Minnesota Singer’s Celebration of Minnesota Orchestra’s Soweto Concert

Scott Chamberlain, a member of the Minnesota Chorale, in a MINNPOST article has celebrated the August 17 concert in Soweto’s Regina Mundi Church by a combined choir that included the Chorale accompanied by the Minnesota Orchestra. [1]

Before the concert, Scott’s Minnesota friend, Mariellen Jacobson, met Teresa, “a beautiful, 80-something” [South African] woman.. . . and learned that she was a parishioner of the church. She spoke passionately about the past, and what it was like living through those tumultuous times. In the student uprisings of 1976, some of the young schoolboys fled to the church to escape the police’s bullets and tear gas. The police followed them right into the church and fired live ammunition inside the sanctuary.” [Teresa said you could still see the bullet holes.] ‘Look up at the crucifix. You’ll see that Jesus has three fingers on his right hand and five fingers on his left hand. Yes, one of the bullets had hit the sculpture.’ “And there it was. This brought it home just how real these events were … this wasn’t something for the history book, but part of the life story of real people.”

Scott added that “Soweto was ready. Long before the concert got under way, a substantial crowd had arrived at the church’s gates, with an excited air of anticipation. Many had never been to a live classical concert before and jumped at a chance to hear how one sounded. Perhaps best of all, a large number of young children were on hand, as Minnesotan Jill Chamberlain discovered. Cousins Tebogo (age 11) and Keo (age 10) were brought by their mother/aunt Josephine. They were seated next to Jill, and once settled, they cheerfully drilled her about concert protocol, how the music would sound … and asked such important questions as what kind of restaurants there were in America and how Americans made their porridge.”

“All in all, excited concertgoers overwhelmed the ticket takers at the door, forcing the concert to start 20 minutes late.”

Scott continued, “the singers of the Minnesota Chorale, Gauteng Choristers and [the South African vocal group] 29:11[named after Jeremiah 29:11]  filled the aisles and belted out the South African national anthem. We were loud, but we were almost certainly drowned out by the 1,300 voices of audience who added their voices to ours. It was a moment of welcome, pride and shared exuberance.”

“The middle-aged [South African] woman next to me was wonderfully fun to sing with — she had a voice that would make any singing group proud. And best of all, she lost none of her exuberance when the orchestra followed up with the Star-Spangled Banner. She didn’t know the words, but effortlessly switched to ‘da-da-da,’ sung with an enormous grin. She loved it. I rarely get hugs handshakes from audience members during an actual performance, but this audience member was giving them out aplenty.”

When the South African soprano, Goitsemang Lehobye “boldly strode out to center stage in gorgeous traditional dress, [to sing with the Orchestra the South African composition for this very tour, Harmonia Ubuntu], the audience went absolutely crazy. I was so, so happy about the inclusion of this piece. It was good, and deserves wider performance. But more than that, it proudly demonstrated that this concert — and by extension, this entire tour — wasn’t about simply performing western art music at local audiences, but actually engaging audiences and performers alike in a shared musical exchange. It showed curiosity about other music  and a willingness to learn about it and embrace it. It showed respect.”

“And the audience absolutely loved it.”

At the conclusion of this piece, “Goitsemang and Osmo [Vänskä] were greeted with an ear-splitting roar that went way beyond appreciation … it showed love. And from that moment, the audience and musicians were one. We were in this together.”

The Orchestra and combined choir then performed the last movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (the Choral Symphony). As Chamberlain said, “it is famously one of the most athletic, brutal works to sing in the standard repertoire. But there it was. It was the perfect piece to sing at Regina Mundi — a musical celebration of our shared humanity and universal joy. And the combined voices of the Minnesota Chorale, Gauteng Choristers, and 29:11 made sure that Beethoven’s song of joy shook Heaven itself. . . . If the audience was fired up before, they were absolutely on fire at the end of the Beethoven.”

“And with that, the concert really got going. Next, Vänskä programmed . . . [four] South African songs that cranked up the excitement even further.”

Akhala Amaqhude Amabili is a setting of two Zulu folk songs, linked by a shared motive of a rooster call (Kikilikigi! in Zulu) to rouse up the community and get ready for the day. The audience loved it.”

