Minnesota Orchestra in South Africa (Pretoria) 

On August 16  the Minnesota Orchestra presented the third concert of its South African tour, this in the  Aula Theatre at the University of Pretoria.[1] Below is a photograph of the Orchestra at this concert.

The program was the same as presented in Cape Town on August 10, which was the subject of a prior post. Here we will examine, the Orchestra members’ interactions with local musicians and facts about Pretoria. A subsequent post will examine  Nelson Mandela’s inaugural speech as South  Africa’s President in 1994 at the Government’s Union Buildings in Pretoria.

Minnesota and African Musicians interactions[2]

 On the afternoon of August 15, the Orchestra had a side-by-side rehearsal with the South African National Youth Orchestra (SANYO), which is now in its 54th year, which  has become one of the country’s most successful nurturers of its finest young musicians and which Osmo Vänskä in 2014 had guest conducted.

During the rehearsal one of the Minnesota violinists, Michael Sutton, loaned his bow to South African violinist Casey Jacobs, who said his bow was much better than hers. Sutton retorted, “We can Swap violins, too!” After she played Sutton’s old and very expensive violin, she said, “”I am so in awe, I literally have no words to describe this feeling. It is really cool, so I am really happy I am here.” Sutton’s wife, Beatrice Blanc, who also is a violinist, watched from the audience with tears in her eyes. She pointed out that Michael was sitting inside of Jacobs and turning pages for her. “That shows respect.”

Sophia Weiz, the managing director for SANYO, said, “This type of experience is a real confidence builder for . . . [our musicians]. Side-by-side rehearsals are like a booster shot. While this might be a small amount of time together, it’s extremely intense and it makes a lasting impression with these students.”

After both groups had dinner together in a nearby restaurant, the SANYO musicians attended the Minnesotans rehearsal with the combined choir of the Minnesota Chorale and the Gauteng Choristers.

The next day, the students spent the day working one-on-one with musicians in master classes and chamber music sessions.

In addition, Vänskä led  a conducting workshop at the University of Pretoria. Responding to a student question about the importance of Vänskä’s Finnish background in interpreting Sibelius, Vänskä said, “It doesn’t hurt to be Finnish But there are many non-Finnish conductors who do it very well too. If we hear something again and again, that makes us think it is our music. When you repeat something, you can become a specialist.”

Other questions concerned stage fright, baton technique, rehearsal preparation and communication with musicians. Vänskä offered a general rule with good humor: “The more you speak, the more the players hate you. It is always better to go with body language. The composer is the highest order. We are performers and we must follow the composer.”

Later Vänskä and a small group of the Orchestra attended a reception at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence. Afterwards the U.S. Charge d’Affaire, Finland, went with the musicians to the Aula center for the concert.

At the start of the concert, Lappen praised the Orchestra and the audience for being part of the celebration around Mandela’s 100th. “All of you being here reaffirms our belief in arts and cultural affairs as a way to sustain relationships. The musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra are citizen diplomats and represent the very best of the U.S.”  Lapenn concluded her remarks, describing how music brings unity from diversity and that orchestras are the perfect example of this: a group of individuals with tremendous abilities who work together toward a common goal. For an orchestra, that shared goal is to bring beauty and empathy to our shared humanity. “That’s the spirit of Nelson Mandela that we need to move his legacy forward.”


With a population of 742,000, Pretoria is in the northeastern part of the country only 34 miles north-northeast of Johannesburg. It is the seat of the administrative branch of the national government with Cape Town having the legislative branch and Bloemfontein the judicial branch. Pretoria also is known as an academic center with three universities, the Council for Scientific and Cultural Research and the South African Bureau of Standards.


[1]  Minn. Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra in Pretoria (Aug. 16, 2018) .

[2] Minn. Orch., Pretoria/Aug 15; Minn. Orch., Pretoria/Aug. 16; Kerr, Small moments have big impact on orchestra’s South African trip, MPRnews (Aug. 16, 2018).