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DISARMED AND UNFINISHED

Livestream and broadcast performance without in-person audience. 

Osmo Vänskä conducts the works by Stravinsky, Penderecki and Schubert.

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This series is made possible in part by generous lead gifts from
Kathryn and Charles Cunningham
&
Nancy and John Lindahl 

Co-sponsored by David and Leni Moore. 

Sponsored by Best Buy.

Artists

Program

    • Igor Stravinsky
    • Symphonies of Wind Instruments (1947 revision)
      • Osmo Vänskä, conductor
    • ca. 9’
    • Yaz Lancaster
    • dis[armed] for Percussion Duo and Fixed Media
      • disjunct
      • reset
      • refocus
        • Erich Rieppel, percussion
        • Kevin Watkins, percussion
    • ca. 13’
    • Krzysztof Penderecki
    • Chaconne in Memory of John Paul II for String Orchestra
      • Osmo Vänskä, conductor
    • ca. 7’
    • Franz Schubert
    • Symphony in B minor, D. 759, Unfinished
      • Allegro moderato
      • Andante con moto
        • Osmo Vänskä, conductor
    • ca. 22’

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 toured abroad in Australia, Canada, East Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and South Africa. Its 2020-21 concert season began in October with a series of Friday night concerts in Orchestra Hall featuring smaller ensembles of Orchestra musicians performing for TV, radio and online audiences. In June, the Orchestra will welcome in-person audiences of limited size back to Orchestra Hall.

At Home Video Collection

Osmo Vänskä, conductor

Since becoming the Minnesota 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, and a new disc featuring Mahler’s Tenth Symphony will be released next month. Vänskä is also music director of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra and 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.

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Brian Newhouse, host and writer

Brian Newhouse, the Minnesota Orchestra’s associate vice president of individual giving, is familiar to Orchestra audiences for his 27 years as producer and host of the Orchestra’s Friday night classical concert broadcasts on Minnesota Public Radio until 2019, when Melissa Ousley stepped into the role. He has joined the Orchestra on many tours abroad, leading memorable broadcasts from London, Havana, Soweto, Amsterdam and Lahti, Finland. He held a variety of positions at Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media over his tenure, ultimately serving as Managing Director of the nation’s largest public media classical music service for a decade. He won a Peabody Award for writing the radio documentary The Mississippi: River of Song and penned the memoir A Crossing: A Cyclist’s Journey Home.

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Program notes

  • Symphonies of Wind Instruments (1947 revision)

    Igor Stravinsky

    • Born
      June 17, 1882
      Saint Petersburg, Russia
    • Died
      April 6, 1971
      New York City

    Symphonies of Wind Instruments (1947 revision)

    • Premiered
      June 10, 1921 (original version)

    Igor Stravinsky composed his Symphonies of Wind Instruments during the summer of 1920, which he spent in a fishing village in France’s Brittany peninsula.

     

    A tribute to Debussy

    This music was written as the result of a request from the Revue Musicale, which had asked a number of composers for short pieces in memory of French composer Claude Debussy, who had died two years before. Stravinsky had been friends with Debussy, although his own music had been a source of mixed pleasure to the older composer.

     

    Stravinsky noted: “While composing my Symphonies I naturally had in mind the man to whom I wished to dedicate them. I used to wonder what impression my music would have made on him, and what his reaction would have been. I had a distinct feeling that he would have been rather disconcerted by my musical idiom…

     

    “According to my idea, the homage that I intended to pay the memory of the great musician ought not to be inspired by his musical thought; on the contrary, I desired to express myself in a language which should be essentially my own.”

     

    “…an austere ritual”

    What emerged from Stravinsky’s wish to remember Debussy was a brief (nine-minute) piece for wind instruments only. The Symphonies of Wind Instruments remains one of Stravinsky’s less-known works, as the composer knew it would be, stating: “I did not, and indeed I could not, count on any immediate success for this work. It is devoid of all the elements which infallibly appeal to the ordinary listener and to which he is accustomed. It would be futile to look in it for any passionate impulse or dynamic brilliance. It is an austere ritual which is unfolded in terms of short litanies between different groups of heterogeneous instruments.”

     

    Stravinsky’s choice of title should be understood carefully, for it does not denote a series of small symphonies in the formal sense of that term. Rather, “symphonies” should be understood in its literal sense: the playing together of a group of instruments. Stravinsky said that what he meant by the title was “the togetherness of wind instruments.”