The next piece by the combined choir [conducted by Xolani Mootane], an a cappella South African song, Bawo Tixo Somandla, “brought the house down. Back in the 1970s, the work was originally written as an anti-apartheid protest song, asking God the insistent question, ‘Father, God omnipotent, what have we done? Why do we kill each other like this?’. . . This was a work incredibly important to me — singing that song, while I could look around the church and literally see bullet holes left behind by paramilitary raids, was powerful beyond words. The audience had already started singing along when Xolani turned on the podium and gestured for the crowd to rise to their feet. They did so with a roar of voices and began dancing with us. It was a musical spectacle that will always, always stay with me, as we together turned that song into a cry for unity and an end to violence.”

The next song, Ruri (Truly) by Michael Mosoeu Moerane, was gentler, “but no less celebratory song . . .  celebrating God’s creation, where all things—even ferocious crocodiles — are part of a harmonious whole. It is a much-loved, South African favorite.”

“The roof was then blown off yet again with . . .[the final programmed South African song] Usilethela Uxolo, a festive song honoring Nelson Mandela based on a work by South African jazz legend Stompie Mavi. This time the audience needed no invitation — as soon as the chorus came in and started dancing on stage, the audience followed suit. It was wonderful, crazy, musical bedlam, with everyone onstage and offstage joining in the celebration. My God what a party! Seriously… World Cup soccer crowds are more reserved. The roar that filled that church when we were done about shook Regina Mundi off its foundation.”

For an encore, the Orchestra “launched into Shosholoza, a beloved standard that functions as a second national anthem for South Africa. The orchestra players set aside their instruments and belted out the first verse through their voices alone, to the rousing support of the audience. When the chorus came in, bedlam broke out all over again. Dancing! Singing! Bigger dancing, and bigger singing! When it was over we got the biggest roar of them all — and that’s saying something.”

When Chamberlain and the other Minnesota singers thought the concert had ended, some of the male singers in the Gauteng Choristers “started to belt out a song of their own. Soon, all the South African singers caught the tune, and in voices again geared to shake the earth and rattle the heavens, began singing and dancing us off the stage in a completely unscripted kind of exit music, to the continued cheers of the audience. It was remarkable. The orchestra members, in the process of putting their instruments away, stopped with wide-eyed amazement and dived for their cellphones to snap pictures.”

“We in the Chorale had no idea about what the words were, but hey … when we find ourselves in a midst of a musical after-party, we learn fast and join right in. Soon we were singing as well, slowly working our way off stage. But the singing didn’t stop. To our astonishment, our South African peers enveloped us and began marching with us outside the building, and around the church in a musical parade that lasted about 15 minutes. People on the outside rushed forward and joined in the song, reaching in through the fence to give us high fives as we danced across the grounds.”

Scott concluded, “I have never felt so much joy, so much pure, unadulterated joy. Music did that. Music brought us together, wiped out any petty distinctions among us, and for a moment made us one, wonderful family. The universal joy envisioned in Beethoven’s Ode to Joy became real — right there in Soweto.”

Thank you, Scott Chamberlain, for this enthralling and inspiring report.

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[1] Chamberlain, The Minnesota Orchestra’s Extraordinary Experience in Soweto, MINNPOST (Aug. 24, 2018). There also are great photographs of this concert in Ross, Embracing the soul of Soweto,as Minnesota Orchestra finds music is universal language, StarTribune (Aug. 24, 2018). A recording of the concert is available at MPRClassical FM radio. See also these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Nelson Mandela’s Connections with Soweto (Aug. 22, 2018); Minnesota Orchestra in South Africa (Soweto) (Aug. 24, 2018).

 

Minnesota Orchestra in South Africa (Johannesburg)

On August 18 the Minnesota Orchestra played its fifth and last concert in South Africa before a capacity audience of 1,000 that included Dr. Makaziwe “Maki” Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s eldest daughter.

