Tag Archives: Orchestra Hall

They’re Back!

Photo courtesy of MOA/Courtney Perry

Photo courtesy of MOA/Courtney Perry

September has arrived and with it a new concert season for the Minnesota Orchestra.  They have begun with a jaw-dropping, sold-out gala concert last night at Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis.  Unfortunately, because I am still recovering from major surgery, I was unable to attend.  However, thanks to Classical MPR, I was able to “attend” by listening to the radio broadcast.

Soprano Renee Fleming was the guest soloist, and she has a voice that can make me cry as well as stun and amaze.  (She sang the national anthem at the Super Bowl last year.)  Her breath and pitch control made for some of the most beautiful moments in the concert.  She began with a new work, a song cycle, written specifically for her by a Swedish composer named Anders Hillborg.  He set poems by Paul Strand to astonishing music that reminded me a lot of game music — evocative, expansive with open intervals as well as strings sounding like insect wings rubbing together — and Ms. Fleming’s voice pierced through it, floated above, and fleshed it out.  What a journey.  I really want to hear this work again and again.  This performance was only its second.  Will Ms. Fleming record it?  I hope so.

Photo courtesy of MOA/Courtney Perry

Renee Fleming with Minnesota Orchestra (Photo courtesy of MOA/Courtney Perry)

Next up for Ms. Fleming were two opera arias, one extremely famous and the second not.  The first was Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro” from Gianni Schicchi.  The second aria Ms. Fleming described as “Carmen on steroids,”  “Ier della fabrica a Triana” from Riccardo Zandonai’s Conchita.  She followed the arias with three songs by Leonard Bernstein — two from West Side Story and one from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  For me, these songs were the least successful of the evening.  Ms. Fleming’s voice was a bit too heavy, and her technique too operatic.  But she made me cry during “Somewhere.”  And the tears continued when she told the audience that she would sing “Take care of this House” in honor of all of us who treasure our Minnesota Orchestra and worked so hard to save it.

Osmo Vanska conducted the Orchestra last night and chose the Overture to Maskarade by Danish composer Carl Nielsen.  Between the Hillborg and the opera arias, Vanska and the Orchestra continued the opera theme of the evening with the sweet, peaceful Intermezzo from Mascagni’s “Cavalleria rusticana,” and the powerful, dramatic Overture to Verdi’s “La forza del destino.”  While I totally enjoyed these opera selections, I craved more symphonic music that would spotlight the Minnesota Orchestra.

Photo courtesy of MOA/Courtney Perry

Osmo Vanska conducting the MN Orchestra at Gala Concert (Photo courtesy of MOA/Courtney Perry)

It came in the final work on the program: Ottorino Resphigi’s The Pines of Rome.  Ah, the precise ensemble playing, the discipline, the true ppp and the controlled fffs.  I felt like I had arrived home to the most beautiful, most familiar and beloved voice there is.  This Orchestra remains at a high level of artistic excellence that I’m certain Osmo will hone until it has reached a height far above where it was before the lockout.  We are in for a truly wonderful 2014-15 classical music season with the Minnesota Orchestra.

I was sorry not to be able to attend the concert last evening, but my surgery was far more extensive than any of us had anticipated (even the surgeon), and my recovery has suffered one major setback, slowing it to slower than a snail’s pace.  I am inching back to my former writing schedule, starting here.  As I haven’t written about the MN Orchestra for a long time,  I thought it would be fun to return with it — we are both returning to our “normal” lives…..



The Lockout is Over!

classicalmusicThe announcement came on Tuesday afternoon when the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra and MOA management each held press conferences to share the news.  The actual collective bargaining agreement that everyone signed off on has yet to be posted online, and each side has emphasized in their press statements what was most important to them.  Neither side got everything they wanted.  What I am still amazed about — shocked, really — is that MOA management and the musicians negotiated without either side getting the condition that they had said they needed before negotiations could begin, i.e. a counter offer from the musicians (management) or the end of the lockout (the musicians).  So what happened?

The last four days have been full of speculation, but it seems that the City of Minneapolis used the lease issue to put pressure on the MOA Board.  The MOA was clearly in default on the lease requirements and they needed the Orchestra to return in order to resolve the default and keep Orchestra Hall.  This is my guess.  I have not seen any confirmation from the City or the MOA, but something stuck a firecracker under the MOA’s butt.