     

    This music is scored for what might be called a symphony orchestra minus its strings and percussion. The work divides into three sections played without a break, and the opening and closing sections are built on a slow chorale. Stravinsky’s description of the Symphonies as “an austere ritual” is accurate: throughout, the music is somber and subdued, its gravely ceremonial tone appropriate to its function as a memorial.

     

    Instrumentation: 3 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets, 3 bassoons (1 doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones and tuba

     

    Program note by Eric Bromberger.

  • dis[armed] for Percussion Duo and Fixed Media

    Yaz Lancaster

    • Born
      1996

    dis[armed] for Percussion Duo and Fixed Media

    • Premiered
      March 6, 2019

    For Yaz Lancaster, the process of composing a new work of music begins with two questions of self-reflection: “What is important to me right now?” and “What do I have to say?” In 2018, when they were commissioned to write a piece for Washington Squared Percussion, the answer to the first question was the epidemic of gun violence—specifically, Lancaster explains, “mass shootings and the killing of unarmed Black people by police in the U.S.” In exploring these compounding tragedies and the national conversations surrounding them, they composed the powerful work dis[armed] for two percussionists, including two extended pre-recorded passages of news media clips interwoven with electronics.

     

    “Through this piece,” Lancaster elaborates, “I’ve tried to put the separate but related occurrences in dialogue, and parse out my own feelings, meditations and confusion surrounding gun violence/control and legislature. It is my hope that people begin putting both mass shootings and police brutality in the same conversation when trying to figure out where to go from here, and that there is somewhere better to go.”

     

    “A catalyst for change”

    The Minnesota Orchestra shares this music tonight near the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd in a state that has already been scarred this year by the police killing of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center in April and a mass shooting at a medical clinic in Buffalo in February. As Minnesota Orchestra Music Director Osmo Vänskä states: “It’s important for artists to share music that connects to the current world around us and that can serve as a catalyst for change. In extreme times, music can be a kind of therapy for people. When we cannot find the words to adequately express ourselves, music can take us to a very deep place.”

     

    With its two performances this month, each featuring a work composed in response to police killings of Black Americans (Carlos Simon’s An Elegy: A Cry from the Grave will be shared on May 28), the Orchestra hopes to bring audiences to that place and let the music give voice to anger, grief and despair, and to also find moments of respite and glimmers of hope.

     

    About the music

    dis[armed] received its world premiere on March 6, 2019, by Washington Squared Percussion, at Sō Percussion’s Brooklyn Bound performance series. Initially spanning four movements, the work was revised in 2020 to its current three-movement form.

     

    disjunct. The work opens with a two-minute sonic collage of pre-recorded, layered clips from news media stories about guns and gun violence, with the sound growing progressively more distorted and chaotic. Lancaster explains that the sources include “audio from 2nd amendment marches, Chicago gang violence news coverage, and news coverage of the murder of ​Jemel Roberson​.”

     

    The taped segment concludes abruptly, and the movement proceeds without pause to the live percussion performers, one of whom plays vibraphone while the other plays two instruments: the tenor steelpan, a chromatically pitched instrument that originates from Trinidad and Tobago, and a kick drum—a bass drum operated by foot pedal.

     

    “This movement is about conversation, debate and disagreements,” notes Lancaster, who includes directions in the score such as “blend like one large instrument,” “interrupt” and “as if trying to talk over one another.”

     

    reset. The middle movement “is about accountability,” says Lancaster, and requires no live performers. The focus again shifts to pre-recorded playback, and this time the spoken words come from an interview with survivors of the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, overlaid with electronics. The last line spoken is “…we’re the mass-shooting generation.”

     

    refocus. The final movement calls for two vibraphones and a different set of performance techniques than the disjunct movement—most prominently using a bow that would ordinarily play a string instrument. The first minute is played freely, as the players are given leeway to repeat and reorder notes as they react and respond to each other. Lancaster explains that the final movement “is about listening…breathing, shifting focus and learning how to move forward.”

     

    In portions of this movement, the players are each directed to crumple a newspaper. Later in the movement, the players put down their bows and play the vibraphone with their fingernails, and in another passage, one player uses a bending mallet to adjust the bowed pitches of the other player. The combination of sounds, visuals and symbolism are striking and thought-provoking at a time of reflection and desperately-needed action for Minnesota, the country and the world.

     

    About the composer

    Yaz Lancaster is a Black transdisciplinary artist whose activities include composing, performing, poetry and multimedia projects. Recently named by The Washington Post as one of its “21 for ’21” composers who are shaping the future of music, they are primarily focused on the representation and support of marginalized and underprivileged identities in the arts, genuine modes of collaboration and practices aligned with relational aesthetics, and the idea of constellating genre-fluid works that bring in fragments, histories and flavors from various sources of inspiration. Their practices are most aligned with relational aesthetics and the everyday; fragments and collage; and anti-oppressive, liberatory politics.

