It has been two years this month since the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra musicians returned to work after a lockout. In our journey since then, many wonderful things have been happening, including the opening of a beautiful new Concert Hall at the Ordway, and signing on our new exciting artistic partners Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Martin Frost, Jeremy Denk and Pekka Kuusisto. SPCO musicians will be touring Asia in the fall, and have plans for more national and international touring and recording. Most recently, we finished a very successful residency in Berkeley, Calif.

We are working toward becoming a musician-led chamber orchestra, which will offer us tremendous opportunities for growth — both individually and as an ensemble. How does that affect us as an orchestra? We will need to listen and react to each other differently from how we do when we have a conductor. Also, each of us will need to know the entire score of a piece of music and how our parts lead or enhance its lines, colors and direction.

In addition to performing as an orchestra, we will continue to present solo and chamber music that will give individual musicians a chance to shine and the opportunity for audiences to get to know us on a more intimate scale. We are so appreciative of how you, our loyal audience, have been our constant anchor through these years. You have continued to support us on and offstage. Your enthusiasm is felt from the moment we walk on stage until we play the final notes of our concerts. The full halls and your overwhelming response to our performances bring us great energy and joy. We have a lot of challenging work ahead of us, but your support helps us to continue to move forward with confidence. Thank you!

The musicians of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra

 

THE LEGISLATURE

EBT cards, tobacco, ‘Freedom of Conscience’ bill and more

Certain individuals in the Minnesota Legislature are proposing limitations on uses of “social welfare” EBT cards, which the working poor use to help pay their bills. No alcohol, tobacco, tattoo or lottery-ticket purchases would be allowed. Sounds fair to most of us.

However, those at the Capitol should remember that they, too, are recipients of taxpayer money when they get their salaries and benefits. They should also keep in mind the millions of dollars that are going to build the new Vikings stadium at taxpayer expense, primarily benefiting the team owners and players financially. To be really fair, anyone getting public money should have to give an account as to how they spend their salary, just like the recipients of EBT cards. How would Minnesota farmers react if they had restrictions placed on where they spend their millions in agricultural subsidies? (Check it out: farm.ewg.org).

Those in St. Paul should also remember that Congress also tried a similar plan. One of the proponents of “welfare drug testing” was a Florida congressmen by the name of Trey Radel. Unfortunately, Radel himself was caught up in a cocaine drug bust. He pleaded guilty and wisely resigned his position.

Mark S. Roalson, Hoyt Lakes, Minn.

• • •

As a cardiologist, I see tobacco’s harms every day. That’s why, in 2013, I volunteered to help support the $1.60 cigarette tax the state passed. Research shows that the tax is having a real impact in Minnesota. According to the Minnesota Adult Tobacco Survey, the smoking rate has dropped to 14 percent, and the majority of smokers who quit since 2013 say the tax influenced them. Another study by the Health Department shows a similar drop in youth smoking following the tax. So I was embarrassed to see several new proposals to weaken our approach to tobacco taxation.

The House tax bill is widely discussed, but its tobacco components seem to have escaped notice. Not only do they erode Minnesota’s tobacco tax over time, they amount to nearly $80 million in tax breaks for cigarette companies. Big Tobacco’s business model has always favored profits over health, and this legislation proves things haven’t changed. I testified at the Legislature this spring and was shocked by the many tobacco lobbyists urging lawmakers to help them.

Fortunately, the Senate’s tax bill contains no favors for these merchants of death, and I encourage all lawmakers to support legislation that says no to Big Tobacco.

Dr. Russell V. Luepker, Minneapolis

• • •

A “Freedom of Conscience” bill? (“Bill would allow refusal of wedding services to gays,” May 8). What a great idea. Why should Indiana and a few other conservative states get all the attention and bad publicity when Minnesota can show it can get into the news for bigotry, too?

Maybe this bill is an attempt to spread wealth. As gay and lesbian couples plan to marry or, even more likely, to honeymoon at a Minnesota resort or tourist attraction, they will go to another state. Now that our state has finally improved its financial situation, their spending will go to a state that needs money more than we do. (Of course, when outsiders see attempts to return a surplus when the state has bridges that need repair, roads that need fixing and schools that need money, that alone may induce them to choose a more sensible place.)

What a smart move to include the clergy in the list. Refusing to perform a wedding ceremony is something clergy always could do, so far as I know. Was this a ploy to make the bill look better?

Perhaps the bill is mainly meant to annoy people who will see it as an affront to gay people. Those who support it admit it has no chance of passing.

Ronald Palosaari, Maple Grove

 

OIL TRAINS

The tracks are too weak for what is being attempted

From 1948 to 1950, I worked for the Illinois Central Rail. At that time, because of larger cars, they had to go to a heavier railroad track — I think from 90 pounds to 120 pounds in 3-foot lengths.

In 1965, I owned a fuel-oil business in Iowa. I received my fuel oil in 9,000-gallon tank cars. The fuel oil would weigh around 72,000 pounds. Now the tank cars hauling crude out of North Dakota carry 30,000 gallons, which would weigh around 240,000 pounds. In my opinion, the reason for all the derailments is that the iron rails these tank cars run on are not strong enough to carry these heavy loads. All I read in the newspapers about the derailments are the car crossings. Someone show me where I’m wrong.

Gene Madsen, Bigfork, Minn.

 

MOTHER’S DAY

Here’s what you do …

Sunday is Mother’s Day, and the word of the day? Cherish. Time to hit the pause button on all of the world’s problems and on your own worries. Time to cherish someone (hopefully in person) who has cherished you since your birth — your mother. And if your mother has passed, cherish her memory by picking up some white carnations for yourself. (This is what Anna Jarvis, who founded Mother’s Day back in 1907, did.) So don’t cherish your smart machines or electronic friends on Sunday. Look up and cherish someone who truly matters in your life. One day, you will be glad you did.

Neil F. Anderson, Richfield