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A Date for The BBC Proms
The Minnesota Orchestra hops the pond for a once-in-a-lifetime performance

Both the Minnesota Orchestra and The BBC Proms have been around for more than a century, yet they've never crossed paths - until now. On August 24, the orchestra performs in London at the world's largest classical music festival for the first time ever. And Classical Minnesota Public Radio listeners will hear a live broadcast of this momentous event.

St. Paul, Minn. - In an attempt to explain exactly what makes The BBC Proms so great, Brian Newhouse, producer and host of Minnesota Orchestra broadcasts for Minnesota Public Radio, opens up this year's print program and starts flipping through it, randomly pointing out names. "The Proms is a two-month festival of absolute top-drawer classical talent," he says. "It's mind boggling. On any given night it could be one of the greatest pianists or orchestras on stage." Page after page seems to bear this out. Baritone Bryn Terfel, violinist Leila Josefowicz, pianist Hélène Grimaud "it just goes on and on," says Newhouse. The roster features some of the greatest classical musicians of today, he adds, and this year, that list includes our own Minnesota Orchestra.

"Being invited to perform at the Proms is like winning a spot at the Olympics or making it into the World Series," says Tony Woodcock, president and CEO of the Minnesota Orchestra. "It's a significant achievement, and I hope our hometown fans will want to tune in to cheer the orchestra on!" Woodcock sees the live broadcasts as an important link to home. "It means a lot to us that Minnesota Public Radio can make this seminal moment in the Minnesota Orchestra's life available to everyone at home."

"An invitation to perform at The Proms is a huge calling card," confirms Newhouse. He attributes the choice to include the orchestra in no small part to the considerable international reputation of Minnesota Orchestra Conductor Osmo Vänskä, who has led the BBC's Scottish Orchestra at past performances. "They know that this guy can spark an incandescent performance," says Newhouse.

Deciding what to perform at The BBC Proms adds another layer of complexity and ultimately determines the success of the performance. "Putting together any tour program is a bit like piecing together one of the more complicated jigsaw puzzles imaginable," says Woodcock. Newhouse notes that the repertoire selected ties in to the orchestra's effort to bring American music to the forefront, which is especially meaningful given the relatively few American orchestras that play The BBC Proms. Most years only one makes the cut. This year there are four: The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, The Philadelphia Orchestra, the Minnesota Orchestra and the New York-based Orchestra of St. Luke's.

"In the end, I think Osmo's Proms program is very strong," says Woodcock. "We open with an American piece (Barber's First Essay) and then feature American soprano Dawn Upshaw in Osvaldo Golijov's Three Songs for Soprano and Orchestra. This is a really beautiful piece that Dawn premiered with our orchestra in 2002 and sang again here earlier this spring. There is quite a lot of interest in Golijov in England right now--so I think this will have resonance. We close with Osmo conducting Mahler's Fifth, which will be a chance for the orchestra to really demonstrate what it is about," says Woodcock, adding "Osmo conducted the Fifth at Orchestra Hall in May and it was an astounding performance." And one not to be missed in its Proms debut.

The Minnesota Orchestra live at The BBC Proms, Aug. 24, 1:30 p.m. on all Classical Minnesota Public Radio stations.

(This article also appeared in the August 2006 "Plugged In" section of Minnesota Monthly.)