Here is an account of the concert and Orchestra members’ intersections with local musicians.[1]

The Concert

The concert opened with the playing of the South African and U.S. national anthems.  The Orchestra then played the following works:

  • Overture to the operetta Candide by Leonard Bernstein, who shares this year with Nelson Mandela as the centennial of their births.
  • Harmonia Ubuntu, by South African composer Ndodana-Breen with lyrics taken from Mandela’s writings and speeches and with South African soprano, Goitsemang Lehobye, as soloist.
  • Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (The Choral Symphony) with the combined Minnesota Chorale and South Africa’s Gauteng Choristers and soloists (Goitsemang Lehobye, soprano; Minette Du Toit-Pearce, mezzo-soprano; Siyabonga Maqungo, tenor; and Njabulo Madlala, bass-baritone).

Osmo Vänskä returned to the stage after a standing ovation, conducting the orchestra and choir in “Usilethela Uxolo.” He then turned the podium over to Xolani Mootane, who brought down the house with “Bawo Thixo Somandla.” Vänskä again returned to lead the ensemble in a final vocal performance of the unofficial national anthem, “Shosholoza.”

The concert was held in the Johannesburg City Hall, he home of many historical and political events throughout its more than 100-year history. Here are photograph of the Hall and of the Orchestra, both by Travis Anderson.

 

 

 

 

Minnesota-Local Interactions

At a post-concert farewell dinner, the Orchestra’s President and CEO, Kevin Smith, said this tour is, “by all accounts, the biggest project the orchestra has ever done. it’s hard to know where it goes from here, but I think the orchestra will continue to be more adventurous and extensive in how it works and with whom it works and where it goes.”

Roderick Cox, the Orchestra’s Associate Conductor, stayed the next day (Sunday) to conduct the African National Young Orchestra in in Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 after they had rehearsed the work the prior week with Orchestra musicians. According to Cox, his job is to “ take all this vibrant, passionate sound they’re giving and try to contain it and shape it for the music we’re doing, like Sibelius.” An aspiring local conductor, Chad Hendricks, age 27, commented  that seeing Cox, who is black, on the platform, “inspired a lot of kids.” For South Africans growing up in black and mixed-race communities, there aren’t a lot of opportunities, and there isn’t a lot of exposure to this kind of thing. A lot of the underprivileged kids that were here … they’re seeing someone they can relate to.”[2]

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[1] Minn. Orch., Minnesota Orchestra in Johannesburg (Aug. 18, 2018); Minn. Orch., Johannesburg/Aug 18.

[2] Ross, A young South African symphony takes its cue from the Minnesota  Orchestra, StarTribune (Aug. 23, 2018); Chamberlain, “Tour’ is inadequate to explain what’s happening between the Minnesota Orchestra and South African musicians, MinnPost (Aug. 17, 2018).

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.”

Pretoria

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.

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[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).

 

 

Minnesota Orchestra’s Other Activities in Cape Town, South Africa

Before the August 10 concert in Cape Town’s City Hall, the Orchestra’s Music Director Osmo Vänskä and some of the musicians took the 45-minute boat ride from the city across Table Bay to Robben Island to visit the prison where Mandela and other opponents of apartheid had been imprisoned.[1]

Their guide, Derrick Basson, 51, who had been a political prisoner there for five years, said that he and every other prisoner were “greeted” upon arrival with these words: “This is no Johannesburg or Pretoria. This is Robben Island. And over here, you’re certainly going to die.” Even the diet was discriminatory. “Bantus” (blacks) got no bread and less fat and sugar than “Coloureds” (mixed-race and Asians). They saw Mandela’s cell, which was barely 6 feet wide.

The morning after their concert, a brass quintet from the Orchestra spent some time at the Cape Town Music Institute, a school tucked behind the bleachers of Athlone Stadium in Cape Flats, a low-lying, flat area southeast of the central business district of Cape Town. Trombonist Doug Wright was impressed by the local brass musicians, who really  appreciated the visit by the Minnesota players.

