Poster Orchestra Hall is bathed in blue light
Blue lights create an igloo effect on the ceiling of Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis before a Minnesota Orchestra concert.
Ward Jacobson
Minnesota Orchestra

Minnesota Orchestra concert provides warmth on a cold night out

While it might be unseasonably mild in the Twin Cities lately, don’t get too excited. Remember, there’s February. And March. And, yes, April. The cold will return. That’s a guarantee.

A cold spell had burrowed its way into eastern Minnesota by the second Saturday of January, about a month later than usual. We had tickets for a Minnesota Orchestra concert at Orchestra Hall that night. After the fact, it was learned that idle thoughts by both parties included the idea of actually scrapping a night out into the deep freeze in favor of the warm confines of home and whatever might be playing on Netflix.

Fortunately, those thoughts were never verbalized.

First of all, it’s Minneapolis in mid-January. It’s supposed to be cold. Rattle-your-teeth cold. You know, cover-every-part-of-exposed-skin-before-heading-out-the-door cold. Sure, it might’ve been single digits this particular Saturday night, but it was above zero. That’s go-time. So you bundle up — and you go.

Walking from our parked car into the skyway of downtown Minneapolis, crossing over 11th Street and then west, over Marquette Avenue, it didn’t take long to realize — oh, this was a very good decision.

It was 6:30 p.m., a half-hour before the start of the concert. There were coats and scarves and hats of all sizes, shapes and colors. And there were smiles — lots of them. Anticipation buzzed. Being part of a large group of people moving in one direction, knowing we were about to be entertained, provided this wonderful sense of comfort and satisfaction. I could literally feel the blood returning to the tips of my frigid fingers.

And then there was the accordion guy.

As you arrive at Orchestra Hall via the skyway, the crowd of people intensifies and you subconsciously begin to jockey for position among the masses. But then you hear it — the familiar sounds of the accordion guy’s gentle playing slows you down and puts you back in the proper mindset. Dan Turpening has been playing in that same spot for years now — supposedly there was talk of kicking him out a decade or so ago, but Minnesota Orchestra members said no way. As you pass by, Turpening’s subdued playing and sincere smile nudges the bleak midwinter a little further south, creating the final promenade into Orchestra Hall.

The volunteers who greet patrons at the entrances to the lobby of Orchestra Hall create a welcoming feel to the place. Stuffy it is not. You can certainly get by with a decent pair of jeans and a sweater. Feel like trotting out your wardrobe’s best bells and whistles — the fanciest of your fancy clothes? Go for it. Concert night offers an amalgamation of fashion, style and attitude. But there are no noses in the air. “You don’t belong here” does not belong at Orchestra Hall, and I love that about the place.

Seeing a rock star

That first stroll into the concert hall is always kind of a rush for me. The place is 50 years old (with a major renovation a decade ago) but still has a modernistic feel, thanks to all those marvelous cubes. There are over a hundred massive, acoustic cubes that come bounding out from the ceiling above you and from the wall behind the stage in front of you. They truly make a unique, signature statement aesthetically while effectively dispersing sound throughout the hall.

This particular night, everything was backlit in blue creating almost an igloo effect — not icy, but as if to say, “Come on in. Have a seat. Get comfortable. It’s at least 68 degrees, and there’s live music.”

Ah, yes. The live music.

It was five minutes before the downbeat. Orchestra members were in their seats warming up. But the first thing that caught my eye was the chair. The lone, empty chair on its own small platform, slightly raised and to the conductor’s left. The soloist’s chair. It’s why we had ventured out in single digit temperatures — to hear Anthony Ross play the cello.

Anthony Ross
Anthony Ross is principal cello for the Minnesota Orchestra.
© Zoe Prinds-Flash

You can talk about Prince and Bob Dylan all you want. But in my world, Ross is every bit the Minnesota rock star as those legendary names. He has been the principal cello with the Minnesota Orchestra for over 30 years and he’s been around the block a time or two with Antonin Dvořák’s Cello Concerto.

After nearly a four-minute wait in the music, the cello finally enters, briefly alone with no orchestra. The main theme is played with a defiant sturdiness, but also with a sense of longing. From that point on, over the next 35 minutes or so, Dvořák takes you on a musical ride through his life.

Dvořák is the cello. The orchestra is life.

