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Vänskä, musicians reunited for Sibelius concert; 'Venus in Fur' launches Jungle season

Osmo leading orchestra
Photo by John Whiting
Minnesota Orchestra Music Director Osmo Vänskä led musicians in a Grammy Celebration concert last Friday.

The musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra hadn’t played under Osmo Vänskä’s baton since July, and many of their members were elsewhere, but the mood was electric and the music sublime at Friday’s Grammy Celebration concert hosted by Mayor R.T. Rybak and long-time orchestra supporter Judy Dayton. Some seats at the Convention Center concert hall were empty because of the weather, but every ticket had been sold.

“Tonight we choose to celebrate,” Rybak said in his introduction. “I ask us all … to rededicate ourselves to ensure that this institution continues.” He introduced Dayton and called her “my partner in crime,” and then Dayton introduced “our fabulous, wonderful, beloved friend, Osmo Vänskä.” Vänskä led his orchestra in the two Sibelius symphonies from their Grammy-nominated recording, then returned with a searing and candid encore, “Finlandia.” He conducted with passion, athleticism and grace, and the musicians responded with everything they had. It would have been a thrilling concert under any circumstances. Four months into a lockout, it was magnificent. When it was over, the maestro faced his musicians and appeared to cross his fingers for luck.

Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, who conducted the musicians in a concert at the Convention Center on Oct. 18, was in the house. So were a few members of the orchestra’s board. No one from senior management attended.

Doug Wright
Photo by John Whiting
Minnesota Orchestra principal trombonist Douglas Wright

MinnPost spoke early this week with Douglas Wright, the Minnesota Orchestra’s principal trombone since 1995 and a member of the negotiating committee. 

MinnPost: What was it like to work under Osmo again? 

Douglas Wright: It was a tremendous boost for the orchestra. We hadn’t seen him since July. It felt like a week of normalcy in what has become a very surreal existence. All of us together, with him up front – this is how it used to be. I think he has missed us as much, if not more, than we have missed him. He conducts the great orchestras on the planet, but I don’t think there’s any that will go with him where he wants to go as completely as this one will.

MP: What did you think of his decision to lead this concert?

DW: I think it was a bold move. The other side would have been happier had he not done this. 

MP: We saw a lot of subs in the orchestra, including members of the SPCO.

DW: We’ve got people all over the country right now playing for other orchestras because they have to. There were enough of us on stage who know this repertoire well that we could lead the way. The SPCO folk are top caliber. A lot of the other subs play with us quite regularly. Whatever might have been lacking in technical precision was more than made up for in emotional impact.

MP: Were you surprised that no one from management came?

DW: I was not surprised, but I was very disappointed. The mayor and Judy both went out of their way to make this event as neutral as possible. So did we. We didn’t sell any of our stuff ,and we gave no speeches on stage. This was an event to celebrate the Grammy nomination. If the entire Minnesota Orchestral Association family can’t come together to celebrate something that is strictly about the music, it’s disheartening to think how hard it is going to be to come together to discuss difficult issues. Everyone in the Minnesota Orchestral Association has a part in this Grammy-nominated CD. 

I would think the mayor and Judy might be feeling snubbed. Judy is the grand matriarch of the orchestra. She’s had a running date with the orchestra on Friday night for years. For no one from management to show up on her invitation is bad.

From the musicians’ perspective, we could not be more grateful to the mayor and to Judy for hosting this event. We greatly appreciate their attempt to bring both sides together, and we appreciate their honoring Osmo and the orchestra and the music. 

MP: People are saying the Minnesota Orchestra has a good chance of winning the Grammy.

DW: The Grammy nomination is a huge deal for us. We’ll see what happens on the 10th [Feb. 10, the night of the Grammy awards]. If we win, I’ll be curious to see who goes on stage and picks up the award.