Later that same morning, the Minnesota brass quintet and others from the Orchestra visited the Eurocon Primary School in Elsie’s River—just outside the city. They were greeted by a rousing song in the courtyard by the school choir. Then inside the Minnesota musicians in small groups with grade-schoolers and their families explained how their instruments worked and played in a string quartet, a woodwind quintet and a brass quintet. The kids rang with laughter when musician Steven Campbell, demonstrating how low his tuba could go, pretended to collapse under the effort.  Everyone then returned to the courtyard for dances by local women and performances by local singers, including the 29:11 group, which had performed in Minnesota last month.[2]

The school choir, led by a 12-year-old soloist sang—in English, Swahili and Afrikaans—“I Am a Small Part of the World.” It brought tears to the eyes of Minnesota cellist Marcia Peck, who said, “I just could see my daughter at Hopkins grammar school singing the same song.” Below is a photograph of the school choir.

Others from the Orchestra and Vänskä that day went to the Artscape Theatre Centre in downtown Cape Town  to rehearse and coach student members of the Cape Town Youth Orchestra. One of the pieces they played was Sibelius’ Finlandia. This prompted Vänskä to say they needed to know the story of this piece of music and its importance in Finland’s quest for independence from Russia.”When you play, you need to say something,” he said.

Cape Town, by the way, is the site of the country’s Legislature and is approximately 31 miles northwest of the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of the Cape Peninsula, which is the penultimate southern tip of the African Continent.

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[1] Ross, In South Africa, Minnesota orchestra makes grim visit to Mandela’s former prison cell, StarTribune (Aug. 13, 2018); Kerr, ‘A very sacred space’: Minn. Orchestra musicians visit Mandela’s Robben Island cell, MPR News (Aug. 9, 2018).

[2] Kerr, Music brings together Minnesota Orchestra musicians, South African students, MPRnews (Aug. 11, 2018); Minn. Orchestra, Cape Town/Aug 10-11; Ross, In teaching young South African talents, Minn. Orchestra musicians find their own inspiration, StarTribune (Aug. 15, 2018). These and other articles plus photographs are available online: http://www.startribune.com/follow-minnesota-orchestra-s-first-of-its-kind-tour-to-south-africa/488534621.

Minnesota Orchestra’s Concert in South Africa (Cape Town)

On August 10, the Minnesota Orchestra played the first concert on its South African tour in Cape Town’s City Hall. Below are photographs of the City Hall’s auditorium where the concert was played and of its exterior (with Table Mountain in the background).[1]

 

 

 

 

The concert opened with the Orchestra playing the South African and U.S. national anthems and then Jean Sibelius’ “En Saga, ” an 1882 tone poem which the composer said was “ the expression of a state of mind. I had undergone a number of painful experiences at the time and in no other work have I revealed myself so completely. It is for this reason that I find all literary explanations quite alien.” (Sibelius and the Orchestra’s Music Director, Osmo Vänskä, are both Finnish natives.)

South African soprano, Goitsemang Lehobye, then joined the Orchestra to sing  “Harmonia Ubuntu,”  which was commissioned for this  tour and which had its world premiere at the Orchestra’s home in Minneapolis on July 21, 2018.  A review of the world premier of this work said it had a “bublingly eventful score that effectively referenced African rhythms and melodies, and peppered the orchestral textures with a Wasembe rattle and a djembe” African goblet-shaped drum.  [2]

The work’s  South African composer, Ndodana-Breen, who was in the audience for both of these concerts, said this work was inspired by Mandela’s exemplifying the African values of ubuntu—the knowledge that one’s humanity is tied in harmony to the humanity of others. The lyrics, which were drawn from Mandela’s speeches and writings, are the following (in English translation):

  • “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
  • “For to be free is not to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that enhances the freedom of others.”
  • “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with them. Then he becomes your partner.”
  • “In the end, reconciliation is a spiritual process. It requires more than just words. It has to happen in the hearts and minds of people.”
  • “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”
  • “We understand it still that there is no easy road to freedom. We know it well. That none of us acting alone can achieve success. We must therefore act together as a united people for reconciliation, the birth of a new world.”
  • “Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all.”
  • “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways you yourself have changed.”
  • “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”
  • “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fail.”
  • “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”

The concert concluded with Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide, an operetta first performed on Broadway in 1956, and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, which had its premiere in Vienna in 1808.

After a few standing ovations, Vänskä, for the first encore, turned again to Sibelius. But for the second encore, the director returned to the podium with a surprise.