     

    Lancaster performs as a violinist, vocalist and steel-pannist in a wide variety of settings including DIY/indie venues, contemporary chamber music and steel bands. Their work is presented in many different mediums and collaborative projects, and often reckons with specific influences ranging from politics of identity and liberation to natural phenomena and poetics. Most recently, they have been developing a pop/post-genre duo with Canadian guitarist-producer Andrew Noseworthy.

     

    Lancaster has had the privilege and opportunity to build community in the U.S., Canada and Trinidad and Tobago. They have created with artists like Andy Akiho, Contact (with Evan Ziporyn), Contemporaneous, George Lewis, JACK Quartet, Leilehua Lanzilotti, Rohan Chander, Skiffle Steel Orchestra, and Wadada Leo Smith. Their record of commissioned music for violin/voice and electronics, AmethYst, is forthcoming on people | places | records in 2021.

     

    Lancaster holds degrees in violin performance and poetry from New York University, where they studied with Cyrus Beroukhim, Robert Honstein and Terrance Hayes, among others. They are the visual arts editor at Peach Mag and a contributing writer at I Care If You Listen. Further details on their music, projects and performances are available on their website.

     

    Instrumentation: 2 vibraphones, tenor steelpan, kick drum, newspaper and pre-recorded tape

     

    Program note by Carl Schroeder.

  • Chaconne in Memory of John Paul II for String Orchestra

    Krzysztof Penderecki

    • Born
      November 23, 1933
      Debica, Poland
    • Died
      March 29, 2020
      Kraków, Poland

    Chaconne in Memory of John Paul II for String Orchestra

    • Premiered
      September 17, 2005

    When Krzysztof Penderecki (pronounced pender-ETZ-key) died on March 29, 2020, after a long illness, not only did Poland lose their greatest classical composer born in the 20th century, but the world lost an icon of musical modernism whose works confronted politics, religion and social injustice. The best example might be the piece that first brought him international attention, Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, an intense catharsis of sound that makes the listener unavoidably uneasy for hearing the “screams” from the orchestra, suggestive as they are of something unimaginable.

     

    Penderecki’s music found many champions, including Hollywood directors who wove it into many well-known films, such as The Exorcist, The Shining, Wild at Heart, Children of Men and Shutter Island, to name a few. He came to be admired by music fans and musicians far outside the realm of traditional classical circles. Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood noted the passing of one of his idols on Twitter, “Penderecki was the greatest—a fiercely creative composer and a gentle, warm-hearted man.”

     

    Commemorating the Pope

    The Chaconne in Memory of John Paul II was written in 2005 to commemorate the reign of the first Polish Pope, but it is now a part of a much larger work begun back in 1980, when Penderecki was commissioned by the Solidarity movement in Poland to compose a piece for the unveiling of a statue at the Gdańsk shipyards to commemorate those killed in anti-government riots in 1970. He responded with Lacrimosa, dedicated to the trade union leader Lech Wałęsa. Over the next four years, he added additional movements in honor of different national events, and the expanded result is one of his best-known works, the Polish Requiem. The Chaconne in Memory of Pope John Paul II was the final addition.

     

    It is curious that Penderecki chose a tribute piece in the style of a chaconne, an ancient dance form that came of age in the Baroque but is still used by composers today. The chaconne’s roots date from Spain circa 1500, as a slow three-step dance style, with a heavier step on beat two. That rhythmic pattern is wedded to a repeating bass line of 8 bars, over which melody instruments are layered. This is not unlike certain kinds of jazz, where a rhythm section lays down a good beat and a repeating harmonic pattern, allowing the melody instruments—a trumpet, or a saxophone—to improvise on top. Think of a chaconne as a set of variations over a repeating bassline. In Penderecki’s Chaconne we get nine.

     

    From the opening bars, the music has a heavy, dirge-like quality, overlayed by a soaring violin melody that suggests sweet remembrance. This is music from Penderecki’s late, Neo-romantic style that emphasizes long, sinuous lines. Each subsequent variation adds texture and drama that builds to a climax in the ninth variation, marked by the high-pitched, almost painful wails of the violins that pierce through the heavy texture of the music. For such an icon of modernism, Penderecki goes against type with this absolutely beautiful essay of remembrance.

