Vänskä sets down the baton and takes up the pen

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 15, 2008 - 4:44 PM

The famed music conductor makes his second foray into the world of composition with a nine-minute work that reflects the 35W bridge collapse.

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Minnesota Orchestra Music Director Osmo Vanska

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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Osmo Vänskä, composer, has struck again. The music director of the Minnesota Orchestra has knocked out a new work titled "Bridges" that will have its premiere on Sunday with the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra. The nine-minute piece was inspired by the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge last summer.

Bill Schrickel, principal bass with the Minnesota Orchestra and conductor of the Metropolitan Symphony, had been nagging Vänskä to write something since 2006, when the Minnesota Orchestra performed his composition "Here!...Beyond?"

For a long time, Vänskä begged off because of his busy schedule but also because he didn't feel a specific impulse to write.

"But Bill was very stubborn and said I have to do it," Vänskä said.

Last Aug. 1 when the bridge collapsed within sight of Vänskä's downtown Minneapolis condo, it was not just that incident that affected him. He saw bridges as a multidimensional symbol of the relationships between human beings, the spans that connect places and people.

So Vänskä has had the composition on his mind since August, even though he didn't sit down at his computer until after Christmas to start plunking out notes on his Sibelius music-writing program. His deadline was March. The piece will be on a program that features Mahler's 7th, so the composer said he wrote with that in mind.

Vänskä attended a Metropolitan rehearsal last month and Schrickel said the maestro made a few generous suggestions.

"These musicians will never forget the night Osmo Vänskä was at the rehearsal and worked with us," Schrickel said. "I can appreciate what it meant to carve out the time to do this with his schedule. It was a sacrifice by him and we want to repay him with the best possible performance."

While admitting that he makes himself vulnerable with the risk of composing, Vänskä feels it's a necessary challenge.

"We like to test our outer limits," he said. "If we don't test, risk, we don't get something from life. If no one likes it, no problem. I have still done it. It makes me a better conductor."

Schrickel feels the pressure, too.

"I have such respect for Osmo as a musician," he said. "And he's my boss."

The Metropolitan Symphony is in its 25th year as a community orchestra. St. Olaf graduates started it as a small chamber orchestra and it has grown to full-size.

Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299

  • BRIDGES

    What: By Osmo Vänskä. On a program with Mahler's 7th Symphony. Performed by the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra.

    When: 4 p.m. Sun.

    Where: Normandale Lutheran Church, 6100 Normandale Road, Edina.

    Tickets: Free, general seating.

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