This may come as a shock to many people but…. the classical music world is very strange. Case in point – this weekend, which found me the one place I was pretty sure I would never be again, and though it was a balmy 64 degrees in Minnesota it was certainly the coldest day in the history of hell.
A few months ago I was minding my own business on a bright, sunny day, and my phone rang. It was my manager. Or more to the point it seemed like it was my manager, but he was laughing so hard he couldn’t get a word out. I was rather unsure how to take his fit of hilarity until he managed to choke out the following question: “How would you like to conduct the Minnesota Orchestra?”
Many things ran though my mind at this point, including the following options:
- After 20 years of dealing with me the poor bastard has finally lost his mind.
- I didn’t remember walking into a blue police box and being delivered into an alternate universe. (Note to self – be on the lookout for mobile trashcans screaming “EXTERMINATE!”)
- I should look around for the cameras because this is obviously a pilot for a new reality show.
Once my brain had slowed down, and his laughter had subsided to a manageable level, the truth came out – yes, the Minnesota Orchestra had called and would like for me to conduct their free concert at the Lake Harriet bandshell.
At this point I should back up. About 2 1/2 years ago I published a blog titled The Sinking of the Minnesota. I knew when I hit the publish button that it might cause some waves, and that’s exactly what happened. I heard through the grapevine that the King Under the Mountain, HeDaCam, was … well, displeased. At that point I pretty much gave up any illusion of standing in front of the Minnesota Orchestra ever again. But I have a personal motto, one of my favorite lines from Divina Comedia –
The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.
The ensuing two years were not pretty, watching the war raging over the future of the M.O. I would occasionally contribute but I have no illusion as to what group carried the vast majority of the battle. Once the settlement finally came I felt a little empty, glad that the orchestra was back but also wondering if it had all been worth it.
And then that call came. There was no question whether I would say yes, of course. Which meant that yesterday I found myself conducting the Minnesota Orchestra, in public, in front of thousands of people. Lake Harriet is a beautiful setting in Minneapolis, a wonderful place to see a concert, and we had a large an enthusiastic crowd. I was delighted to see friends, family, and acquaintances in the audience, but I was happiest to have the opportunity to make music with this orchestra that was full of so many friends and colleagues. Yes, we’re all a little older, with a little more gray hair, but it was wonderful. For me, it was closure. I finally feel like this sad chapter in the history of this great orchestra is over. Those of you on Crackbo…… uhhh…… FaceBook, should wander over to the Minnesota Orchestra page for some great photos.
So, what have we learned? We have learned that these venerable cultural institutions make a great impact in the society, but perhaps it takes an event like the lockout for that impact to be truly appreciated. Because of the last two years many folks have found a voice. Two bloggers in particular have come on the scene – Emily at Song of the Lark has taken it upon herself to be an advocate for musicians everywhere. I get the distinct impression she doesn’t like secrets. Scott at Mask of the Flower Prince has emerged as an highly insightful analyzer of music and the music industry. But I am perhaps happiest to see the advocacy of young Ms. Emily Green and her organization – Young Musicians of Minnesota. She is putting paid to the lie that the next generation doesn’t care.
Most importantly, I detect a sea change at the Minnesota Orchestra. The musicians I talked to were downright enthusiastic about the direction the institution was heading in. They have a person dedicated to inclusivity in their new board chair Gordon Sprenger. One of his first moves was to bring in Kevin Smith as interim President & CEO. He’s someone familiar with the Minnesota scene from his stint at the Minnesota Opera, and he has the trust of the musicians. And now the musicians themselves are engaged. They have taken responsibility in many areas of the organization, and there is a palpable sense that everyone realizes that the traditional balkanization of symphony structures cannot remain in place. This feels real.
The M.O. opens their 2014-15 season next week with Mahler’s Resurrection symphony. Somehow I doubt that is a programming coincidence. I wish them the best of luck. Perhaps the lessons learned here will serve as a guidepost for other orchestras in this hemisphere (yes, thinking of our colleagues in Atlanta). Thanks to all of you this orchestra is back.