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London critics give Minnesota Orchestra mixed reviews for BBC Proms concert

August 7, 2018

While making its way to South Africa, Minnesota Orchestra stopped in London Monday to play a concert at the prestigious BBC Proms festival. Critical reaction was mixed to the orchestras all-American program featuring music by Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin and Charles Ives, possibly because British audiences strongly associate music director Osmo Vnsk with his award-winning recordings of Beethoven and Sibelius.

For The Times newspapers classical music critic Geoff Brown, the sight of Vnsk conducting American music was a tad disconcerting.

Finding this tough, ascetic figure cocking his left leg at a jaunty angle or jiggling about like an electrified spider made me draw a deep breath, Brown wrote. He doesnt act like that conducting Sibelius.

Still, Brown relished principal trumpet Manny Laureanos superb solos in the bluesy slow movement of Gershwins Piano Concerto. He also liked the moments of quiet, nostalgic recollection in Charles Ives Second Symphony, describing them as beautifully rendered by Vnsks players.

For Bernard Hughes at the Arts Desk, a British website covering the arts, the choice of Ives Second Symphony was a bit dull, given the composers abundance of more innovative works.

And although Hughes praised Vnsks unearthing of instrumental detail in Gershwins concerto, overall he found the concert undermined by cautious tempos, with orchestral playing that only periodically caught fire.

George Hall of the Financial Times disagreed. He judged the Minnesota Orchestra players alert and precise from the get-go in Bernsteins Candide Overture, which opened the evening with a burst of vitality.

Hall also admired the Gershwin concerto performance, praising both pianist Inon Barnatan and conductor Vnsk for underlining the scores sophistication as well as its flirtations with modernism.

An unusual encore caught some listeners by surprise. A rendition of Shosholoza, a South African miners song, found the orchestra singing along to its own accompaniment. That was certainly an unusual sight at the eight-week Proms extravaganza, dubbed the worlds greatest classical music festival. The orchestra detoured to the London event while en route to South Africa, with the players arriving Tuesday in Cape Town for their five-city tour.

A knockout punch, was Browns verdict of the Shosholoza song for the Times, delivered with bone-shaking panache by the orchestras singing musicians. South Africa, look out.

Terry Blain is a freelance classical music critic for the Star Tribune. Reach him at artsblain@gmail.com.

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