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May an uplifted face in the audience help heal musicians’ hearts

Many supporters of the Minnesota Orchestra musicians may remember a patron we were all introduced to during the lockout, Eriko Matsukawa of Japan.

Now there is news that Tony Ross, center at front of stage, has been offered the principal cello position at Chicago’s Lyric Opera.
Photo by John Whiting

Many supporters of the Minnesota Orchestra musicians may remember a particular patron we were all introduced to during the lockout, Eriko Matsukawa of Sendai, Japan. She sent a beautiful letter of support, along with a donation to the musicians, which you can and should read about here along with a stunning mobile of 96 hand-folded cranes that is now hanging in the musicians’ lounge: one crane for each member of the locked-out orchestra.

Now the lockout is over, if only in name, but the fallout continues. Last week one of the original 96 made the difficult decision to leave colleagues, friends, family and the city he loved. Comments to the Strib article about Burt Hara’s resignation last week ranged from the mournful to the sadly predictable (“It will take literally hours to find someone who can fill this position adequately!”). Thanks for that, fdrebin. Some of us are eminently replaceable in our jobs, and I count myself as one of them. Not so for Burt. But nobody in this ensemble would deny the wisdom in his decision, agonizing as it surely was.  

Now there is news that Tony Ross has been offered the principal cello position at Chicago’s Lyric Opera.  His departure — should he decide to leave — would mean the loss of one of the orchestra’s most vocal leaders, on stage and off. One can only imagine how the MOA would feel about that.

Challenges to morale

The musicians are damaged but not undone. But the maddening lack of leadership and insight in all aspects of this organization, from ticket sales to customer service to board management, continues to chip away at their morale. It is not an easy place for them to walk into every day. It is difficult to sit in their chairs onstage with a view of MOA President Michael Henson in his first-tier box — he who has yet to speak a word of explanation to his employees or his patrons.

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Last week, the sixth week of the post-lockout season, the orchestra sat down to rehearse another program of Masterworks with another guest conductor. There have been many changes in personnel from week to week, as those of you in the audience have surely noted. This time there was an addition onstage: Eriko, the MoMO “Superfan” if you will, had a seat of honor next to the clarinets.  

Eriko is in town for three weeks. I asked her what her plans were, other than sit in on rehearsals. She answered, smiling, “Listen to the Minnesota Orchestra, talk about the Minnesota Orchestra, hang out with the Minnesota Orchestra.”  

She sat through Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony perfectly still, eyes closed as always, listening with her entire body. Most of us receive music passively, but you could tell by looking that this was an active experience for her. Elgar’s Enigma Variations elicited copious tears — and that was during rehearsal. The musicians took their break mid-day and found hundreds of treats and gifts from Japan had been left in the lounge by Eriko.  

Sending good wishes

If you were at the concerts last weekend you might have noticed a Japanese woman holding her white cane, sitting near the front row, wearing a scarf of “MoMO” green. This was Eriko, listening with closed eyes and sending her good wishes to the people onstage who have become her friends. Her own words describe the experience she is having so much better than mine ever could:

In good times, I feel my joy multiplied by your music. When going gets tough, I can immerse myself in the world of your music, and you comfort me, heal me and rejuvenate me. Your music has consoled me each and every time I thought I would never smile again. You always seem to know where to find broken pieces of my heart and how to put them back together, then, through that out-of-this-world sound, you simply hand it back to me so I can get up and find a courage to face the world again.

My hope is that when those onstage look out into the faces in the crowd at next weekend’s concerts, their eyes are drawn not to the first-balcony boxes, but to the uplifted face of Eriko — or of any other listener feeling the music with their entire bodies and souls, because she is not alone — and that they also find a way to put together their broken hearts and all the loss of the last two years.

Rena Kraut is a freelance classical clarinetist who performs, writes and lives in Minneapolis.

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