The final gesture in the Minnesota Orchestra's subscription concert at Orchestra Hall Thursday night raised more than a few eyebrows and brought on applause of earthquake proportion: seven conductors, all affiliated with the orchestra, forming a line across the stage and bowing together, among them Osmo Vänskä, Andrew Litton and Doc Severinsen. It's something not likely to be seen again on this stage.
The occasion was both the end of the orchestra's 2012-13 season and a farewell to Orchestra Hall, which undergoes a 13-month, $50 million renovation starting next week. This year's Sommerfest will move to Ted Mann Concert Hall at the University of Minnesota, and the 2012-13 season will take place at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
This isn't a permanent departure, but it's a significant moment in local cultural history: a farewell to Orchestra Hall as we have known it the past 38 years. The renovation will change the lobby -- and the look -- of the hall. No more exposed heating and air-conditioning ducts, a design element that was considered "honest" and "democratic" back in the '70s but today looks like the locker room at a junior college in Des Moines. The hall itself will change very little, and it needn't change. Acoustically, Orchestra Hall remains what it always was: a gem.
The concert mostly avoided the variety-show feel that these events often possess. The selections were interesting and unusual, by and large, the performances were alert and polished, and the concert ended with a big, exciting choral-orchestral outburst: in its first performance, St. Paul composer Steve Heitzeg's warmhearted "Let Us Start the Great Round," a tribute both to music and to the community that creates and appreciates it.
Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, 88, conducted his own compelling orchestration of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, which he also led as the first work performed in the new Orchestra Hall. Following that, Litton, artistic director of Sommerfest, played piano and conducted a sophisticated arrangement of "Over the Rainbow" with Irvin Mayfield, director of the hall's jazz programming and a gifted trumpeter, as soloist.
In "Caruso," Severinsen, formerly the orchestra's principal pops conductor, produced a big, burnished sound. Walking onstage in a gold-sequined jacket and red pants, he whispered into the microphone, "There isn't a woman in this audience tonight who wouldn't kill for this outfit."
Vänskä conducted energetic readings of excerpts from Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 and Orff's "Carmina Burana" featuring bright, articulate singing by the Minnesota Chorale, whose director, Kathy Saltzman Romey, took a bow with the other conductors at the end.
Associate conductor Courtney Lewis led the orchestra in a portion of Debussy's "La Mer" for which the eight dancers of the local ensemble Black Label Movement performed an evocative number choreographed by Carl Flink. Litton contributed a lilting account of "On the Beautiful Blue Danube." Brian Newhouse hosted, and Tacy Mangan produced videos about the history of the hall. Additional choral groups performed in the Heitzeg piece: the Concordia Christus Chorus, Kantorei, the Minnesota Boychoir and the Oratorio Society of Minnesota.
In the spirit of the occasion, the ushers wore hardhats.
Michael Anthony writes regularly about music.