Allow me to share a sense of the celebrations, which not only provided outstanding performances, but served as a reminder of the power and importance of music in our community.
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The Minnesota Orchestra kicked off its season with special guest Audra McDonald in a wide-ranging concert that celebrating the theatrical arts. Mozart’s Overture to The Magic Flute set the tone for the evening, which also included the Overture to Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld.
Of course the main attraction was Audra herself, and from the moment she strode onto the stage, she was the embodiment of a star. Not just a singer, not just a performer, but a star—someone who combined impeccable technique, deep musicality, and spot-on dramatic instincts to bring each of her characters to life. It is no wonder she has collected so many Tony awards.
Take her delivery of “I Had Myself a True Love,” from St. Louis Woman. It wasn’t just that she captured the song’s desperate melancholy—she fully transformed herself into broken women who was left to reflect on lost love. How different from the rapid-fire sprint of “Can’t Stop Talking,” from Let’s Dance! Audra not only flew through the Sondheim-esque barrage of tongue-twisting lyrics, but also vividly captured the underlying neurosis of the character. I was struck with the idea that the song would be a perfect “prequel” to “Getting Married Today” from Company.
Perhaps most surprising was the dramatic power of Jule Styne/Comden and Green’s “Make Someone Happy.” Before she began, Audra explained a bit of what the song meant to her. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, she felt unmoored; but then she re-discovered this classic song and it was a revelation. She saw it as a mantra that encapsulated her life’s passion and mission. And that’s just how she delivered it; not as a lightweight truffle, but as a steely affirmation of someone who survived tough times and was ready to take on the world. She lived each and every word she sang.
After such a magnificent performance, it seemed like there would be nothing left to say. Not quite—Audra finished her set with a powerhouse rendition of “Climb Every Mountain” that blew the roof off.
But there was more the concert than just a parade of showstoppers. In recognition of the fact that the season opened on September 11, the Orchestra included a pair of works by American composers to commemorate the 2001 terrorist attacks: Aaron Copland’s Letter from Home and Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. In many ways, this pairing—and the silence that followed—was the emotional pivot of the evening, speaking to us of loss and healing with powerful eloquence.
All in all, it was a magnificent concert.
But I was fortunate enough to participate in another season opener this week—that of the Minnesota Chorale. It was a very different experience, but one that resonated deeply with me.
We opened not with a concert, but a pizza party for the singers, staff, and board members. It was a wonderful chance to reconnect, laugh over memories and mishaps past, and welcome our newest members into the fold before launching into rehearsals for our upcoming project. Over our shared meal, we looked forward to the upcoming projects and shared our aspirations for the new season, and the lives we would touch with music. We built community.
Our Artistic Director, Kathy Saltzman Romey, beautifully framed the work ahead by sharing a quote from the late Robert Shaw:
“In these days of political, personal and economic disintegration, music is not a luxury, it’s a necessity; not simply because it is therapeutic, nor because it is the universal language, but because it is the persistent focus of our intelligence, aspiration and goodwill.”
I hesitate to speak for the Chorale, let alone the Minnesota Orchestra, but Bob Shaw is exactly right. This is why we make music. This is why we perform centuries-old works, and works so new the ink is still wet on the page. This is why we perform not just in concert halls, but also in schools, in cancer clinics, churches, and community centers. What we do isn’t background noise, but a magnificent art form that binds us together as a community and speaks to us in profound ways.
We’re thrilled to share this life-changing music with you—and in fact, it wouldn’t make sense without you. We are all part of this wonderful, crazy community together. So, please come out and join us. We’re ready.
Here’s to a great year ahead!