After single drum beats were joined by marimba and horns, the Orchestra musicians started singing  “Shosholoza,” a song originally sung (in call and response style) by all-male African workers working in diamond and gold mines and later sung by the prisoners on Robben Island. Mandela described it as “a song that compares the apartheid struggle to the motion of an oncoming train” and went on to explain that “the singing made the work lighter.” Here is one English translation of the lyrics: “Go forward. Go forward, from those mountains, on this train from South Africa. Go forward. Go forward. You are running away. You are running away, from those mountains, on this train from South Africa.”  It is so popular in South African culture that it often is referred to as the country’s unofficial national anthem.

As soon as the Orchestra started singing this song, the crowd erupted. They laughed, they clapped, they pulled out their cellphones. Then many of them sang along.

Before leaving this account of the Cape Town concert, it also should be mentioned that this city played an important part in the life of Nelson Mandela. Roughly 4 miles west of Cape Town across Table Bay lies Robben Island, where Mandela spent the first 18 years of his imprisonment. And on February 11, 1990, after over 26 years of imprisonment, he was released from Victor Verster Prison, roughly 40 miles east of Cape Town and immediately went to the front steps of its City Hall for his first speech as a free man for a crowd of 50,000 people and a worldwide television audience; this speech will be covered in a later post.

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[1] Minn. Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra in Cape Town, Blain, Beethoven, with South African flavor, StarTribune (July 23, 2018); Ross, Packing instruments and loads of goodwill, StarTribune (Aug. 5, 2018).

[2] Minn. Orchestra, Sommerfest Program;Blain, South African composer celebrates Mandela’s Message, StarTribune (July 20, 2018); Ross, Ode to Minnesota and South African Joy, StarTribune (July 22, 2018); Blain, Beethoven, with South African flavor, StarTribune (July 23, 2018); Ross, Packing instruments and loads of goodwill, StarTribune (Aug. 5, 2018); Ross, In a historic moment for Minnesota Orchestra, music echoes the words of Nelson Mandela, StarTribune (Aug. 10, 2018)(the digital version of this article has beautiful photographs of the concert).

[3] Burns, SOUTH AFRICA’s NEW ERA; on Mandela’s Walk, Hope and Violence, N.Y. Times (Feb. 12, 1990).

 

Inspirations for Minnesota Orchestra’s South African Tour

This August the Minnesota Orchestra will be in South Africa for concerts in five cities while previews were provided in concerts at its home in Minneapolis.[1]

The Inspirations for the Tour

There are at least three events that inspired this tour.[2]

  1. The Orchestra’s Trip to Cuba[3]

In May 2015 the Minnesota Orchestra went to Cuba for two concerts in Havana. On this short trip the U.S. musicians discovered the joy of meeting and working with young musicians from another country at their music schools and in side-by-side rehearsals, an experience to be duplicated in South Africa. These Cuban interactions inspired a freelance clarinetist on the tour, Rena Kraut, to create a Minnesota non-profit, Cuban American Youth Orchestra (CAYO), whose mission is to provide “a professional-level musical and educational experience in which Cuban and American youth can turn to each other with honest curiosity and a true desire for mutual learning [and thereby] leave a musical imprint on the hearts of our musicians, staff and audience, cultivating a spirit of goodwill and hope for our mutual futures.”

Moreover, said Music Director Osmo Vänskä, Cuba changed the ensemble after a contentious 16-month labor dispute and lock out. “We had already started to do things a new way with more collaboration, more teamwork. . . . Now, when we go somewhere, we don’t want to play and go home. We want to leave something there.”

The Cuba trip also demonstrated that this organization could respond quickly and competently to new opportunities. On December 17, 2014, Presidents Obama and Raúl Castro simultaneously announced that the two countries had started a process of normalizing their relations, and soon thereafter the Minnesota Orchestra announced that it would be going to Cuba in May 2015 for two concerts in Havana. This experience gave them confidence that they could tackle new opportunities and did not have to wait for larger, more prestigious orchestras to blaze paths.

