Jim Bartsch.

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My Minnesota: Meet Osmo for the middle school set

  • Article by: James Lileks
  • Star Tribune
  • February 8, 2014 - 10:45 PM

The orchestra is back! Yes, on Sunday the conductor will raise the baton, the bows will go up, the mouthpieces wetted, and the hall will be filled with the sound … of Bugs Bunny cartoon music.

Different orchestra. Not the one that’s settled the contentious dispute, but the Philharmonic group in the Minnesota Youth Symphonies, which takes the stage 2 p.m. at Benson Great Hall at Bethel College on Sunday. The conductor is St. Paul native Jim Bartsch, who’s been with the MYS since 1990, and we asked him about being the Osmo for the middle-school set.

Are the kids surprised when they learn conducting isn’t just standing up front and pointing dramatically?

“Yeah! Ninety-nine percent of what happens takes place in rehearsal, and when people come to the concert to see you waving your arms around, that’s just a tiny part of it.”

The MYS orchestras used to play in Orchestra Hall — the major leagues in the conducting game. What was it like to step out on the stage?

“The kids walked out and their eyes got big and their jaws dropped open.” And if he’d been conducting the actual Minnesota Orchestra? “Hmm. I think I’d probably be scared to death. I see myself as an educator, the goose bumps and adrenaline come from that. There’s nothing I could teach the Minnesota Orchestra. They’d realize on the first few beats, think, ‘Well, I’ll just play this as I like.’ ”

The kids still need instruction, though, and seeing them tromp in the hall in formal gear makes one feel good about the future of classical music.

“They give up a lot of Saturday mornings, they travel long distance, compete for the spots — they want to do this. They have the same things as other kids on their iPads, but they love classical music as well.”

Partly because it’s fun. We’ll be playing ‘Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna’ by von Suppé, and it’s a familiar piece from Bugs Bunny cartoons. Parents’ eyebrows went up when they heard it,” he chuckles.

Any rituals before you take the podium?

“I just make sure my socks match. No, at that point, I always think when I get out of my car, I’m on kid duty, making sure they’re in tune, feeling good. If the socks are the same I’m fine.” But they are kids. Don’t you check the mirror to make sure no one wrote KICK ME in chalk on the back of your tux?

Someone would tell him. “Parents are surprised when they see my face,” he laughs. “They’ve only seen me from the back side.”

Well, he’ll probably turn around for the final bow. The balcony would be the best place to check out the socks.



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