Any time the Minnesota Orchestra’s famously Finnish Osmo Vänskä conducts something by his countryman Jean Sibelius, it’s like a musical postcard from the homeland for local Scandinavians. So it wasn’t too surprising to see Vänskä receive an extended standing ovation and shouts of “bravo” from the lunchtime crowd at Orchestra Hall yesterday. Vänskä had just finished leading the orchestra through an energetic (and for Vänskä, at times, aerobically intense) rendition of Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2 in D Major, the final movement of which is a classic piece of symphonic showmanship.
Finland doesn’t have many heroes, so it’s hard to understate Sibelius’s importance to Finnish music and culture. But close observers of the Minnesota Orchestra may be interested in this concert for other reasons, particularly any light it might shed on Vänskä’s fascination with two of Sibelius’s biggest influences—namely Beethoven (who influenced everyone) and Austrian composer Anton Bruckner. Vänskä has tasked the orchestra with recording the complete symphonic works of both men over the next ten years (the Beethoven project is half done, and the Bruckner project begins this fall), and it’s a fair bet that his affection for Sibelius is one of the reasons why.
Sibelius isn’t the only Nordic attraction on this week’s program, which will be repeated tonight (Friday) and Saturday. Swiss pianist Andreas Haefliger also performs Bela Bartok’s Concerto No. 3 for Piano and Orchestra. On Thursday, Haefliger pulled off the unlikely trick of pulling listeners in with the melancholy, almost agonizingly slow second movement, the payoff for which was a crisp, thunderous third. In addition, the program kicks off with a short but evocative piece by Aaron Kernis, the Minnesota Orchestra’s new music adviser.