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Orchestra Hall is decked out for Pride.

At the Minnesota Orchestra's home hall, they're handing out buttons to assist others with your pronouns, presenting an exhibit on local LGBTQ musical groups, screening a documentary on local gay rights history, even offering a reading room full of literature in the upstairs lobby. Clearly, Minnesota's largest arts organization is moving well beyond lip service to the cause of equality.

And music director Thomas Søndergård has chosen to conclude his first season on the job with the music of gay and lesbian composers. It proved a very satisfying program midday Thursday, introducing most of the audience to the evocative voice of early 20th-century Englishwoman Dame Ethel Smyth, delighting with the playfulness of Francis Poulenc and concluding with a very exciting interpretation of a Tchaikovsky symphony.

The entry point to the program was the windswept sea Smyth created for her 1906 opera, "The Wreckers." The strings were lush and emotive as they sailed across surging waves of lithe celebration and discomfiting menace. Sounding something like Benjamin Britten's Four Sea Interludes from "Peter Grimes" 39 years before that work was written, it made me curious to experience Smyth's opera in its entirety.

Pianist Francesco Piemontesi was slated to solo on Karol Szymanowski's Fourth Symphony, but a Berlin bicycle accident last week left him with a broken collarbone. So Søndergård and the orchestra shifted gears and replaced their soloist with a duo, twin pianists Christina and Michelle Naughton, and brought another gay composer onto the program in Poulenc.

His Concerto for Two Pianos proved quite a brisk, lively conversation before morphing into a mesmerizing minor-key interlude, Michelle flamboyantly flowing up and down the keyboard before the two combined to create a peaceful dreamscape. The slow movement was full of rich orchestral colors, and the finale captured the composer at his most exuberant and the sisters' chemistry at its more finely honed. Christina opened with a lightning-quick outburst of staccato notes, Michelle interjecting echoes of encouragement before her sister took flight on a jazz-flavored solo.

But the concert's standout experience was Peter Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony, delivered with nary a hint of the sentimentality and schmaltz that can too often afflict interpretations of the composer's work. From the first notes of its gripping opening fanfare, there was a particularly admirable blend in the brass, a fascinating mix of forcefulness and subtlety. It introduced the idea that this would be a Fourth of drama, but without histrionics. Søndergård emphasized broadly ranging contrasts in mood and volume, the first movement's lilting waltz remarkably quiet before the tumultuous strings almost drowned out the recurring fanfare with their full sound.

Each ensuing movement felt like further steps away from fate's dark shadow, the sweeping main melody of the slow movement like a longed-for destination, the whispering plucked strings of the Scherzo a dance on tiptoes before the bright blast of the finale's opening chords. But comforting quiet emerged even in that scintillating sprint of a movement.

If Søndergård is looking toward making Tchaikovsky a specialty of the house — this was the sixth of the composer's works to find its way onto a program this season, including three of his symphonies — then this performance makes that a promising prospect.

Minnesota Orchestra

With: Conductor Thomas Søndergård and pianists Christina and Michelle Naughton

What: Works by Dame Ethel Smyth, Francis Poulenc and Peter Tchaikovsky

When: 8 p.m. Fri. and 7 p.m. Sat.

Where: Orchestra Hall, 1111 Nicollet Mall, Mpls.

Tickets: $25-$106, available at 612-371-5656 or

Rob Hubbard is a Twin Cities classical music writer. Reach him at