Above: Solo violinist and SPCO Artistic partner Patricia Kopatchinskaja and SPCO Artistic Director and Principal Violin Kyu-Young Kim as they recorded the orchestra's new “Death and the Maiden” project.

Minnesota classical music-lovers have more international bragging rights. The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) announced its European concert tour on Thursday with November dates in Italy, Germany and Austria. The news comes on the heels of Minnesota Orchestra’s successful August tour to Finland, Scotland, The Netherlands, Holland and Denmark.

For both orchestras, the 2016 European tours marked important steps in recovering from contentious labor disputes in recent years.

“We don’t see this as a comeback tour,” stressed SPCO Artistic Director and Principal Violin Kyu-Young Kim in a phone call. “When we go on tour, it’s a little like going to the playoffs for a professional sports team. It’s an opportunity for the orchestra to raise its game.”

The SPCO tour opens in Rome on Nov. 19, 2016. From there the SPCO will play an impressive string of world-class cities: Bologna on Nov. 21, Siena on Nov. 21, Berlin on Nov. 24 and Vienna on Nov. 26.

The touring program’s centerpiece is an adaptation of Franz Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden Quartet” featuring Patricia Kopatchinskaja, a solo violinist and SPCO Artistic Partner. Written when Schubert was suffering the early effects of terminal illness, the piece "reflects on a very old tradition in Europe of meeting death, on a personification of death," explained Kim.

The orchestra will perform a special arrangement of the piece created by SCPO musicians and Kopatchinskaja. It was her idea to intersperse the original piece with centuries of music riffing on similar themes, said Kim. He described the result as a “collaborative exploration” featuring everything from Byzantine chant to late 20th-century works by Hungarian composer György Kurtág. The piece is haunting and eerie, he explained. "It almost makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up."

Want to sample the SPCO’s European program? The orchestra will be joined by Kopatchinskaja for performances Sept. 16 and 17 at the Ordway Concert Hall and Sept. 18 at the Ted Mann Concert Hall in Minneapolis. (Kopatchinskaja also plays the SPCO's season-opening Prokofiev concert this weekend.) Or you can simply buy the CD. A recording of the SPCO’s “Death and the Maiden” project will be released October 28 by Alpha Classics.

Also announced on Thursday were two East Coast concert dates for the SPCO. The orchestra will perform at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., Oct. 14 and at New York City’s 92nd Street Y Oct. 15. Joining the SPCO for these concerts is SPCO Artistic Partner Jeremy Denk, a solo pianist, who will lead the orchestra on Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23. The East Coast program also features a world premiere of “O Mikros, O Megas (The Small World, The Huge World)” by American composer George Tsontakis.

Minnesota music-lovers can hear the East Coast program Oct. 7 and 8 at Ordway Concert Hall. For tickets to all Minnesota SPCO concerts, visit thespco.org or call 651-291-1144.

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