Bravo!  In a tremendous encore to their transformative Cuba tour, the Minnesota Orchestra announced contract extensions for Osmo Vänskä and the musicians shortly after the conclusion of Tuesday’s board meeting.

Minnesota Orchestra President Kevin Smith announcing contract extensions. L-R Kevin Smith, Board Chair Warren Mack, musicians’ negotiating committee members Tim Zavadil, Sam Bergman, Doug Wright and Kathy Kienzle. Photo by Ken Huber.

The board approved both contracts on Tuesday afternoon; donors’ gifts of $6.5 million will help support the agreements.   “Our board and community members have stepped forward to demonstrate their belief in the Minnesota Orchestra,” said Board Chair, Warren Mack.  And Tim Zavadil, who led the musicians’ negotiating team, added, “This is a real vote of confidence in this orchestra.”

Orchestra President Kevin Smith pointed out that achieving the agreements two years before the current contracts run out will continue the “remarkable partnership” between Osmo and the musicians and will enable the organization to develop and execute a new long-range strategic plan.   Read more details here.

The news of the contract extensions continues the euphoria generated by the Orchestra’s historic Cuba tour.  As Kevin Smith commented in the Star Tribune article linked above, “We knew when we took off that this would be a special trip, but we could not have known that it would be this transformative and inspirational.  We need to build on that.”

Cuban-born pianist Frank Fernández performs Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy. Photo by Travis Anderson.

We hope you’ve been following the extensive press coverage – and that you were able to hear the live broadcasts last Friday and Saturday nights.   If not, you can hear the concerts archived on MPR  and browse the many links to tour articles listed on the Minnesota Orchestra website.  Don’t miss the extensive picture galleries from MPR and a video from the BBC.  An article from the New York Times explores the historical and political context in which the trip took place.

All Minnesotans can be proud that our orchestra is participating in the US/Cuba rapprochement and, perhaps, is helping to create a climate where further positive changes can take place.  And Christina Tribble, the US Cultural Affairs Officer commented in one of the daily Star Tribune tour reports,  “In a place like Cuba, music is such a language that an entire symphony signifies that bigger things are possible.”

Tim Zavadil, Norbert Nielubowski and Roma Duncan perform for students at Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana. Photo by Travis Anderson.

The tour was all about people-to-people connections.  Most importantly, musicians connected with music students at the university and music high school and with conservatory students through a side-by-side rehearsal.  As blogger Scott Chamberlain put it, “the musicians didn’t just drop by a school for a photo-op or limit themselves to master classes for a few hand-picked students … they provided encouragement … wisdom and support … practical knowledge” to all the students, as well as practical items students lack — music scores, supplies such as valve oil and oboe reed cane, even bows and mouthpieces.

Minnesota Orchestra musicians working with conservatory students in a side-by-side rehearsal. Photo by Travis Anderson.

And the students responded, playing brilliantly, despite being hampered by sub-par instruments.  They flooded back stage after concerts, proudly introducing family members to musicians, relishing every interaction with these new mentors and friends.  And the musicians seemed to relish every interaction with the students, as well.  See first-hand reports from Scott Chamberlin and reporter Graydon Royce.  Osmo Vänskä summed up what everyone felt:  “This is something I hope can continue, this collaboration with the young Cuban musicians.  I hope we can come again here and make this a regular part of our journey.”

Audience members applauding after national anthems were played. Photo by Travis Anderson.

When asked to name a highlight of the trip, almost everyone, musicians and supporters alike, mentioned the Saturday evening concert at which the Cuban and American national anthems were played.  In an MPR interview just after returning home, reporter Euan Kerr describes this incredibly moving experience and plays clips from that evening’s performance.  Violist Sam Bergman talks about the impact of the trip in his diary entry “Leaving La Habana“.

Teatro Nacional, Havana, Cuba.
Photo by Travis Anderson.

A lasting benefit of the trip for the Minnesota Orchestra will be the bonds forged internally.  Everyone collaborated – the musicians gave up their vacation time and most of their rest time to rehearse and work with students; the staff worked tirelessly for countless extra hours organizing all the trip details and brilliantly overseeing multiple itineraries for musicians and supporters; Marilyn Carlson Nelson, who with her husband Glen, provided funding for the tour, seemed to be everywhere, meeting everyone, leading toasts, expressing her gratitude to all involved.

Orchestra musicians, staff and supporters were all treated to dinner together in one of Havana’s main plazas.

Photo by Cy DeCosse.

On the trip, everyone — musicians, board and staff members, supporters and the press corps – stayed in the same hotel, ate breakfast together, attended the evening programs and concerts, providing opportunities to mingle and get to know one another.  After the concert on the last night in Havana, board members and supporters returned to the hotel first and cheered the musicians as they stepped off buses – a gesture that many musicians said touched them deeply.  As blogger Scott Chamberlain said in a MinnPost article, “this time spent together with a shared purpose created deep bonds among all participants … everyone had an up-close and personal view of how each individual contributed to the overall success of the Minnesota Orchestra … These newly forged connections will transform the organization as a whole, leading to a new sense of shared purpose and collaboration.”

As Kevin Smith summarized to a NY Times reporter, “this trip has galvanized the organization and given everybody this sense of excitement and adventure and confidence that we can do anything.”

We hope you share this excitement and can help to generate even more.  Attend concerts, come to the Symphony Ball or Crash the Ball on June 20th and introduce friends, family, acquaintances and colleagues to this dynamic organization and its amazing music.   And, for a taste of the Cuban experience, plan to attend the Celebrate Cuba concert featuring the Cuban choir, Coro Entrevoces, and the Minnesota Orchestra coming to Orchestra Hall on July 5.


A Cuban choir, Coro Entrevoces, will be performing with the Minnesota Orchestra on July 5.
New Contracts – Tremendous Encore to Transformative Cuba Tour