Violinist Joshua Bell, pianist Stephen Hough and former music director Osmo Vänskä are the biggest names in a Minnesota Orchestra classical season that will include nearly 40 performances through July.

Robert Neu, the orchestra’s general manager, said about 50 percent of the schedule had been planned during the regular process — which began two years ago, before a 16-month lockout that ended with a contract settlement last week.

Some concerts are drawn from a self-produced season that musicians put together. Others were assembled from scratch. Neu said that he, CEO Michael Henson and a group of musicians worked on the program.

As for getting conductors, they leaned on familiar faces. “We have good relationships with the managers and told them, ‘These are the dates, who can you recommend to us?’ ” Neu said.

Demand for tickets to the first two weekends of concerts, which were announced last week and went on sale Wednesday, crashed the orchestra’s website Thursday and resulted in long waits for telephone customers.

Musicians will return to the stage Feb. 7-8 with former director Stanislaw Skrowaczewski conducting Beethoven’s Third Symphony. Conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier will be on the podium Feb. 14-15 for Holst’s “The Planets” and Elgar’s cello concerto, featuring Steven Isserlis.

The formal subscription season will open Feb. 20-22 with Michael Christie, music director at the Minnesota Opera and formerly at the Phoenix Symphony, conducting Ravel’s “Bolero” and Stravinsky’s “Firebird.”

Vänskä’s return

Vänskä, who resigned Oct. 1 after contract talks stalled, will return to Orchestra Hall March 27-29, when he conducts the Sibelius symphonies 1 and 4. The orchestra’s recording of these works was nominated for a Grammy and the musicians had scheduled this event as a celebration. (Grammy winners will be announced Sunday.)

Bell, who has performed frequently with the orchestra, will play April 15 with Vänskä at the podium. This was another concert the musicians scheduled.

Vänskä also will conduct the orchestra in special concerts to reopen Northrop Auditorium on May 2 and 4. Titled “Echoes of History,” the program features Wagner, Dvorak, Liszt and Tchaikovsky — the same pieces that opened the venue in October 1929. The University of Minnesota marching band and chorus are also on the program. Tickets for this event alone will be handled through the university, at 612-624-2345.

Hough, who recorded Tchaikovsky’s piano concertos with the orchestra and Vänskä, will perform a program of Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev March 6-8 with conductor Andrew Litton. Litton, who remains artistic director of the orchestra’s Sommerfest, will lead the ensemble March 22-23 in Debussy’s “La Mer.” He also will perform at the piano in a program that includes work by Ravel and Britten.

A week in Hibbing

The orchestra will fulfill a commitment to a week’s residency in Hibbing, May 5-10, funded by the State Arts Board. Musicians will hold workshops, make special appearances and perform a full concert. Previous engagements in the Common Chords program were in Grand Rapids and Willmar.

Conductor Eric Whitacre will lead the orchestra and the Minnesota Chorale in an April 10-11 program that includes several compositions by Whitacre.

Concertmaster Erin Keefe will play the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with conductor Mark Wigglesworth, a longtime guest in Minnesota, May 15-17. The final three symphonies of Mozart will be performed June 5-7 and associate conductor Courtney Lewis will lead Mahler’s Fifth Symphony on June 12 and 14 — the latter performance as part of the Northern Spark Festival.

The Chorale returns June 26-29 for “Carmina Burana,” on a program that includes a new work by Minnesota composer Steven Heitzeg.

Four concerts are scheduled between July 10 and 18 with Litton and Lewis on the podium. These shows are part of Sommerfest. The festival’s entire lineup will be announced next week.