After playing catch-up the past couple of seasons following its 16-month musician lockout, the Minnesota Orchestra has assembled a roster of familiar A-listers and promising up-and-comers for its 2016-17 season.
Guest soloists include audience favorites violinist Joshua Bell and soprano Dawn Upshaw. On the conductor's podium, three past directors of the orchestra — Sir Neville Marriner, Edo de Waart and Stanislaw Skrowaczewski — will be joined by several on-the-rise names making their orchestra debuts.
The orchestra and music director Osmo Vänskä will play a series of concerts in Florida in January following a four-country European tour in August featuring Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto.
But the most significant development may be the tradition-bucking collaborative approach that the orchestra has adopted since ending the lockout in January 2014. Musicians are much more involved in every aspect of operations, from promotions to planning — and particularly in shaping programming.
Vänskä said that working with the musicians is more in keeping with his style than the top-down-rule customary in the orchestra world.
"The dictatorial way may be shorter and easier, but the results are never as good," he said. "Collaboration takes more time and work, but what you get is better, right up to what the audience hears when we are on stage."
Tony Ross, principal cello and chairman of the musicians' artistic committee, said that the kind of trust required for such a relationship has been years in the making. "Osmo has been with us long enough that we have that, and he's only gotten better with age," Ross said.
Vänskä will conduct 14 weeks of the season, including concerts featuring Mahler's Sixth and Second symphonies, which the orchestra will record as part of a new series of albums for the BIS label. That project is scheduled to begin in June with Mahler's Fifth.
The 24-week subscription season begins Sept. 22 with Bell performing his signature Tchaikovsky concerto after an unconventional opening work, Todd Levin's electronically enhanced "Blur."
That concert is one example of how the orchestra is trying to weave new music in between old standbys. Another is the world premiere in November of a clarinet concerto by Claudio Puntin, composed at Vänskä's request, on the same program with Mahler's Sixth.
Ross likened the strategy to trying out new foods: "At first, you want a tasting menu, not a giant bowlful."
Six conductors will make their subscription-series debuts, twice as many as last season. Vänskä especially praised Han-Na Chang, 33, a South Korean conductor and cellist who impressed him at the BBC Proms, and Santtu-Matias Rouvali, a fellow Finn who at age 30 "is already being talked about as not a young voice, but a great one."
Ross said the idea is to build connections with younger talents before they become expensive, hard-to-schedule "designer conductors."
The orchestra will present several large-scale choral works, including "Mass for a Sacred Place," by the late St. Paul composer Stephen Paulus, and Elgar's seldom-performed masterpiece "The Dream of Gerontius," conducted by De Waart.
Highlights of the "Live at Orchestra Hall" season include local rapper Dessa joining the orchestra for a classical/hip-hop mashup on April 15 and Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth on March 4. Jazz in the Target Atrium will be back with three Ellington- and Coltrane-inspired concerts, along with a handful of intimate chamber-music events.
Classical subscription tickets go on sale April 4, with custom packages June 13 and individual tickets on July 29. For more information, call 612-371-5656 or go to mnorch.org.