MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA (NOVEMBER 10, 2021) — Hailed as “our greatest living Sibelian” by the U.K.’s Sunday Times, Osmo Vänskä continues his final season as Minnesota Orchestra Music Director by leading the Orchestra in a three-week Sibelius Festival this winter. Commencing on New Year’s Eve, the festival is a tribute to the special place of Sibelius’ music in the relationship between Mr. Vänskä and the Orchestra, having been the focus of some of their most inspired and critically acclaimed collaborations, including a Grammy Award-winning recording. The festival’s four programs encompass all seven Sibelius symphonies, as well as works for voice and orchestra and two versions of the composer’s Violin Concerto—the one familiar to most audiences, finalized in 1905, and the original, lesser-known version premiered in 1904.

Performances take place on Friday, December 31 at 8:30 p.m. & Saturday, January 1 at 2:00 p.m. (Symphonies No. 2 & 7; Autumn EveningHertig Magnus, & Luonnotar, featuring soprano Helena Juntunen), Friday, January 7 at 8:00 p.m. & Saturday, January 8 at 8:00 p.m. (Symphonies No. 1 & 6; original version of Violin Concerto, featuring Elina Vähälä), Thursday, January 13 at 11:00 a.m. & Friday, January 14 at 8:00 p.m. (Symphonies No. 3 & 4; final version of Violin Concerto, featuring Elina Vähälä), and Saturday, January 15 at 8:00 p.m. & Sunday, January 16 at 2:00 p.m. (exploration / discussion and performance of Symphony No. 5 with Minnesota Orchestra violist Sam Bergman and Mr. Vänskä).

When Osmo Vänskä arrived in Minneapolis as Minnesota Orchestra Music Director in 2003, the Finnish conductor brought with him a reputation as one of the world’s foremost interpreters of the music of his country’s most recognized composer, Jean Sibelius (1865-1957). Mr. Vänskä had studied conducting at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki and went on to record a highly regarded Sibelius symphony cycle during his tenure as Chief Conductor of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, the resident orchestra of Sibelius Hall.

With the Minnesota Orchestra—after having completed a Beethoven symphony cycle that, according to The New York Times, “may be the definitive [cycle] of our time”—Mr. Vänskä once again turned his sights to Sibelius. He and the Orchestra embarked on a new Sibelius symphony cycle on the BIS Records label that would see them firmly in the awards mix for years, with the second volume winning the Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance in 2014.

Released as a four-disc box set in 2020, Mr. Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra’s Sibelius symphony recordings remain among the most prized musical treasures of their nearly 20 years together. The upcoming festival represents an opportunity to experience their Sibelius one last time during Mr. Vänskä’s tenure, including a festival finale program that pairs a performance of the composer’s Symphony No. 5 with an in-depth exploration of the work by Orchestra violist Sam Bergman and Mr. Vänskä. Together, they discuss the unusual history of this symphony, illuminating their points with musical examples along the way.

The festival is also an opportunity to hear compositions by Sibelius that have never before been performed at Orchestra Hall. The opening New Year’s Eve program on December 31 and January 1 features two such works, both for voice and orchestra: “Höstkväll” (Autumn Evening), from Five Songs, Op. 38, No. 1 (1903), and “Hertig Magnus” (Duke Magnus), from Eight Songs, Op. 57, No. 6 (1909). Both are settings by then-contemporary Swedish poets, Viktor Rydberg and Ernst Josephson, respectively. Soprano Helena Juntunen, who regularly performs at the Finnish National Opera and previously appeared on the Minnesota Orchestra’s recording of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, is the featured soloist in these works, as well as in Sibelius’ tone poem Luonnotar, based on Finnish mythology. The text of Luonnotar comes from the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic, and describes the creation of the world.

Soprano Helena Juntunen (left), a Karita Mattila Prize winner whose recent highlights include debuts with the Berlin Philharmonic and BBC Symphony Orchestra. Violinist Elina Vähälä (right), who regularly appears with major Finnish orchestras as well as with ensembles worldwide, including recent-season performances in the U.S. with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Buffalo Philharmonic.

The program on January 7 & 8 features the original version of Sibelius’ Violin Concerto, performed with soloist Elina Vähälä and also heard at Orchestra Hall for the first time. This is the version of the work—Sibelius’ only concerto—that the composer conducted in its 1904 world premiere. Sibelius had only just completed the score, and the premiere was considered a disaster, owing largely to the difficulty of the solo part and lack of time for the soloist to prepare. Sibelius chose to revise the work before publication, and that version—the one most familiar to audiences today—was premiered under the baton of Richard Strauss in 1905.

