it to the group to rehearse and perform for Jeanne.”

     

    In the past 10 years, Fanfare for an Angel has become one of Stephenson’s most popular works, receiving performances around the globe, and the composer has transcribed it for many different instrumentations, including trumpet and organ, trombone quartet, concert band, brass ensemble and the brass quintet version heard tonight.

     

    Instrumentation: 2 trumpets, horn, trombone and tuba

     

    Program note by Carl Schroeder.

  • My Spirit Be Joyful, from Cantata No. 146

    Johann Sebastian Bach/arr. Michael Levine

    • Born
      March 31, 1685
      Eisenach, Germany
    • Died
      July 28, 1750
      Leipzig, Germany

    My Spirit Be Joyful, from Cantata No. 146

    • Composed
      ca. 1726-28 (original Bach cantata)

    During Johann Sebastian Bach’s career as a church music director and organist, including 27 years as Kapellmeister in Leipzig, he composed and performed more than 200 sacred cantatas. These settings of religious texts for solo singers, choir, orchestra, and organ or other keyboard instrument were specially tailored for each Sunday or other holy day in the Christian church year. In composing new cantatas with such great frequency (a new cantata was required each week in Bach’s early Leipzig years), Bach often repurposed or transcribed existing musical material.

     

    Nearly 300 years later, composers and arrangers are continuing the cycle of repurposing by making their own adaptations of Bach’s vast musical output, among them Michael Levine’s brass quintet arrangement of My Spirit Be Joyful from Bach’s Cantata No. 146, Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal, which translates as “We must pass through great sadness.” Likely composed in 1726 or 1728, the original cantata marked the third Sunday after Easter, known as Jubilate Sunday, when Christians continue the 50-day Easter celebration of Christ’s resurrection. The eight-movement Cantata No. 146 explores suffering in the world before ending with the hope of finding joy in God’s kingdom.

     

    According to R. Douglas Wright, the Minnesota Orchestra’s principal trombone who helped select tonight’s brass repertoire, the context of the music in tonight’s concert is simple: “The joyful and uplifting energy in My Spirit Be Joyful is our quintet’s way of bidding farewell (and good riddance!) to 2020 and ushering in 2021 with hope and optimism.”

     

    About the arranger

    Minnesota native Michael Levine, a graduate of the University of Minnesota and the Juilliard School, is known for founding the Dallas Brass in 1983, playing trombone in the ensemble until 2015, and arranging numerous musical works. He continues to serve as artistic director of the Dallas Brass, but has since returned to Minnesota. Among his more recent projects is the creation of Harmony Bridge, a nationwide program designed to connect small ensembles of band students with people living in senior communities, using a library of some 70 arrangements—work which is continuing in modified form during the COVID-19 pandemic.

     

    Instrumentation: 2 trumpets, horn, trombone and tuba

     

    Program note by Carl Schroeder.

  • The Little Child (Det Lisle Bånet)

    Traditional/arr. Dean Sorenson

    • Born
      November 12, 1963
      Minneapolis, Minnesota

    The Little Child (Det Lisle Bånet)

    • Premiered
      2018

    Concluding our concert’s opening trilogy of brass quintet music is Dean Sorenson’s arrangement of the traditional Norse folk song The Little Child. The song tells the tale of a farmer who departs for a feast and foolishly leaves a fox in charge of his geese, with predictable results that leave the fox well-fed—but obligated to make restitution through gifts to the farmer’s child, according to one translation of the lyrics. Since tonight’s performance includes the music only, Principal Trombone R. Douglas Wright says: “…we won’t concern ourselves too much with the lyrics, but rather enjoy the festive spirit and driving energy of the music.”

     

    About the arranger

    Dean Sorenson—a leading figure in the Minnesota brass, jazz and music education scene—is a prolific composer, arranger, conductor, trombonist, author, educator and clinician who is assistant professor and director of jazz studies at the University of Minnesota’s School of Music. He has contributed numerous compositions and arrangements to Minnesota Orchestra concerts, particularly those masterminded by Orchestra trumpet player Charles Lazarus. He has also composed and arranged for the Glenn Miller Orchestra, the Airmen of Note and the United States Air Force Band, and he is active as a commissioned composer and arranger for jazz ensembles, concert bands, chamber ensembles and choirs. The next generation of musicians has honed their skills using his Standard of Excellence jazz performance and method books geared toward the elementary, middle school and high school music levels.