As Kevin Smith, the Orchestra’s outgoing CEO and President recently stated, the South African tour of five concerts in five cities over 11 days and nearly 9,000 miles from home and the integration of two choirs with different native languages in a country whose native languages probably were unknown to the Minnesotans was on “steroids” compared with the two back-to-back concerts in one city (Havana) over less than one week with only orchestral music and “only” 1,630 miles from home in a country whose native language (Spanish) was probably known to at least some of the Minnesotans.

  1. Music Director Vänskä’s Conducting a South African Youth Orchestra

In 2014 in Pretoria, South Africa Music Director Vänskä conducted the South African National Youth Orchestra and said this experience was “a turning point in my life.” One reason for that impact was his learning that some of the musicians lived in tents and tin shacks and still loved music and could play at the highest level. When the Minnesota Orchestra visits that city this August he will lead side-by-side rehearsals with that same youth orchestra. He said, “It is a great experience when young musicians can sit next to the professional musicians and share these things.” In South Africa, he added, classical music is sometimes seen as being “for white people,” but he hopes this tour will reach the country’s black people too.

At a welcoming dinner this August in Cape Town, Marilyn Carlson Nelson, the Chair of the Orchestra’s Board, toasted the person who invited Osmo to conduct this youth orchestra because that person “created the dream in Osmo’s head that we must come [to South Africa] and we must make music and make the world better place through musical understanding. So thank you, Osmo, for letting us be part of your dream.”

  1. Celebration of Nelson Mandela’s Centennial

In 2016-17 the Orchestra realized that 2018 would be the centennial of the birth of Nelson Mandela with many celebrations around the world, and the Orchestra people thought that  such a tour would be another appropriate way of honoring Mandela.

Making the Dream a Reality

Turning the dream of a South African tour into a reality obviously required a lot of planning and financial resources.

The financial support for this expensive project was provided by an anonymous couple and by the following nine major Minnesota-based companies or affiliates: Ecolab Foundation;  Medtronic Foundation, TCF Financial Corporation; Land O’Lakes, Inc.; 3M Corporation; U.S. Bank; THOR Companies; Target Corporation; and Pentair. Some of the funds from the Medtronic Foundation will be used to buy concert tickets for less-fortunate South Africans and their children.

Minnesota Orchestra Board Chair Nelson said, “We are immensely grateful to our individual and corporate donors for making this project possible. We live in an interconnected world, and the ‘Music for Mandela’ project underscores this idea, bringing together business support, community members, cultural interests and international performers to harness the power of music by commemorating an iconic visionary of our time.”

To assist with the tour logistics, the Orchestra retained Classical Movements, a U.S. company that since 1994 has arranged 250 concerts in South Africa, mainly by U.S. choirs. Classical Movements President Neeta Helms said, “After working in South Africa since 1994, Classical Movements is very grateful that one of the top orchestras in the United States will make this historic, first-ever tour to South Africa. It is an enormous undertaking and a statement of the importance of Africa and the growth of orchestral music in this most choral of countries. This dynamic and visionary Orchestra is exactly the right musical ambassador to pave the way for others to follow.”

Conclusion

The Orchestra’s CEO and President, Kevin Smith, said, This [tour] is our chance to musically honor a great leader and to share music and goodwill across international borders. It is a unique opportunity to bring cultures together through music, and we are honored to play a role in the Nelson Mandela centenary celebration.”

Principal Horn, Michael Gast, put it well when he said, “We are not averse to risk and challenges. We’re the orchestra that goes where others haven’t or won’t.”

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[1] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Minnesota Orchestra Celebrates the Life of Nelson Mandela (July 24, 2018); Minnesota Orchestra’s “Celebrating Mandela at 100” Concert (July 29, 2018).

[2] Minnesota Orchestra, Program: Sommerfest 2018; Classical Movements, Minnesota Orchestra: Music for Mandela; Ross, Ode to Minnesotan and South African Joy, StarTribune (July 22, 2018); Ross, Packing instruments and loads of goodwill, StarTribune (July 5, 2018); Ross, South African tour represents ‘a new way’ for Minnesota Orchestra, StarTribune (Aug. 10, 2018); Ross, Another first for Minnesota Orchestra: A tour of South Africa, StarTribune (Aug. 10, 2018); Ross, Gallery: Minnesota Orchestra previews South African tour: ‘Music became a weapon against apartheid, StarTribune (Aug. 10, 2018); Ross, In a historic moment for Minnesota Orchestra, music echoes the words of Nelson Mandela, StarTribune (Aug. 13, 2018); Kerr, Minnesota orchestra hopes voices rise, walls fall on South Africa tour, classical MPR (Aug. 7, 2018).

