The Minnesota Orchestra, now in its second century and led by Music Director Osmo Vänskä, ranks among America’s top symphonic ensembles, with a distinguished history of acclaimed performances in its home state and around the world; award-winning recordings, radio broadcasts and educational outreach programs; and a visionary commitment to building the orchestral repertoire of tomorrow.

Founded as the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, the ensemble gave its inaugural performance on November 5, 1903, shortly after baseball’s first World Series and exactly six weeks before the Wright brothers made their unprecedented airplane flight. The Orchestra played its first regional tour in 1907 and made its New York City debut in 1912 at Carnegie Hall, where it has performed regularly ever since. Outside the United States, the Orchestra has played concerts in Australia, Canada, Europe, the Far East, Latin America and the Middle East. Since 1968 it has been known as the Minnesota Orchestra.

The 98-member ensemble now presents nearly 200 programs each year, primarily at its home venue of Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis, and its concerts are heard by live audiences of 400,000 annually. Its Friday night performances are broadcast live regionally by Minnesota Public Radio, and many programs are subsequently featured on American Public Media’s national programs, SymphonyCast and Performance Today.

In the early 1920s, the Minnesota Orchestra became one of the first ensembles to be heard on recordings, as well as on the radio—in 1923 it played a nationally broadcast concert under guest conductor Bruno Walter—and it has been recording and broadcasting ever since. Its landmark Mercury Living Presence LP recordings of the 1950s and 1960s, under music directors Antal Dorati and Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, have been reissued on compact disc to great acclaim.

Under Music Director Osmo Vänskä, the Orchestra has completed a five-year, five-disc initiative to record the complete Beethoven symphonies on the BIS label. The collection has amassed rave reviews, with The New York Times writing that it “may be the definitive [cycle] of our time” and the Financial Times of London praising it as the “modern Beethoven recording par excellence.” The Orchestra’s recording of Beethoven’s Ninth received a 2008 Grammy nomination for “Best Orchestral Performance,” and the CD featuring the Second and Seventh Symphonies was nominated for a 2009 Classic FM Gramophone Award. In 2009 BIS released its newest collaboration with the Orchestra, the premiere recording of To Be Certain of the Dawn, a Holocaust memorial oratorio by Stephen Paulus on a libretto by Michael Dennis Browne.

Vänskä and the Orchestra have recently embarked on a series of new recording initiatives, include a five-year project with BIS to record all five Beethoven piano concertos with Russian pianist Yevgeny Sudbin and, for the Hyperion label, live in-concert recordings of Tchaikovsky’s three piano concertos and Concert Fantasia, recorded over two seasons with British pianist Stephen Hough.

In addition to traditional concerts, the Minnesota Orchestra connects with more than 85,000 music lovers annually through educational programs including Young People’s Concerts (YPs) and Target Free Family Concerts. In the last decade more than half a million students have experienced a Minnesota Orchestra YP. Musicians also engage in such Orchestra-sponsored initiatives as the Adopt-A-School program, Side-by-Side rehearsals and concerts with young area musicians, and the UPbeat program, which establishes multi-year relationships with communities throughout the Twin Cities and around the state.

The ensemble also offers numerous pops concerts, presenting the greatest contemporary pop performers in genres ranging from rock, jazz and Big Band to Latin, country and world music. In 2008, the Orchestra established Jazz at Orchestra Hall, a jazz series featuring top performers from around the nation, and named Irvin Mayfield as the series’ artistic director. American conductor Andrew Litton serves as artistic director for the Orchestra’s beloved urban summer music festival, Sommerfest, which celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2010.
With a long history of commissioning and performing new music, the Minnesota Orchestra continues to nourish a strong commitment to contemporary composers. Since 1903 the Orchestra has premiered and/or commissioned nearly 300 compositions, including works by John Adams, Dominick Argento (Minnesota Orchestra Composer Laureate), Aaron Copland, John Corigliano, Charles Ives, Aaron Jay Kernis (Director of the Orchestra’s Composer Institute), Libby Larsen, Stephen Paulus, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski (Orchestra Conductor Laureate) and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. In addition, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) has bestowed upon the Orchestra 18 awards for adventuresome programming, including Leonard Bernstein Awards for Education Programming in 2005, 2006 and 2007 and, in 2008, the John S. Edwards Award for Strongest Commitment to New American Music.

The Orchestra welcomed Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä as its tenth music director in the fall of 2003. Praised for his intense and dynamic performances, Vänskä is recognized for compelling interpretations of the standard, contemporary and Nordic repertoires. During his tenure, he has drawn extraordinary reviews for concerts both at home and abroad, including appearances at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, three European tours—the most recent in February and March 2009—and Minnesota tours in 2005, 2007 and 2008. Vänskä has extended his tenure with the Minnesota Orchestra through 2015.

This biography was most recently edited by...
KarenH - 15 Dec 2009