     

    Commenting on the arrangers of The Little Child and My Spirit Be Joyful, R. Douglas Wright notes: “Both Dean Sorenson and Michael Levine are good friends of our brass quintet and have each contributed numerous arrangements and transcriptions to our repertoire over the years. We are most appreciative to them both for their generosity and talents.”

     

    Instrumentation: 2 trumpets, horn, trombone and tuba

     

    Program note by Carl Schroeder.

  • Serenade No. 11 in E-flat major, K. 375

    Wolfgang Amadè Mozart

    • Born
      January 27, 1756
      Salzburg, Austria
    • Died
      December 5, 1791
      Vienna, Austria

    Serenade No. 11 in E-flat major, K. 375

    • Premiered
      October 15, 1781

    In October 1781, just four months after concluding his employment with the Archbishop of Salzburg and moving to Vienna, Wolfgang Amadè Mozart wrote a serenade for winds, and he left an account of its composition:

     

    “Poor beggars” perform

    “I wrote it for St. Theresa’s Day, for Frau von Hickel’s sister, or rather the sister-in-law of Herr von Hickel, court painter, at whose house it was performed [October 15, 1781] for the first time. The six gentlemen who executed it are poor beggars who, however, play quite well together, particularly the first clarinet and the two horns...I wrote it rather carefully. It has won great applause too and on St. Theresa’s Night it was performed in three different places; for as soon as they finished playing it in one place, they were taken off somewhere else and paid to play it...”

     

    The “poor beggars” must have been pleased with the music, for they chose to reward its creator in an unusual way two weeks later. Mozart wrote to his father:

     

    “At 11 o’clock at night I was treated to a serenade performed by two clarinets, two horns and two bassoons—and that too of my own composition…these musicians asked that the street door might be opened and, placing themselves in the center of the courtyard, surprised me, just as I was about to undress, in the most pleasant fashion imaginable with the first chord in E-flat.”

     

    Although Mozart originally scored the Serenade in E-flat major for six players, the following July he revised it, adding two oboes to the original sextet; today it is always heard in the revised version for eight performers.

     

    Mozart’s wind serenades often had a social function: frequently they were intended as background music at social occasions and were sometimes intended for outdoor performance. These conditions led Mozart to write in what has been described as a rustic style, producing energetic, spirited and not particularly complex music. The Serenade in E-flat major, however, is an exception to that rule. Mozart did indeed write this music “rather carefully,” and it remains one of his most polished and expressive serenades.

     

    The music

    The Allegro opens with a rhythmic motto that Mozart liked to use at the beginning of works in E-flat major (it also opens the Sinfonia Concertante, and the Piano Concerto No. 22). This movement is in sonata form, with two contrasted subjects, a brief development and a long and amiable recapitulation that actually introduces a new theme, a noble horn melody.

     

    The first minuet opens with an energetic unison, but the real interest comes in the trio, which shifts to C minor, offers haunting chromatic winding and unusual modulations, and grows to a length much greater than the minuet itself. The Adagio is the real glory of this serenade. It too is in sonata form, and Mozart writes beautifully for all eight voices here, with the thematic line shared and passed among them.

     

    Some have felt that after three such distinguished movements, the final two seem a little more in the “rustic” serenade style. The second minuet is focused and brief, while the concluding Allegro, in sonata-rondo form, offers some fugal writing in the midst of all its buoyant energy.

     

    Instrumentation: 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons and 2 horns

     

    Program note by Eric Bromberger.

  • Starburst

    Jessie Montgomery

    • Born
      1981
      New York City

    Starburst

    • Premiered
      September 2012

    To survive 2020 was to survive what so often felt like an endless loop of death and devastation. Performing arts organizations will be wrestling with the consequences of 2020 for years, maybe decades, to come. As one era ends and another begins, it’s both natural and necessary to wonder: what might the future hold for orchestral music?

