All together now
In 1903, a collection of Minneapolis's movers and shakers whose names are still familiar to us today, including the Pillsburys, the Peaveys, and the Pipers, formed a group known as the Philharmonic Club. Their goal was to raise $10,000 in each year to fund the newly formed Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra.
Why an orchestra? Minneapolis was a new, rapidly growing urban center at the turn of the century, and its leading citizens understood the importance of building a strong cultural base--an orchestra, museums, and the like--to accompany the economic and political infrastructures they were creating. And the new group was among a handful of groups in cities across the country that were inventing a new, uniquely American way to fund and present classical music. In Europe, state-supported orchestras and operas were the norm. But no such support existed in the United States, so business leaders and other music lovers took up the task.
The fifty-member orchestra played its first concert on November 5, 1903. On the podium was Emil Oberhoffer, a German-born musician who had landed in the Twin Cities, as legend has it, around 1885 as a member of a touring Gilbert and Sullivan troupe. When the troupe suddenly disbanded, Oberhoffer was stranded in Minneapolis. He found work as a church organist, hotel orchestra violist, and freelance lecturer and musician, until the Apollo Club, the city's leading chorus, hired him as its conductor. Four years later, the Philharmonic Club wooed him away, and from 1903 to 1922 he led the new orchestra to a national reputation.
In its early years, the orchestra (which wouldn't be known as the Minnesota Orchestra until 1968) inaugurated a number of signature programs still in practice today, from an ambitious touring schedule (they were known in Oberhoffer's time as "the orchestra on wheels") to weekend pops concerts to young people's concerts. Distinguished directors followed Oberhoffer, among them Eugene Ormandy, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Antal Dorati, and Stanlislaw Skrowaczewski. The orchestra moved into Orchestra Hall in 1974. Today, the Minnesota Orchestra enjoys an international reputation, thanks to its ambitious recording and broadcast schedules and its innovative programming, including Sommerfest.
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