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BEST CLASSICAL PERFORMANCE OF THE PAST 12 MONTHS Minneapolis 2004 - Minnesota Orchestra

The plane was late touching down in Helsinki the day of the concert, February 26, and the charter bus to Lahti had to drive through a blizzard. So there wasn't even time for the Minnesota Orchestra to get a decent meal before setting up in the hall. After two weeks on the road performing for the world's toughest audiences in New York, London, and Vienna, this was the group's last stop and everyone must have been dog-tired. Despite that long haul, the musicians drew on God-knows-what reserves to play with their customary precision. Yet thanks to MPR's live broadcast, listeners back home in Minnesota could also hear the orchestra play with more than the usual adrenaline under their Finnish conductor, Osmo Vänskä. Yes, they've been sounding great all season, but their Lahti concert was like an out-of-body experience. First, they sailed through Aaron Kernis's "Color Wheel," a fiercely difficult showpiece for the whole orchestra. Next, they provided an unusually poised and polished backup for soloist Joshua Bell in Tchaikovsky's oh-so-romantic Violin Concerto. The orchestra closed with a sweeping, almost cinematic rendition of Prokofiev's intensely dramatic "Romeo and Juliet" ballet. The Finnish audience demanded, and received, a string of encores, including Steve Heitzeg's haunting elegy "Wounded Fields," which Vänskä dedicated to the late philanthropist Ken Dayton, who funded the tour.

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