     

    One of the many leaders who will be guiding the art into the new decade is violinist and composer Jessie Montgomery, who was born in New York City in 1981. The activism of her parents was an important part of her upbringing, and their shared familial passion for what happens outside the concert hall and in the broader world is a core element of Montgomery’s varied career. In 1999, she became affiliated with The Sphinx Organization, a non-profit dedicated to supporting diversity in classical music, and in 2012, she composed Starburst for its premier strings-only ensemble, The Sphinx Virtuosi.

     

    Montgomery shared the following comments regarding the work’s concept, title and dedication: “A common definition of a starburst: ‘the rapid formation of large numbers of new stars in a galaxy at a rate high enough to alter the structure of the galaxy significantly’ lends itself almost literally to the nature of the performing ensemble who premieres the work, The Sphinx Virtuosi, and I wrote the piece with their dynamic in mind.”

     

    Sonic thrills

    In its three minutes, Starburst is packed to the brim with sonic thrills. Right off the bat, some initial low-pitched swirls blossom into a theme consisting primarily of bright repeating notes chopping eagerly away. This idea of eager, energetic repetition recurs throughout. Soon “exploding gestures are juxtaposed with gentle fleeting melodies in an attempt to create a multidimensional soundscape,” as Montgomery writes. These contrasting fleeting melodies are supported by a rhythmically unpredictable accompaniment in the cellos and basses. That contrast creates a sparkling musical conversation between sections as the work’s eponymous stars are born.

     

    Nobody knows exactly what the future holds. (2020 made sure to remind us of that.) But if the work of musicians like Jessie Montgomery and The Sphinx Virtuosi is any indication, the musical stars of today and tomorrow will be well-aligned to help orchestras rise from 2020’s ashes.

     

    Instrumentation: string orchestra

     

    Program note by Emily Hogstad.

  • Scottish Dance, Waltz and Galop, from Six Dances for String Orchestra

    Ulysses Kay

    • Born
      January 7, 1917
      Tucson, Arizona
    • Died
      May 20, 1995
      Englewood, New Jersey

    Scottish Dance, Waltz and Galop, from Six Dances for String Orchestra

    • Composed
      1953-54

    Ulysses Kay, whose centennial passed three years ago, was among the first major African American classical composers to follow in the footsteps of trailblazers from the preceding generation such as William Grant Still and Florence Price. (Still, in fact, helped prod the young Kay in the mid-1930s to redirect his academic studies from liberal arts to music.)

     

    Like many Western classical composers who came of age in the 20th century, Kay had available to him a dizzying array of traditional and modern compositional styles and techniques. While studying with Paul Hindemith in the early 1940s, Kay found his primary voice in the Neoclassical style—the revival of 18th-century European musical practices such as light textures, simplicity of style, harmonies rooted in traditional Western tonality (though with expanded use of dissonance), and the favoring of traditional non-programmatic forms such as dance suites and sonatas.

     

    By the time of Kay’s passing in 1995, his output included five operas, the last of which was about Frederick Douglass, as well as more than 20 large orchestral works and numerous choral, chamber and film compositions. Also vital to his life story were service in the U.S. Navy as a musician during World War II, 15 years as an advisor and consultant for the performing right organization Broadcast Media, Inc., and two decades as a distinguished music professor at the City University of New York.

     

    “…into the swing of things”

    Tonight we hear the first, second and sixth movements of Kay’s Six Dances for String Orchestra, which date in finished form from 1954—although at least two movements were composed in 1953, when a friend of Kay’s who was a CBS radio producer suggested he write a new work for its Sunday afternoon String Serenade program. Kay, who viewed this as an opportunity to get back “into the swing of things” in the U.S. after three years abroad, wrote the six dances in batches of two, although apparently only four of the six were ultimately performed and broadcast by the CBS radio orchestra. A notable performance of the whole set came in 1983, when the Houston Ballet performed a ballet setting of all six dances. Kay attended with his wife and called the performance “magnificent,” though he later confessed that he had never thought the work could be danced to, having conceived of it purely in musical form.