***

Vanda (Anna Sundberg) and Thomas (Peter Christian Hansen) in 'Venus in Fur'
Photo by Michal Daniel
Vanda (Anna Sundberg) and Thomas (Peter Christian Hansen) in 'Venus in Fur'

In the land of Lutherans and “A Prairie Home Companion,” the new play at the Jungle is a slap across the face, a birch switch on the back, and a pair of metal-studded, stiletto-heeled dominatrix boots around the neck. David Ives’ Tony-winning play “Venus in Fur” launches the Jungle’s 2013 season by steaming up our glasses and messing with our minds. And what fun it is. From the moment Anna Sundberg bursts onto the set, “Venus” surprises, delights, confounds and shocks, sometimes all at once. Peter Christian Hansen is Thomas, a pretentious young playwright who’s written a play based on a 19th-century S&M novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (“Masoch” being the root of “masochism,” for real). Sundberg is Vanda, a seemingly ditsy actress who shows up late and without an appointment to audition. She’s so much more than she seems, and you end up feeling kind of sorry for him because he doesn’t stand a chance. (At one point Thomas asks Vanda, “Who are you?” Good question.) There’s genuine chemistry between the two actors, each a major player on our local theater scene (both are Ivey winners, and Hansen is artistic director of the Gremlin Theatre). The play lasts two hours with no intermission; a break would cut the tension, which hums like a power line. Directed by Joel Sass. FMI and tickets. Through March 10.

Don’t take the kids to “Venus in Fur,” but do take them to “The Biggest Little House in the Forest,” now playing at the Children’s Theatre. Written for toddlers, it’s a simple but charming tale of a butterfly named Bernice who finds a house in the woods, then shares it with a mouse, frog, rabbit and rooster. Autumn Ness is both narrator and puppeteer; she controls and voices all the characters, manipulates the table-sized set and its many moving parts, pulls props out of her pockets and holds the audience’s attention, remaining cheerful all the while. About 25 toddlers were at the performance we attended, along with their parents and grandparents. They (meaning the children) stayed reasonably engaged for most of it, although there was some running around and the occasional bottoms-up as they went exploring. Not many live performances welcome very young children. This one lasts about 40 minutes. FMI and tickets. Through March 17. 

biggest little house
Courtesy of Children's Theatre Company/Dan Norman
“The Biggest Little House in the Forest,” now playing at the Children’s Theatre


Bring the kids to the Guthrie, then drop them off in the Learning Center while you go to a Saturday matinee. It’s true, and it’s brilliant. The Guthrie has partnered with the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities in a new program called Play Care, offering discounted adult theater tickets and affordable child care on site during select performances. Plays are $20-$25, child care is $10 per child. Tickets for 10 Play Care dates go on sale Friday (Feb. 8) at noon. FMI.

The Minnesota Opera has announced its 2013-14 season: five productions new to Minnesota audiences and three company premieres. If you want to see the same old chestnuts every year, you’re going to have to move to another city. Opening Sept. 21: “Manon Lescaut” with Kelly Kaduce (“Madame Butterfly,” “Turandot”) in the title role. Nov. 9: Richard Strauss’ “Arabella” with Jacquelyn Wagner (“Così fan tutte”) and Craig Irvin (“Silent Night”). Jan. 25: Verdi’s “Macbeth” with Greer Grimsley (“The Flying Dutchman”) as the Thane of Glamis, Brenda Harris (“Nabucco”) as his scheming lady. March 1: Dominick Argento’s “The Dream of Valentino” starring James Valenti (“Werther”) as the 1920s film icon and sex symbol. Valentino … Valenti? Names so similar it’s almost spooky. April 12: Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” Specifics are sketchy, but the opera is throwing hints that this production will be something special. FMI and season tickets.

We’re a bit late reporting this, but in case you missed it, Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposed budget includes no cuts to the Minnesota State Arts Board (MSAB) and Regional Arts Council (RAC) general fund budget. Dayton’s proposal would provide just over $7.5 million to the arts agencies for grants and services to the state each year for the next two years. The governor made no recommendations for the Arts Legacy Fund.

Tonight (Tuesday, Feb. 5) at the Cedar: Meklit Hadero. We saw her at the Monterey Jazz Festival last year and she’s utterly beguiling. Born in Ethiopia, raised in the U.S., now living in San Francisco, this young singer-songwriter blends the sounds and rhythms of New York jazz, West Coast folk, and Africa into something new and sweet and gentle. Like this. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets.