Nevertheless, there has remained interest in the more virtuosic early version, and in 1991, it was finally heard again when Sibelius’ heirs granted permission for Mr. Vänskä (then in Lahti) to conduct one live performance and one recording with soloist Leonidas Kavakos. Permissions have since been broadened, and Mr. Vänskä looks forward to bringing this rare musical treat to Orchestra Hall. Ms. Vähälä is one of the few violinists in the world who has performed this earlier rendition of the Violin Concerto, and she also performs the final, 1905 version as part of the festival’s January 13 & 14 program. She previously appeared with the Minnesota Orchestra in 2017 as part of its Finnish centennial celebration.

Click here to learn more about Mr. Vänskä’s final season as Music Director of the Minnesota Orchestra, and here for a full chronological calendar of the Orchestra’s 2021-22 season. Beyond 2022, Mr. Vänskä and the Orchestra will maintain their musical relationship, with Mr. Vänskä returning for ongoing concert engagements. For a timeline of his tenure with the Orchestra, click here.

ABOUT

The Minnesota Orchestra, founded in 1903 and led since 2003 by Music Director Osmo Vänskä, ranks among America’s top symphonic ensembles, with a history of acclaimed performances in its home state and around the world; award-winning recordings, radio broadcasts, and educational programs; and a commitment to intentionally build concert programs to feature more works by composers of color, exploring music both contemporary and historic. The Orchestra presents about 175 programs in a typical season, most at Orchestra Hall, its home in downtown Minneapolis that was built in 1974, renovated in 2014, and is known for its modern design and acoustical brilliance. Learn more via minnesotaorchestra.org.

Music Director Osmo Vänskä is recognized for compelling interpretations of repertoire of all ages and an energetic presence on the podium. His democratic and inclusive style of work has been key in forging long-standing relationships with different orchestras. With the Minnesota Orchestra, he has undertaken five major European tours, as well as historic trips to Cuba in 2015—the first visit by an American orchestra since the two countries re-established diplomatic relations—and South Africa in 2018, as part of worldwide celebrations of Nelson Mandela’s Centenary—the first visit by an American orchestra, drawing together South African and American performers in musical expressions of peace, freedom and reconciliation, on a five-city tour following a successful return to London’s BBC Proms. He is also Music Director of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra since 2020, honorary conductor of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, and Conductor Laureate of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra. Learn more via harrisonparrott.com.

For the 2021-22 season, all Minnesota Orchestra audience members, musicians, guest artists, staff, and volunteers must have received their final COVID-19 vaccination dose at least 14 days prior to any event they plan to attend. Alternatively, proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test result within 72 hours prior to the event can be shown upon arrival. Children and adults who are not eligible for vaccination at this time are still welcome at Orchestra Hall with proof of a negative test result. Ticketholders will receive specific instructions for entry in advance of their performance. For more information, visit minnesotaorchestra.org.

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SIBELIUS FESTIVAL

Minnesota Orchestra
Osmo Vänskä, Music Director

Orchestra Hall | Minneapolis, MN

Friday, December 31 at 8:30 p.m. CT
Saturday, January 1 at 2:00 p.m. CT

Helena Juntunen, soprano

A NEW YEAR’S CELEBRATION

Symphony No. 7
Autumn Evening
Hertig Magnus
Luonnotar

Symphony No. 2

Friday, January 7 at 8:00 p.m. CT
Saturday, January 8 at 8:00 p.m. CT

Elina Vähälä, violin

SYMPHONIES NO. 1 AND 6

Symphony No. 6
Violin Concerto (original version)
Symphony No. 1

Thursday, January 13 at 11:00 a.m. CT
Friday, January 14 at 8:00 p.m. CT

Elina Vähälä, violin

SYMPHONIES NO. 3 AND 4

Symphony No. 4
Symphony No. 3
Violin Concerto (final version)

Saturday, January 15 at 8:00 p.m. CT
Sunday, January 16 at 2:00 p.m. CT

Sam Bergman, host and Minnesota Orchestra violist

EXPLORING SYMPHONY NO. 5 WITH SAM BERGMAN

Symphony No. 5

For festival ticketing information, visit minnesotaorchestra.org.