The people have spoken, and the Minnesota Orchestra is the Orchestra of the Year.
At Tuesday's Gramophone Awards in London, the orchestra received one of the prestigious honors in classical music. While the rest of the Gramophone Awards are chosen by a panel of judges, "Orchestra of the Year" is the lone category that relies upon vox populi, asking classical music lovers to vote on the Gramophone website.
And voters came through for the Minnesota Orchestra, helping it take the honor ahead of the other two finalists, Italian period-instrument ensemble Accademia Bizantina and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. In voting that ran from July 1 to Sept. 12, visitors to the Gramophone magazine website were asked to choose among 10 orchestras that also included the Berlin Philharmonic and the Cleveland Orchestra.
Nearly one-third of the 31,000 votes cast went to the Minnesota Orchestra, according to Gramophone's editor-in-chief, James Jolly. He and pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason announced the honor during the ceremony, webcast from London's Voces8 Centre.
It's a timely honor for the orchestra, as its music director, Osmo Vänskä, is leaving his post at the end of the 2021-22 season. In many respects, the season will be a salute to the successes of his 19-year tenure, featuring several of the symphonies by Beethoven, Jean Sibelius and Gustav Mahler that Vänskä and the orchestra have recorded (or are about to) for the BIS label, winning a Grammy Award in 2014 along with multiple Grammy and Gramophone nominations over the years.
Vänskä accepted the award in a pre-recorded video from a balcony above the stage of Minneapolis' Orchestra Hall.
"It means a lot to us that the Gramophone 'Orchestra of the Year' is an award that is decided by the public," Vänskä said. "By people who listen to and love and need classical music in their lives. We are grateful to all the Minnesota Orchestra fans from around our state and around the world who made this happen.
"Music is such a vital force that it must be part of how we make sense of the world, especially in challenging times. And so, over the past year, we have reflected the full range of human experience on this stage. Grief and anger and joy and laughter and hope. And I believe when we experience these things together in music, it brings us closer together as people. Then I think it makes facing the next day a little easier.
"I would like to say that this award is particularly meaningful to me now because this is my final season as music director in Minnesota after 19 years. We have done many things together that I am proud of. But, more than anything, I am proud that this relationship has been a great, great partnership between me and this orchestra and this community."
Vanska concluded by saying "Kiitos" in his native Finnish, adding "Thank you" in English.
Although the Gramophone Awards have existed since 1977, the "Orchestra of the Year" award was initiated in 2018. Previous honorees are the Seattle Symphony, the Hong Kong Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Other winners Tuesday included Richard Egarr, who is one of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra's artistic partners. He conducted an Academy of Ancient Music recording of a J.L. Dussek mass that won the choral music category. In accepting, Egarr told the story of discovering the lone surviving manuscript of the score in an Italian library.
Rob Hubbard is a Twin Cities freelance classical music writer and a local correspondent for Gramophone magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.