The lockout ends on February 1.  The musicians and the MOA have announced “homecoming concerts” for February 7 and 8, and February 14 and 15, the first in the renovated Orchestra Hall.  Before each concert, patrons are encouraged to arrive early to explore the new lobby area and other features of the renovation.  Tickets go on sale Wednesday, January 22 at 5 p.m.  Visit here for more information.

I am still trying to take it all in.  I’m ecstatic for the musicians, and especially happy that they are satisfied with the agreement.  What I really want to hear is an apology to the musicians for the really terrible things said to them and about them during the lockout, and for some of the really childish behavior of various Board members toward the musicians.  It would be a huge step toward repairing the damage that’s been done.  The musicians have nothing to apologize for.  I’m proud of the way they conducted themselves throughout this ordeal.

As Gina Hunter writes, there are still questions to be answered and work to be done.  At the top of my list: will Osmo Vanska return?  I also think the MOA governance structure needs reform, but I doubt it will come from the Board of Directors itself.  I suspect they see nothing wrong with the way they do things.  I agree with Hunter: they are accountable to no one but themselves and this has to change.  We were lucky this time — the City of Minneapolis was able to have leverage over the Board and hold them accountable for the way they were conducting business.  But just as a corporation has shareholders to whom the corporation’s board and leadership are accountable, the MOA needs to be accountable to someone interested and involved in the Orchestra, classical music and non-profits.

Courtesy nytimes.com

Courtesy nytimes.com

For Evan Quinn and the future of the Minnesota Orchestra, I feel like we narrowly missed plunging over a cliff and losing the Orchestra altogether, as well as the tradition of artistic excellence it has been building.  Indeed, the next few years could be difficult ones anyway.  But at least the Orchestra continues to exist and will continue to perform and grow.  I hope this horrible lockout will show both sides the need to work together for the future of the organization, and not blame the musicians for what the Board has done.

Will I attend the “homecoming concerts”?  I don’t know.  I know I should be feeling happy and upbeat and excited, but I only feel sad.  Is it because the MOA leadership team remains intact?  Perhaps.  The same people who haven’t been open to learning about non-profit governance are still there, the same people who didn’t comprehend that they didn’t understand artistic excellence and how important continuity is to maintain it.  The same people who were willing to lose Osmo Vanska, and who treated him (in my opinion) with incredible disrespect.  And I kept seeing online this week one person after another saying that as long as Michael Henson remained President, they would not donate their hard-earned money to the MOA.  The Board and MOA leadership has a monumental task ahead of it to heal the deep rift they created between themselves and the community.  They need everyone in the community, not only those who can donate $10K plus.

So, I’m in a wait and see mode….


Last week, I worked at Orchestra Hall as the check-in person for the preliminary round of auditions.  Each candidate came in, gave me his or her name which I checked off my list, and one of us working there would take the candidate to a warm-up room.  An easy but important job.  When a lull occurred, I read The Writer or thought about auditions in life and music.

For the Minnesota Orchestra, their Music Director, Osmo Vanska, makes the final decision on hiring a candidate after the final round.  So, if Evan Quinn were an orchestra’s music director, he’d have the final decision, too.  But he’s not yet a music director in the Perceval series, although one orchestra has its eyes on him for that position, so he guest conducts orchestras all over the world.  Each of his performances is an audition.  How he performs will determine whether or not he’s invited back to conduct.  It can also be an audition for a music directorship — he never knows who’s in the audience.  A member of a search committee from some other orchestra could have traveled to observe him.  Like most conductors, though, Evan focuses on the job and not on the audition aspect.  If he does his job well, he’ll advance.

Musicians and actors audition for jobs.  For the rest of us, we go on job interviews.  But they are auditions, too.  We must demonstrate our knowledge and skills as related to the open position.  In fact, we are screened in just about every thing we do by every person we meet.  Would we make an honest and loving spouse?  Tenant? Friend?  Member of our group?

Fictional characters rarely audition for writers.  They choose writers to tell their stories or to be included in the stories of other characters.  Writers, then, are the ones who audition for their imaginations and the characters that live within.  Writers need to make friends with their imaginations, preferably at a very early age, and build trust so that their imaginations will feel comfortable revealing their gallery of characters.  At the same time, the characters must feel comfortable and trust the writer to write their stories with integrity.  An open mind, rapacious curiosity, and a drive to solve the mysteries everywhere in life are essential characteristics for a writer.  A love for storytelling and language serve as the vehicles for the writer’s journey.

