Minnesota Orchestra's Sommerfest Will Continue, Management Says

Conflicting reports have called into question the future of the 21-year-old concert series.

The fate of the Minnesota Orchestra's annual Sommerfest concert series is in doubt, with conflicting reports recently appearing regarding the fate of the four-week summer festival held in the Twin Cities.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported Tuesday that the festival is "history," while the Pioneer Press wrote the following day that the festival would be "revamped."

"Sommerfest will continue," Gwen Pappas, assistant director of public affairs for the Minnesota Orchestra, said. "That's the better word — revamped."

The Star Tribune reported that increased expenses and dwindling ticket sales prompted orchestra management to pull the plug on the event.

"They talked to our president and general manager, but some leaps were made in the article," Pappas said.

The article further stated that $250,000 was lost this year, adding to an existing $1.3 million deficit for the orchestra. The orchestra's budget is about $27 million annually.

"We're not confirming what the numbers are," Pappas added. "Part of our losses were due to the cancellations. We are a nonprofit, and our primary mission is not to make a million dollars on our Sommerfest." Several concerts were canceled in late July because of fear of violent protest over a genetics conference being held in downtown Minneapolis.

Pappas said the deficit was more than $1 million several months ago, but since then they've whittled it down below the $1 million mark.

"Basically what's going on is that we're taking a look at Sommerfest," Pappas said. "We're going to retool it for a broader audience but keep it as artistically sound as it's always been. It's premature to say what kind of changes will be made. It will primarily be the same kinds of concerts, some different themes — but we will definitely have a Sommerfest at Orchestra Hall next year."

"There will be no layoffs of musicians," board president Thomas M. Crosby Jr. told the Pioneer Press. "We are looking in terms of administrative costs, touring, any number of places to save money. But one of the areas we are not looking at is to reduce either the number or the quality of musicians."

The 21st annual Sommerfest ran from the middle of July through mid-August. It began in 1980 with an idea from then music director Leonard Slatkin, who served as its artistic director for its first decade. The outdoor area around Orchestra Hall is converted into a Viennese marketplace with food and street performers.

Jeffrey Tate has been principal conductor of Sommerfest since 1997 in addition to his role as principal conductor of the English Chamber Orchestra (since 1985) and principal guest conductor of L'Orchestre National de France. He is the former music director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic and former principal conductor of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Tate's four-year contract ended with the close of this season, and it is still unclear what role he will play, if any, in the future. Tate is, however, scheduled to appear next season as a guest conductor.

"Jeffrey Tate is still very much a part of Sommerfest," Pappas said. "He faxed our general manager some program ideas for next summer. He knows we're looking at changes and is coming on board to see how he can be involved and what he can contribute. He's definitely not out."

But, Tate told the Star Tribune, "I think Viennese Sommerfest is going to die."

Tate also has been concerned about who will take over for Asadour Santourian, who resigned in June as the orchestra's director of artistic planning. "We worked together, and we conceived [the festival programming] together," Tate said. "It matters to me who it is, if I want to go on with the festival," he said, referring to Santourian's replacement.

Plans are to move Sommerfest to a yet-to-be-built outdoor performing arts center in the city's Brooklyn Park.

"That would be a much different venue, more pops and light classical at that venue," Pappas said. "I think it's also generally been known that Sommerfest would change when that happened."