[3] See thee posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Minnesota Orchestra To Go to Cuba (Feb. 13, 2015); Minnesota Orchestra Goes to Cuba This Week! (May 11, 2015); Minnesota Orchestra’s Trip to Cuba Garners National Recognition (Dec. 17, 2015).

 

Successful Benefit Concert for Displaced Syrians

arc_tw_graphic_1027152-b39f6fe5On January 3, 2016, a group of musicians from the Minnesota Orchestra played a beautiful and successful concert to benefit Syrians displaced in their own country.[1] Here is a poster for the concert with photographs of (a) Erin Keefe, the Orchestra’s Concertmaster, with Osmo Vänskä, the Orchestra’s Music Director; and (b) Beth Rapier and Tony Ross, Cellists with the Orchestra and the originators of the idea for the concert.

The concert raised over $75,000 for the Minneapolis-headquartered American Refugee Committee (ARC) to support its efforts to help the 7.6 million Syrians who have been forced to relocate within their own country because of the war.[2] There ARC with the aid of heroic Syrians works to:

  • help improve the physical conditions of make-shift shelters where people have fled;
  • build and repair water and sanitation infrastructure, helping to prevent disease;
  • provide youth mentoring and support services;
  • reconnect orphaned children with family members;
  • counsel victims of abuse and trauma; and
  • provide children the opportunity to play and have fun.

Other contributions for this cause would be appreciated; just go to ARC’s website [http://www.arcrelief.org/site/PageServer] and do so.

The concert was opened by the Minnesota Orchestra Brass Quintet. They played several numbers, including Leonard Bernstein’s “Maria” and “Tonight” from “West Side Story,” the Broadway musical. The Quintet members were Douglas Wright, trombone; Robert Doerr and Charles Lazarus, trumpet; Steven Campbell, tuba; and Michael Gast, horn.

Then Osmo Vänskä, an accomplished clarinetist in addition to being a great conductor, played the clarinet in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart‘s beautiful Clarinet Concerto in A Major (K 622), which was composed shortly before Mozart’s death in 1791. Vänskä was backed by 18 members of the Orchestra.[3]

Osmo and Tony

audience DSC02485

 

 

 

 

Above are photographs of Vänskä playing the concerto and of the audience of over 900 in the beautiful and modern sanctuary of Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Edina, Minnesota.

The program ended with Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky’s difficult String Sextet in D minor (Op.70). It was titled “Souvenir de Florence” because the composer sketched one of the work’s principal themes while visiting Florence, Italy in 1890. The violinists were Erin Keefe and Cecilia Belcher; violaists, Tom Turner and Sabrina Thatcher; and cellists, Ross and Rapier. Ross thought the piece might be Tchaikovsky’s greatest.

The concert had principal support from St. John’s Episcopal Church of Minneapolis and Our Lady of Grace along with 24 other Christian, Jewish and Islamic congregations from the Twin Cities.

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[1] Royce,  Minnesota Orchestra musicians unite for concert to aid Syrian refugees, StarTribune (Dec. 23, 2015); Program, Chamber Music Concert for Refugees Inside Syria (Jan. 3, 2016).

[2] ARC, Syria Relief.  As explained in a prior post, one of the international legal requirements for refugee status is an individual’s being outside his or her home country. Therefore, the beneficiaries of this concert, Syrians who have not left their own country, are technically not “refugees,” but rather “internally displaced people” or “IDP’s” in international relief jargon. But they are just as deserving of our compassion as those Syrians who have fled their country, perhaps more so because those who stay are trying to live in the midst of the war.

[3] A prior post described Vânskä’s playing the clarinet in a Havana music club after the Orchestra’s second concert in Cuba last May. Minnesota Orchestra’s Cuba trip Garners National Recognition (Dec. 17, 2015).