I’ve been fortunate to have characters choose me, not only Evan Quinn.  They began when I was in sixth grade.  I’ve had my share of job interviews, but although I was a musician for a while, I’ve only auditioned once or twice.  Both times were for spots in choirs.  As I worked the auditions last week, I observed the candidates — some showed their nervousness, others withdrew into themselves, still others needed help for even the smallest of mundane tasks.  All focused with complete dedication on the task at hand.  It takes strong nerves, outstanding skill and musicianship to advance through the audition rounds to a job offer at a major orchestra.  As I watched the candidates, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d continued in music would I have been able to survive going from audition to audition.

But that’s what writers do with agents and publishers…..from one audition to the next until their writing hits the right chord…..

Coughing Mayhem…ahem…

In September 2008, I visited the subject of how to attend classical music concerts.  During recent internet research surfing, I ran across a fun essay at Theatlantic.com by Erik Tarloff entitled A Few words about Coughing.  Tarloff describes a concert of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony he attended at Lincoln Center and the uncanny focus of audience coughing during the quiet passages of music.  I’ve noticed this phenomenon, also.  Of course, louder passages would drown out the coughing. 

What is the reason for the coughing?  Here in Minnesota, the usual reason is the common cold or flu.  Tarloff, however, posits a theory concerning audience engagement with the music that also makes sense to me.  The amount of coughing correlates to the level of lack of interest in the audience member. 

Do you cough regularly at classical concerts?  If so, and you’re not sick, check your level of engagement in the music, how closely you’re listening to the music and watching the musicians.  I find it interesting that Tarloff noted people don’t usually cough during movies (no, they talk or text message on cell phones).  I attend plays at the Guthrie Theater on a regular basis and don’t ever recall hearing disruptive coughing during a performance.  Not like the hacking that Tarloff describes and I’ve heard during concerts at Orchestra Hall.  (I’ve also heard loud snoring in Orchestra Hall, but that’s another issue….)

With flu season almost upon us, and certainly novel H1N1 flu has been upon us since last March, I hereby review how to muffle a coughing fit until you can exit the concert hall.  Please, please, cover your mouth!  Please use a real cloth handkerchief (if possible) because the cloth absorbs the sound better than tissue.  Or, if no handkerchief is handy, do what public health nurses and other officials have been encouraging: cough into your elbow.  Easy.  And please, if you’re sick with the flu, whether seasonal, H1N1 or the notorious “flu-like illness,” please stay home, rest, drink lots of fluids and protect the rest of us from the illness you have.

Thank you for your consideration!

Thoughts and Updates

Another month has passed since my last follow-up letter to the literary agent who has the Perceval manuscript. Another month of silence. I’m beginning to give up hope for this guy. Is that what he wants? I have learned one thing from this experience: when an agent asks for sample chapters, send the entire manuscript. Then, if he wants to continue reading, he already has the complete novel and doesn’t have to wait for me to send it. I suspect he’s lost interest. Schade.

What next? I’ve been researching possible publishers for Perceval and their editors. The process is straightforward but takes time to dig for the information. I collected book reviews of novels also set in the near future. At Publishers Marketplace, I looked up the publishers in their new publishers and imprints database. Then I checked for the deals done in the last 2 years, searching for the specific novel that started the process. Each deal entry under the relevant publisher lists the editor and the agent. Very useful information.

The next step is to query each editor, much as I’ve been querying literary agents. However, I query the editors representing myself as agent. And the process takes just as much time as querying agents.

I’ve run into a roadblock with my market research for The Shadow, the excerpt from Perceval. So, I may put that away for awhile, come back to it later with fresh eyes.

In my internet travels last week I stumbled onto a photographer’s blog (I love photography!). Becca Dilley, the photographer, had worked an event at Orchestra Hall and taken some terrific pictures. There’s a particularly good one of the stage. Her blog can be found here.

The first draft of a short essay on December 21, 2012 is done. I’ve been working on another essay, Rare, that’s a short memoir. As I gear up to take on a non-writing job in the near future, I’ll be sticking to shorter forms of writing for awhile.