     

    The Minnesota connection

    I would be remiss not to mention the Minnesota Orchestra’s unique history with Penderecki that dates back to the days when a fellow Pole was in charge here: Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, music director from 1960 to 1979. Their friendship resulted in two U.S. premieres: The Passion According to St. Luke in November 1967, and the Violin Concerto in January 1978 (with Isaac Stern as soloist), both with Skrowaczewski on the podium.

     

    Penderecki’s final appearance with the Minnesota Orchestra was in 1989. It is a rare treat to be conducted by a composer in his own work and I was fortunate enough to have been a violist in the Orchestra for those concerts. Penderecki appeared as a serious, bearded figure with the dour countenance of a mystic. We approached his piece with all due seriousness, yet his humorous side emerged in the first rehearsal, in a very unexpected way. The music called for a massive crescendo to travel quickly from one side of the Orchestra to the other, in a sweeping wave of sound. By about the third time through this passage, the Orchestra cheekily obliged his wild gesturing by doing “the wave” from left to right, leaping out of our chairs and sitting down again, to giggles all around. I’m not sure he’d ever seen the wave at a stadium, but he was clearly amused at our antics, and repeated the passage several more times—gratuitously, I’m sure—just to enjoy the fun!

     

    Instrumentation: string orchestra

     

    Program note by Michael Adams.

  • Symphony in B minor, D. 759, Unfinished

    Franz Schubert

    • Born
      January 31, 1797
      Vienna, Austria
    • Died
      November 19, 1828
      Vienna, Austria

    Symphony in B minor, D. 759, Unfinished

    • Premiered
      December 17, 1865

    Franz Schubert actually wrote a number of unfinished symphonies. Besides this famous one, there are fragments of five others that he began but abandoned. The one known as the Unfinished was written in the fall of 1822, when the composer was 25. He began work on October 30 and completed two movements in November; he began a third movement, a scherzo, sketching out 129 measures and fully orchestrating the first nine. And then he stopped. The following year he had the manuscript delivered to his friend Anselm Hüttenbrenner, probably as a gesture of appreciation for having been elected a member of the Styrian Music Society of Graz, of which Hüttenbrenner was a member. At that point, apparently, Schubert forgot about this work. He never heard it performed.

     

    Lyrical and monumental

    The manuscript came to light in 1865 when conductor Johann Herbeck was visiting the aged Hüttenbrenner in Graz and inquired about the existence of any Schubert manuscripts. Hüttenbrenner showed this symphony to Herbeck, who led the premiere in Vienna on December 17, 1865. From that moment, it has been one of the most popular pieces of classical orchestral music ever written.

     

    Despite its odd form—two movements instead of the customary four—the symphony is a fully satisfying musical experience. Its movements, both massive, and both at a fairly moderate tempo, offer the unusual combination of lyricism and monumentality: lyrical because this work is built on some of the most singable tunes in classical music, and monumental because of Schubert’s ability to transform these melodies into music of stature and power.

     

    Many other features contribute to the symphony’s appeal. Chief among these is Schubert’s control of orchestral color: three trombones give the music unusual weight, but even more impressive are the many shades of instrumental color he achieves through subtle handling of solo winds. Also impressive is the ease of Schubert’s harmonic language. The Unfinished Symphony glides effortlessly between unexpected keys, with the effect of delicately shifting patterns of light. A haunting, somber beauty runs through both movements.

     

    Why didn’t Schubert “finish” this symphony by writing the other two movements? There have been many, many answers to that question. In The Victor Book of the Symphony (1935), Charles O’Connell offers, in quite purple prose, the conclusions of one generation:

     

    “[The Unfinished] is utterly perfect in finish. It leaves nothing unsaid. It explores the most mysterious regions of the human soul and heart. In language of inexpressible beauty it communicates from composer to hearer an intensity of passionate emotion, a degree of spiritual exaltation, a completely satisfying and wholly expressive message. Music can go no further; Schubert himself, having said in these two movements all that even he, with his almost inexhaustible flow of melodious expression, could say, gave over the task of writing two more sections.”

     

    Closer to our own day, and in a more grimly realistic explanation, Maurice J.E. Brown has noted that Schubert contracted syphilis in the fall of 1822 while working on this symphony and was critically ill throughout 1823. Brown suggests that when Schubert recovered his health a year later, the sensitive composer identified this music so closely with that illness that emotionally he was unable to resume work on it.

     

    Perhaps we will never know why Schubert completed only these two movements. The unusual form has not kept it from becoming one of the most famous symphonies ever written, and few of the millions who have loved this music have ever considered it “unfinished.”

     

    Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani and strings

     

    Program note by Eric Bromberger.

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