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Minnesota Orchestra: 2 Finns, a nightingale and Strauss

Well, what do you expect? Put a guy like Osmo Vänskä in charge of the Minnesota Orchestra and it’s inevitable that he’s going to load Finnish music into the repertoire.

This week he’s done it twice. The program being performed Thursday through Saturday features two composers from the Land of Nokia, though they’re each quite different. The one who will challenge listeners and also rattle their brains is Kalevi Aho, the much-celebrated contemporary composer who has collaborated with Vänskä in many premieres around the world.

The orchestra commissioned him to write “Minea,” which is a wordplay on “Minneapolis.” The 20-minute piece is getting its world premiere this week.

In style, Aho is an internationalist, and this piece, according to the orchestra’s program notes, hints at Arabian and Indian musical heritages. It’s supposed to be quite lively, requiring a large percussion battery and the use of unfamiliar instruments — such as the darabukka, a goblet-shaped North African drum.

The other Finn is a bit older: Bernhard Henrik Crusell, a clarinetist/composer who was a contemporary of Beethoven. The orchestra is performing his Clarinet Concerto No. 2, featuring the orchestra’s own principal clarinetist, Burt Hara.

The argument goes that Crusell was an internationalist of his time and that, in fact, he wrote most of his music in Sweden. Don’t tell this to the Finns.

The program also includes Stravinsky’s “Song of the Nightingale,” a tone poem based on the opera Stravinsky wrote to be performed by unseen singers in the orchestra pit while dancers mimed the songs on the stage. It’s based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen.

Just for the record, Stravinsky was a Russian, though “The Nightingale” was performed in France. Andersen, of course, was a Dane. If his name had been spelled “Anderson” he probably would have been a Swede.

The concerts conclude with the suite from Richard Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier.” Needless to say, Strauss was a German.

Minnesota Orchestra, Thursday, Nov. 5, through Saturday, Nov. 7. Go here for more information and tickets.

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