The concerto was composed when Dvořák was 53, during the winter of 1894-95, in a house that no longer stands on E. 17th Street in Gramercy-Manhattan, just north of the East Village, in New York City. He also wrote his Ninth Symphony (From the New World) at that location. The composer was at the end of his time in America, where he had spent the past three years as the director of the new National Conservatory of Music. During that time, Dvořák also had ventured west, discovering a community of Czech immigrants in Spillville, Iowa. He had gained inspiration from places such as Minneapolis’ Minnehaha Falls and learned about the music and traditions of Native and African Americans from people such as Harry T. Burleigh.

But Bohemia was home, and Dvořák dearly missed it.

With him in America was his wife, Anna, whom he had married after courting her older sister, Josefina. During that courtship, Dvorak had started an early cello concerto, expressing his love for Josefina — unrequited love. Now, years later and 4,000 miles from home, he learned that Josefina was seriously ill. So into the new concerto, Dvořák wove one of Josefina’s favorite songs, which cries out in the slow movement.

The final movement is lively and dancelike. It’s the composer anticipating his return to Bohemia. To home. Hopefulness. Dvořák’s words:

“The finale closes gradually diminuendo, like a sigh, with reminiscences of the first and second movements — the solo dies down — then swells again, and the last bars are taken up by the orchestra and the whole concludes in a stormy mood. That is my idea, and I cannot depart from it."


It’s all there, in Dvořák’s Cello Concerto, splendidly brought into our lives by Ross and the Minnesota Orchestra on a frigid January night.

As if our internal temperature hadn’t gone up enough, Ross gave us an extra dab of whipped cream on the evening’s hot chocolate with a brief encore — a delightful taste of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” arranged by St. Paul composer David Evan Thomas, that absolutely oozed tenderness and warmth.

More musical delights

But there was still a symphony to hear.

Johannes Brahms was a champion of Dvořák’s music and was a most influential figure in the young Czech composer’s career. They also became fast friends in the latter half of the 19th century, so it was only fitting that our Saturday night out ended with another log on the fire, courtesy of Brahms’ Symphony No. 3.

In the autumn of 1883, Dvořák visited Vienna and spent some quality time with his friend and fellow composer. He wrote to his publisher:

Johannes Brahms and Antonin Dvorak
Johannes Brahms, left, and Antonin Dvorak

“You know, of course, how very reticent he [Brahms] is even to his dearest friends and musicians in regard to his work, but towards me he was not so. At my request to hear something of his new symphony, he was immediately forthcoming and played its first and last movements for me. I say without exaggerating that this work surpasses his first two symphonies; if not, perhaps, in grandeur and powerful conception, then certainly in beauty. What magnificent melodies there are for the finding!”

For me, it was enough to just sit back, close my eyes, and let those magnificent melodies take me to all the good places — mostly to memories of my father and his deep love for Brahms’ music. Dad would actually air-conduct listening to Brahms while driving the tractor on the family farm in Nebraska.

That’s a visual you don’t forget.

No surprise, by the time the Brahms’ Third was finished, there were a few tears — warm, happy tears. Conductor Jun Markl then introduced the encore, calling it “one of the hottest pieces Brahms had ever written,” the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 5. Now let’s be honest — after a stomp your feet, get outta your seat and clap your hands kind of piece like that, nobody is going home cold.

Then we all zipped up our coats and made our way back out into the Land of 10,000 Frozen Lakes, making one last pass by the accordion guy in the skyway. He was still smiling, easing us back into reality with the most gentle and tender playing.


I don’t get to Orchestra Hall as much as I’d like, but it is not lost on me how fortunate we are to have a world-class orchestra in this state and a world-class cellist like Anthony Ross. On this particular Saturday night, the addition of a healthy dose of Dvořák and Brahms made for the ideal elixir for the post-holidays, January blahs. In two hours’ time, I had stored up enough warmth to at least get me to March!

Love the music?

Donate by phone

Show your support by making a gift to YourClassical.

Each day, we’re here for you with thoughtful streams that set the tone for your day – not to mention the stories and programs that inspire you to new discovery and help you explore the music you love.

YourClassical is available for free, because we are listener-supported public media. Take a moment to make your gift today.

More Ways to Give

Your Donation


Latest Minnesota Orchestra Episodes


Latest Minnesota Orchestra Episodes