The Minnesota Orchestra stands a fighting chance of winning its first Grammy.
Under Osmo Vänskä’s direction, its recording of Sibelius’ Symphonies Nos. 2 and 5 is a perfect marriage of Finnish composer and Finnish conductor, as attendees of last weekend’s concert celebrating the Grammy nomination were reminded. Of the other four nominees for best orchestral performance, the San Francisco Symphony with conductor Michael Tilson Thomas are the rivals to beat, for their recording of contemporary composer John Adams’ “Harmonielehre” and “Short Ride in a Fast Machine,” said Rex Levang, classical music director at Minnesota Public Radio.
“If I were handicapping the Grammys, I’d say it’s between these two,” Levang said. “Tilson Thomas and San Francisco are really on a roll, doing a lot of exciting things. But Minnesota under Vänskä is right up there with them. Their last nomination for one of the Beethoven discs got rave reviews all over the classical world, and this one’s been very strong, too.”
Top national classical critic James Oestreich of the New York Times called the recording “easily one of the best of 2012.”
The BIS label is releasing a second Sibelius CD on Monday. Recorded by Vänskä and the orchestra in June 2012, a year after the nominated disc, it features Symphonies Nos. 1 and 4. It will be available for sale at minnesotaorchestra.org/listen.
The nomination is bittersweet for both the Minnesota Orchestra’s musicians and management, as they remain entrenched in a contract battle that has delayed the season for four months.
Oestreich called the disc “a poignant document: a longtime also-ran ensemble makes a persuasive bid to be ranked among the world’s greatest, absolutely luxuriating in its music director’s great specialty, only to have its current season seriously foreshortened, if not entirely wiped out, by labor-management strife.”
The other nominees this year are the London Symphony Orchestra, the Budapest Festival Orchestra and the Oregon Symphony.
Another factor tipping the odds at least partly in Minnesota’s favor, Levang said, is that “often this American award has gone to a big American orchestra, meaning no disrespect to London, Budapest or Oregon.”
The Minnesota Orchestra, which made its first recording in 1924, has been nominated many times for Grammys, but mostly in lower-profile categories. In 2007, also under Vänskä, it was nominated for a recording of Beethoven’s Ninth. It also played a piece that won a Grammy in 2004 for Twin Cities composer Dominick Argento. Otherwise, the nominations have been mostly for production and engineering categories, although three historic albums from the 1940s and ’50s are in the Grammys Hall of Fame.
SEE a video of the orchestra’s recording sessions at startribune.com/a2051.