These empty seats in the newly renovated Orchestra Hall  will likely be filled when the orchestra returns to the stage for four homecoming concerts.

The Minnesota Orchestra will stage two weeks of homecoming concerts February 7 through 15, marking both the orchestra's return to its home, the recently renovated Orchestra Hall, and the end of the labor dispute that locked the muscians out of that home for the last 15 months. Tickets go on sale Jan. 22.

The official season will launch later next month, with programs to be announced before the end of January.

The homecoming concerts begin Feb. 7-8 with Conductor Laureate Stanislaw Skrowaczewski conducting Beethoven's Third Symphony and his own orchestration of  Bach’s D-minor Toccata and Fugue -- the work that opened the first concert at Orchestra Hall in 1974.

On Feb. 14-15, French conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier will lead an all-British program of Holst’s popular The Planets, with the women of the Minnesota Chorale, and Elgar’s Cello Concerto featuring virtuoso soloist Steven Isserlis.

All concerts will be are preceded by a free open house at Orchestra Hall, with doors opening at 4 p.m.  The public is invited to come and see the renovated facility whether or not they are attending a concert.

“We’re pleased to bring the music back to our audiences at Orchestra Hall with our musicians onstage and a dear friend on the conductor’s podium,” said Robert Neu, the Orchestra’s vice president and general manager, adding that it was fitting for Skrowaczewski to conduct the first concerts in the Hall he "helped build...40 years ago."

 “We are thrilled to return to Orchestra Hall, our home, and the home for world class symphonic music in this community," said Anthony Ross, the Orchestra’s principal cellist.

Given only a few weeks as opposed to the usual months of preparation time, the orchestra’s administration, which is down 18 staff members since the lockout began, has been scrambling to put together a season. How, in hte three days since the contract was ratified, did they line up four concerts with international guest artists? They starting hoping for the best and planning ahead a while ago.

"We had about 50 percent of it in place, and there's been a huge outporuing of support from around the world from people who want to help us," said general manager Robert Neu.

Rehearsals will begin Feb. 5, two days before the first concert. Neu said the opening programs were chosen in part because the musicians are familiar with them, but that “it’s really about the statement we’re making to the public. Playing the heroic Beethoven, the Eroica, is a positive message that we’re back and we love music.” The musicians had input in planning the  programs as well, he said.

Not featuring a soloist that first weekend was intentional, he said, because “we are featuring the musicians of the orchestra.”  He isn't yet sure how many, if any, of the seven musicians currently on leave will return for the homecoming concerts.

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