Founded as the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, the ensemble gave its inaugural performance on November 5, 1903, shortly after baseball's first World Series and six weeks before the Wright brothers made their unprecedented airplane flight. The Orchestra played its first regional tour in 1907 and made its New York City debut in 1912 at Carnegie Hall, where it has performed regularly ever since. Outside the United States, the Orchestra has played concerts in Australia, Canada, Europe, the Far East, Latin America and the Middle East. Since 1968 it has been known as the Minnesota Orchestra. The ensemble now presents nearly 175 programs in a typical year, primarily at its recently-renovated home venue of Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis, and its concerts are heard by live audiences of 350,000.
The Orchestra's international tours have reaped significant praise, most recently a critically lauded 2010 tour of European festivals. During this tour the Orchestra performed at the Edinburgh International Festival, Amsterdam's Concertgebouw and the BBC Proms in London-before cheering crowds totaling 12,000 for two concerts at Royal Albert Hall, one of which culminated in a performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Under its most recent music director, Osmo Vänskä, the ensemble undertook four European tours, appeared annually at New York's Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center and toured Minnesota in 2005, 2007 and 2008.
The Orchestra's recordings and broadcasts have drawn acclaim since the early 1920s, when the ensemble became one of the first to be heard via these media-notably making its radio debut in 1923 by playing a nationally broadcast concert under guest conductor Bruno Walter. Its landmark Mercury Living Presence LP recordings of the 1950s and 1960s, under Music Directors Antal Dorati and Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, have been reissued on CD to great acclaim. Under Osmo Vänskä, the Orchestra completed several acclaimed recording projects, primarily for BIS Records, including a five-disc cycle of the complete Beethoven symphonies that The New York Times wrote 'may be the definitive [cycle] of our time.' The recording of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony received a 2008 Grammy nomination for Best Orchestral Performance, and the album featuring the Second and Seventh Symphonies was nominated for a 2009 Classic FM Gramophone Award.
The Orchestra and Vänskä also recorded a two-CD set of Tchaikovsky's piano-and-orchestra works with soloist Stephen Hough, a disc featuring Bruckner's Fourth Symphony, an album of Beethoven's Fourth and Fifth Piano Concertos with Russian pianist Yevgeny Sudbin, and two albums of Sibelius symphonies, including a disc featuring Sibelius' Symphonies No. 2 and 5 that garnered a 2013 Grammy nomination for Best Orchestral Performance.
The Orchestra's Friday night performances are broadcast live regionally by Minnesota Public Radio, a weekly tradition for more than 35 years. Many programs are subsequently featured on American Public Media's national programs, SymphonyCast and Performance Today.
In addition to offering traditional concerts, the Minnesota Orchestra typically connects with more than 85,000 music lovers annually through family concerts and educational programs including Young People's Concerts, a series that marked its centennial during the 2011-12 season. In the last decade more than half a million students have experienced a Minnesota Orchestra Young People's Concert. Musicians also engage in such Orchestra-sponsored initiatives as the Adopt-A-School program, side-by-side rehearsals and concerts with young area musicians, and the UPbeat program, which establishes multi-year relationships with communities throughout the Twin Cities and around the state.
In 2011, extending a long tradition of performances throughout the state of Minnesota, the Orchestra launched Common Chords. This multi-year initiative is designed to create partnerships between the Orchestra and participating Minnesota cities, culminating in a celebratory festival week that features performances and dozens of activities that reflect the interests, diversity and heritage of each community. Launched with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Common Chords presented its first festival week in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, in October 2011; a second partnership in Willmar, Minnesota, culminated in May 2012.
Along with its core series of classical concerts, the Minnesota Orchestra offers numerous pops concerts in a series led by conductor Sarah Hicks, presenting the greatest contemporary pop performers in genres ranging from Latin, jazz and Big Band to Broadway, country and world music. In 2008, the Orchestra established Jazz at Orchestra Hall, a jazz series featuring top performers from around the nation, and named Irvin Mayfield as the series' artistic director. American conductor Andrew Litton serves as artistic director for the Orchestra's beloved urban summer music festival, Sommerfest, which celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2010. The Orchestra also offers a lineup of Holiday concerts each December.
With a long history of commissioning and performing new music, the Minnesota Orchestra nourishes a strong commitment to contemporary composers. Its annual Composer Institute offers up to seven emerging composers from around the nation an intense immersion into the orchestral world, culminating in a Future Classics concert led in recent years by Osmo Vänskä. Since 1903 the Orchestra has premiered and/or commissioned nearly 300 compositions, including works by John Adams, Kalevi Aho, Dominick Argento (Minnesota Orchestra Composer Laureate), Aaron Copland, John Corigliano, Charles Ives, Aaron Jay Kernis, Libby Larsen, Stephen Paulus and Stanislaw Skrowaczewski (the Orchestra's Conductor Laureate). In the Orchestra's 2011-12 season, the Orchestra premiered two major works by American composers: TimePiece for Jazz Soloists and Orchestra by father-son collaborators Stephen Paulus and Greg Paulus, and James Stephenson's Violin Concerto, the latter with Jennifer Frautschi as soloist. In 2012 the Orchestra completed the innovative Musical MicroCommission Project, through which hundreds of music fans made "micro" donations that funded the creation of a major new orchestral work, Judd Greenstein's Acadia.
The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) has bestowed upon the Orchestra 20 awards for adventuresome programming, including five Leonard Bernstein Awards for Education Programming between 2005 and 2012 and, in 2008, the John S. Edwards Award for Strongest Commitment to New American Music.