Just days after a “restructuring” of its schedule that left Orchestra Hall dark until August, the Minnesota Orchestra announced a full slate of concerts for the 2020-21 season that begins in September.
It will be Osmo Vänskä’s penultimate season as music director, and he’ll lead 31 performances of 15 different programs. They include two major Mahler concerts, the latest in Vänskä’s ongoing series of the great Austrian composer’s complete symphonies.
March 2021 brings Mahler’s panoramic Third Symphony, while the valedictory Ninth — originally scheduled to close this year’s season — has a new slot in June 2021. Both will be recorded by Swedish record company BIS, which has released the orchestra’s acclaimed interpretations of the First, Second, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth symphonies.
As Vänskä’s departure looms, he will look back at some works commissioned during his directorship. These include “The Mysteries of Light,” a piano concerto by Scottish composer James MacMillan that premiered at Orchestra Hall in 2011. Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet was the soloist then, and he returns for the revival in a season-opening program Sept. 24-26, which also features Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique.
No fewer than 18 pieces next season will be first performances for the orchestra. Among them: the U.S. premiere of Swedish composer Anders Hillborg’s “Through Lost Landscapes” (April 8-9), and American composer Missy Mazzoli’s Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres) (Feb. 25-26).
The new season is strong on choral collaborations, including Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (Nov. 5-7) and his towering Missa Solemnis (June 17-19), with the Minnesota Chorale in the demanding choral parts. The chorale will also figure in Stephen Paulus’ oratorio “To Be Certain of the Dawn,” in performances Oct. 16-18 commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi death camps. For that program they will be joined by the Basilica Cathedral Choir and Choristers and the Minnesota Boychoir, who also sing in Mahler’s Third Symphony.
There is also a major focus on Czech composer Antonin Dvořák, with a three-week mini-festival in January. Highlights include Vänskä leading Dvořák’s final three symphonies (including the beloved “New World”), Canadian James Ehnes playing the Violin Concerto, and the orchestra’s principal cello, Anthony Ross, in the evergreen Cello Concerto.
As the race to replace Vänskä as music director heats up, three guest conductors who made strong impressions in recent appearances with the orchestra will return for further concerts.
The Slovakian Juraj Valčuha leads Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony — normally a Vänskä specialty — Nov. 5-7, and a rare performance of Bartók’s roiling one-act opera “Bluebeard’s Castle” on March 5-6. Spanish conductor Juanjo Mena — who conducted the orchestra in its final, radio-only performance last month — returns for a spring-themed program including music by Delius, Lili Boulanger and Debussy (Feb. 4-6), while charismatic French singer/conductor Nathalie Stutzmann leads Tchaikovsky’s “Pathéthique” Symphony (Feb. 25-27).
Significant debuts with the orchestra include English conductor Andrew Manze leading Shostakovich’s intense Fifth Symphony (May 27-28), and outstanding German violinist Isabelle Faust playing Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto (April 29-30, May 1).
There’s also a full complement of Young People’s and Family Concerts, Movies and Music concerts, and chamber music recitals. All told, the season contains 25 weeks of classical programming in addition to the five weeks of rescheduled preseason concerts in August and September that were announced Monday, and the Summer at Orchestra Hall series that has been bumped to 2021.
And while the coronavirus crisis lingers, the orchestra’s director of communications, Gwen Pappas, said it has not caused the new season to be “dialed back at all. If anything it includes a few additional concerts that we intended to perform this spring.”
“I’d say the biggest impact of COVID will come into play around offering patrons as much flexibility as possible — to reserve seats now, and pay later or in installments.” Refunds also will be more readily available.
In a statement, Vänskä emphasized what he feels the orchestra can bring to the post-lockdown table: “It is music that gives us hope and that will bring us together to reflect, heal and celebrate. The communal concert experience has always been sacred to me, but in the season ahead it will have an extraordinary new meaning for us all.”
Terry Blain is a freelance classical music critic for the Star Tribune. Reach him at email@example.com.