     

    The use of the dance suite form, which was of great importance in the Baroque period, fit Kay’s Neoclassical style, though here infused with an energetic and distinctly American spirit. (In fact, some publications and recordings render the title as American Dances.) The Scottish Dance, Waltz and Galop are each fast-paced dance movements—the Scottish Dance and Galop in 2/4 and the Waltz in the familiar 3/4 time—and employ repeated sections in the manner of a Baroque suite, with an emphasis on clear melodic lines, while the tempo and time signature each stay constant within each movement. Tonight’s performance marks the first time the Minnesota Orchestra has performed any portion of this work, as well as its first performance of any music by Kay since 1971, three years before the construction of Orchestra Hall, when the ensemble played his Serenade for Orchestra at the Minneapolis Auditorium.

     

    Instrumentation: string orchestra

     

    Program note by Carl Schroeder.

  • Nocturne in B major for String Orchestra, Opus 40

    Antonín Dvořák

    • Born
      September 8, 1841
      Nelahozeves, Bohemia (now Czechia)
    • Died
      May 1, 1904
      Prague

    Nocturne in B major for String Orchestra, Opus 40

    • Premiered
      March 22, 1885

    Antonín Dvořák is likely the first internationally-renowned European classical composer to make a documented visit to Minnesota—he stopped by Minnehaha Falls in fall 1893—just three months before the world premiere of what remains his best-known work, the New World Symphony, in New York City. The Nocturne featured on tonight’s program originated much earlier in his career, when he was little-known outside his homeland of Bohemia.

     

    A long and winding path

    The Nocturne’s path from conception to premiere was long and winding. Early in 1870 Dvořák made copies of portions of incomplete or rejected works for later use in compositions lacking whatever viable qualities these snippets possessed. Among these works was a 35-minute-long string quartet in E minor. Its slow portion, marked Andante religioso, is strikingly superior to the surrounding matter—beautiful in a faintly Wagnerian, certainly chromatic way. Dvořák withheld the quartet from publication, but he never lost interest in that slow movement. In 1875, he condensed it and added a bass part, utilizing it in an abbreviated form as the first of two slow movements in his String Quintet in G major.

     

    Dvořák subsequently determined that it didn’t fit with what had emerged as his Bohemian folk-influenced style, and that it made the quintet too long. The movement was excised, but still unforgotten. In 1883 he re-arranged it for string orchestra, reverting to the approximate length of the original quartet version—but adding some rapturous concluding measures and calling it Nocturne. Dvořák conducted the premiere in London’s Crystal Palace on March 22, 1885.

     

    The feeling of the night

    The Nocturne’s rich string writing (probably influenced by the fact that Dvořák was a violist himself) reflects not only its original setting as a kind of religious contemplation, but it perfectly embodies the mood of a nocturne, which is meant to reflect on the mysterious and peaceful feeling of the night. In this short piece, the composer draws us in with a rich opening, introduced by the lower strings, that gradually intensifies until gently leading us into the more pulsating central section, which suggests a swirling dance in the night. Cascades of falling scales return us to the original, more static, first idea, and it ends with a gentle embrace back into the mood of the night.

     

    Instrumentation: string orchestra

     

    Program note by Scott Chamberlain.

  • Pizzicato Polka

    Johann Strauss, Jr., and Josef Strauss

    • Born
      October 25, 1825 (Johann); August 20, 1827 (Josef)
      Vienna, Austria
    • Died
      June 3, 1899 (Johann); July 22, 1870 (Josef)
      Vienna, Austria

    Pizzicato Polka

    • Composed
      1869

    First, a word on polkas: this lively folk dance in 2/4 meter originated in Bohemia (not Poland!) around 1830. Its name is derived from the Czech word půlka, meaning “little half,” a reference to the short half-steps that characterize the dance. Polkamania quickly swept the world, and the dance became popular not only throughout Europe but as far afield as Argentina, Peru and the U.S. The entire Strauss family—Johann Sr., Johann Jr., Eduard and Josef—all wrote polkas, as did many others, including non-Viennese composers like Shostakovich (the ballet The Age of Gold and Jazz Suite No. 1) and Stravinsky (Circus Polka).

     

    The brief Pizzicato Polka is scored for plucked strings and glockenspiel. It is often attributed to Johann Strauss, Jr., but in fact one of his younger brothers, Josef, also had a hand in it; they composed it in 1869 for a trip to Russia.

     

    Instrumentation: strings and glockenspiel

     

    Program note by Robert Markow.

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