Minnesota Orchestra Tour #7: Tonhalle Düsseldorf

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The Tonhalle Düsseldorf is intriguingly if puzzlingly designed. From an outer ring of dressing rooms and backstage spaces, various narrow catwalks lead across yawning spaces to the stage. Adds a little fear of heights to the stage fright. The stage and auditorium are gorgeous: the high, domed ceiling is a vivid midnight blue and sparkles with lights like stars. Again, there is that feeling present in other European halls of being intimately near the musicians; the seats circle the stage eagerly, and the audience can see every performer. Tonight, instead of the “Yankee Doodle” variations, Bell plays a movement from the second sonata for solo violin, “The Obsession” by Eugene Ysaye. The reaction of the audience is the same, just … Read More

Minnesota Orchestra Tour #6: Cologne and Dusseldorf

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The Minnesota Orchestra is staying in Cologne and doing a “run out” to Dusseldorf for an evening concert, about an hour each way by bus. In World War II, Cologne was bombed by the Allies in more than 250 air raids. Standing in front of the Kölner Dom, as the Cologne Cathedral is called here, a tourist who is unrelated to me in any way and yet loquacious tells me that some One amongst the Allies argued to not bomb the cathedral. (It is a toss up as to whether my tourist friend or Wikipedia is the more believable source, but Wiki claims the cathedral was hit 14 times by the Allies and that Americans used it for rifle practice). … Read More

Minnesota Orchestra #5: Kölner Philharmonie, Cologne

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Rehearsal Pretend you’re Richard Dreyfuss standing underneath the hovering Close Encounters spaceship and you have a sense of what it is like to sit inside the Kölner Philharmonie in Cologne. The interior space is round, with the open stage set low in the middle. Audience seating slopes steeply down to the stage, circling it. As is the custom in many European concert halls, it is possible to watch the conductor from a musicians’ point of view. All audience members can see all musicians, and it is exciting to sit in the hall, even before the music begins. The Minnesota Orchestra is a bit crowded down there on the stage, as they rehearse the concert they will play in an hour. … Read More

Minnesota Orchestra Tour #4: Berlin

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European concert halls often include gorgeous, huge lobbies with lots of areas for socializing, noshing, and drinking. European audiences respond by rushing out to the lobby at interval, because half the concert experience is the concert and the other half is to see and be seen in one of the most hip venues in town. American halls—not all of them, of course—tend to underbuild lobbies, making intermissions into interminable waits standing in line hoping to get a Coke before the intermission runs out. Likewise in the wings. American halls generally offer few and cramped dressing rooms, sometimes tucked into basements one or two floors beneath the stage, and don’t deliver well on artist lounges or food. A vending machine backstage … Read More

Minnesota Orchestra #3: The Barbican

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Rehearsal at the Barbican The Minnesota Orchestra has been bused across London town from the tony Kensington neighborhood edging Kensington Gardens and the Palace (yes, that one) through Westminster and past the Cathedral (yes, that one) to the Barbican. For tomorrow’s concert in Berlin, the orchestra won’t have time to rehearse a note. Tonight, there is time for an hour’s drilling. The Barbican was built in 1982 and, although it is beautifully preserved, the design elements telegraph its age: poured concrete walls, lower-case Helvetica signage everywhere, and jewel-toned light fixtures. It looks like many a Catholic college. Its levels are ominously labeled “minus 1” and “minus 2,” but the stage is actually quite attractive, circled in warm wood tones with … Read More

Minnesota Orchestra Tour #2: Tea with the Isserli

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Cello soloist Steven Isserlis has played with the Minnesota Orchestra a number of times, most recently in November at the St. Paul Cathedral performing John Tavener’s “The Protecting Veil.” Steven’s two sisters, Rachel and Annette, are also accomplished musicians and performed with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment at a St. Paul Chamber Orchestra January concert at the Ordway. The various Isserli invited my husband and me to a proper English tea with them at the London home of their 91-year-old father, George, a self-described “amateur violinist.” Amateur he may be, but his knowledge of symphonic artists and the repertoire is broad and deep, and the cross-table commentary between him and his three professional musician children on soloists and … Read More

Minnesota Orchestra Tour #1: London

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THE MINNESOTA ORCHESTRA has arrived in London for its fourth European tour. Orchestras tour for the same reason star athletes head for the Olympics: it’s the playing field that gets the most international attention. Sure, a tour may boost CD and ticket sales to a degree, but the true benefits are in strengthening the reputation of the orchestra. Performing on international stages where other elite-level musicians perform, and being reviewed by top writers who regularly review the best of the best help establish an orchestra’s position in the small, tight world of symphonic music. Orchestras also build their profiles by broadcasting concerts and recording CDs, and the strategy of Minnesota Orchestra President and CEO Michael Henson is to use all … Read More