A seed for the tour was planted when Vanska led the South African National Youth Orchestra in 2014, and hoped to return (side-by-side rehearsal and master classes with members of this orchestra will be a part of the Minnesota Orchestra’s Pretoria stop).
Another impetus was the positive experience the orchestra had when it became the first North American orchestra to visit Cuba after the easing of trade and travel restrictions with that country. The tour, in May 2015, was a high point in what has been a happy tale of recovery and growth for an orchestra that for 18 months (until early 2014) was best known for enduring a lockout at the hands of its management, among questions of whether it would survive.
It has not only survived but prospered — and can afford to embark on a major tour, which is largely funded by two anonymous donors.
The orchestra’s annual Sommerfest, 10 concerts held from July 13 to Aug. 1 (over Mandela’s actual 100th birthday), will be centered on Mandela and include the world premiere of Ndodana-Breen’s work, which will feature the South African soprano be Goitsemang Lehobye, now studying at the University of Michigan. In South Africa, the orchestra’s selections will include the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, with members of the Minnesota Chorale joining the Gauteng Choristers, a successful South African chorus, and a quartet of South African soloists.