Tomorrow (Wednesday, Feb. 6) at the University of Minnesota: poet, professor, and literary activist E. Ethelbert Miller reads from his work and talks about the state of African American literature with U of M professor Alexs Pate. Miller’s appearance is part of the NOMMO African American Authors Series, presented annually since 2004 by the Givens Foundation for African American Literature. 7 p.m., Cowles Auditorium, Hubert H. Humphrey Center, 301 19th Ave. S. For tickets, call 612-624-2345. (Free to U of M students, members of the Givens Foundation, and Friends of the University of Minnesota Libraries; $15 for the rest of us.)

“WARM@40” celebrates 40 years of Women’s Art Resources of Minnesota
Courtesy of the Robbins Gallery
“WARM@40” celebrates 40 years of Women’s Art Resources of Minnesota


Opens tomorrow at the Robbin Gallery: “WARM@40,” an exhibit celebrating 40 years of Women’s Art Resources of Minnesota, a supportive community of women artists and mentors. Some of us will remember the WARM gallery in the Minneapolis Warehouse District. 4915 42nd Ave. N., Robbinsdale. Reception February 15, 6-9 p.m. Gallery hours Wednesday-Saturday, 12-4 p.m., and Thursdays 5:30-8:30 p.m. Free. 

Thursday (Feb. 7) at the Trylon: “MinnAnimate.” Seen at the Ritz last September, this mini-festival of Minnesota-made animation airs at the cozy Trylon for one night only. What are Minnesota animators up to? Rotoscoping, drawn-on-film animation, stop-motion animation using clay, paper, and underpants, hand-drawn animation, computer animation and more. All done with imagination and limited resources. The program includes ten shorts that range from poetic to deeply twisted, plus a 59-minute feature by John Akre, compiler of the show. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets.

Thursday at the Bell Museum: “Dirt! The Movie” kicks off the museum’s third annual Sustainability Film Series. This year’s theme is “The Edge of Civilization.” Four films explore different perspectives on environmental sustainability and human stewardship of the Earth. Films are free with U of M student ID or museum admission. 7 p.m. FMI

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Comments (4)

Nice review of the arts this week...

and I started to wonder...could management be deliberately holding out on the musicians while they spend their millions re-modeling Orchestra Hall? They don't have to pay the musicians and they won't have finicky contractors and construction workers complaining about concert-goers getting in their way. It's a win/win for management. Just a thought. I predict the strike will be over when the majority of the construction to Orchestra Hall is completed.

Musicians are locked-out, it's not a strike

Just to clarify, management has locked-out the musicians; they are not on strike. Many patrons and MN State Legislators have questioned whether this is ethical (I say it most certainly is not!) because the orchestra has received state funding for their operations and the new lobby.

This season was never intended to be held in Orchestra Hall because of the renovations being done there. It was always planned for the Minneapolis Convention Center. However, I agree with you that management is saving a ton of money by canceling concerts and therefore not paying rental fees to the Convention Center (the City of Minneapolis loses money on that one). It does seem to have been all pre-planned, but the musicians are suffering greatly as a result.

If and when this labor dispute is resolved, who is going to want to set foot in Orchestra Hall ever again, given the way the musicians have been treated so shabbily by management? They have a PR disaster on their hands and don't seem to realize it.

catastrophic orchestra management

It has to be painfully obvious to everyone that the Orchestra's current management is an unmitigated disaster. Are the managers accountable to anyone? Can anyone fire them and replace them with more reasonable administrators? Can anyone fire the board of directors and replace them with more reasonable directors? Or do all these people just appoint themselves? Note that they are busily making nonstop phone calls for more contributions, most likely to increase their own inflated compensation.

Here's what management had to say about the concert:

"...We agree with Mayor Rybak that the event should be neutral and focused on celebrating the music. We've been quiet publicly because we are still waiting to get confirmation from the Mayor that the event will indeed be neutral." Not the most gracious of responses, nor celebratory, nor public-minded - just stubborn and afraid.