Clarinetists Vänskä, Henson, Hara should toot a tune together

  • Article by: BARBARA FLANAGAN
  • Updated: April 6, 2008 - 11:13 PM

The Flanagan Memo - Re: The Minnesota Orchestra's clarinet trio; the Peek-A-Boo window.

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The Minnesota Orchestra will spend some big bucks on Orchestra Hall this year and that's good. So who is paying for the $90 million in improvements?

Well, a lot of us who care about the orchestra and the hall, that's who. Many of us have given something to the cause, or at least bought tickets to the performances.

The details are still being discussed, but the hope is to enlarge the narrow lobby, finally build the restaurant that was originally planned but discarded, and make several other additions.

And yes, it will take more money. The question, as always, is how to raise it. How about a benefit featuring a clarinet trio - Vänskä, Henson and Hara?

That would be Orchestra music director Osmo Vänskä, Burt Hara, the principal clarinetist, and Michael Henson, the orchestra's new president.

Yes, Henson plays clarinet. "But not professionally enough,'' he told me. "I grew up learning the piano, the French horn and the clarinet. But I couldn't match Vänskä or Hara."

Oh well, it might be fun for them to play for a goodly sum of money all the same. Henson shrugged a "maybe.''

But first, Henson wants to build the orchestra's audience. He is an Englishman with the credentials to do that. And he has restructured orchestras in England and Northern Ireland.

But no, he does not want to tinker with Orchestra Hall itself. He is in awe of its acoustics, which are ranked with those at New York's Carnegie Hall as among the best in the world. As for making room to seat some of the audience on stage during concerts, Henson isn't saying much. "It is probably not necessary,'' he said.

Henson said he had no qualms about coming to Minnesota -- way out in the great Upper Midwest. That is because the orchestra has a growing European fan base, he said. In fact, he said he was startled to receive a phone call from David Miller, who was an official in the government of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and knows the Minnesota Orchestra, formerly the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, and "can name every conductor in its history.'' "Miller congratulated me on my choice,'' said Henson.

Henson, his wife, Helen, and their three children, have moved into a house on Lowry Hill within walking distance -- in good weather -- of Orchestra Hall.

So it begins for him and many of us wish him luck. But don't forget that clarinet trio. It could be a winner. And by the way, Henson is also a fencer.

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Incidentally, Osmo Vänskä recently took a bit of a trip away from his podium to play clarinet with Richard Marshall, the co-principal viola who occupies the Douglas and Louise Leatherdale chair. They played duets in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Naples, Fla., I am told by a superb authority (his wife, Pirkko) that he also is composing something on the side. No doubt we will hear it eventually.

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If you need to buy a unique gift consider a Peek-a-Boo window. They are on sale in the Museum Shop at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and the original is on view at the Purcell-Cutts House, an Institute marvel.

The window, one of more than 80 in the house, was designed in 1913 by George Grant Elmslie for the house he co-designed with his partner, William Gray Purcell. It was built in 1913 for Purcell and his family.

The window is one of two enhancing the front entrance of the house.

I came to know the house when Anson Cutts lived there -- the house in which he grew up. Cutts was a character who worked for this newspaper as an arts critic and then went to Arizona where he worked on the Phoenix newspaper. He oversaw the awarding of the house to the Institute.

He once told me that the Peek-a-Boo window was supposed to be a jolly ornament and that the house was nicknamed "the little joker.'' The original stained glass window was made by E.L. Sharretts Mosaic Art Shops in Minneapolis. The replicas are the work of Glassmasters in Richmond, Va.

If you get one, hang it in a sunny window and enjoy

Barbara Flanagan, longtime columnist for the Star Tribune, writes on the first Monday of each month. Her interests are the metropolitan area -- what's good and what's bad -- and the fascinating people who live here. She can be contacted at barb-flanagan@comcast.net.

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