By Tanner Kent
---- — The 2013-14 season of the Mankato Symphony Orchestra promises to be quite unlike any other.
Though the MSO's 63rd season opens Sunday with what conductor Ken Freed described as a "cornerstone" concert — that is, an afternoon of classics; in this case, the music of Johannes Brahms and Jean Sibelius — it marks the beginning of an unlikely musical journey with destinations that include holiday pops, the artistic power of madness, the Muppets and Latin composers.
The season's title is "These Are Our Songs," and Freed said it reflects the MSO's desire to reach beyond the staid boundaries of classical music and into areas that appeal to more varied tastes.
"One thing that I'm most proud of, is we've stayed close to the community," he said. "We think a lot about how we can serve the community around us."
In the its symphonic season debut (the chamber music series begins Oct. 20), the MSO will be serving a trio of selections: "Finlandia" and "Violin Concerto in D Minor" by Jean Sibelius and "Symphony No. 2 in D Major" by Johannes Brahms.
Guest violinist Yevgeny Kutik will serve as the soloist for Sibelius' technically demanding violin concerto. Kutik's 2012 release "Sounds of Defiance" was critically praised. Later that year, he was the featured soloist with the newly formed All-Star Orchestra, recording for a national broadcast on PBS.
In anticipation of the upcoming concert, The Free Press spoke with Freed about his thoughts on the season, his observations of the guest artist and his reaction to the continued lockout of the Minnesota Orchestra, of which Freed was formerly a member before relocating with his wife to Seattle earlier this year.
The Free Press: First of all, how has it felt returning to Mankato? Did it feel weird coming back?
Ken Freed: It's been wonderful. So nice.
On Sunday, we had an event at Emy Frentz to thank our donors. I got to talk to everybody and I played a little bit. It felt very, very warm.
Later, we had a 10-year-old playing Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata." It just reminded you of the power of music.
TFP: Of course, with the recent news that Osmo Vanska has resigned as conductor of the locked out Minnesota Orchestra (for which Freed was a violist), your return to Minnesota must come with mixed feelings. Has it been difficult to reconcile that disappointment with your optimism for the MSO's upcoming season?
KF: Coming back, of course my heart is heavy.
This was home. We sold our home in Edina and now we're renting in Seattle. That's part of life. But my heart will always be here. This is a very special place and I hope Mankato knows that.
TFP: The selection for the guest soloist — the young and immensely talented Russian-American violinist Yevgeny Kutik — is Jean Sibelius' "Violin Concerto in D Minor." The piece is notoriously difficult and expressive. How does it suit Kutik's style?
KF: We're really looking forward to playing with (Kutik). He has a way of singing through his instrument that really captures the soul of Sibelius' piece.
There are plenty of people who play the violin and who play all the right notes — but they don't get the feeling between the notes. For me, he brings something really personal to the music.
TFP: This year's season includes a number of interesting selections. In addition to the traditional Candy Cane concert in December, you've got "Jim Henson and the Music of the Muppets" in February, "Deconstructing Rachmaninoff" with an accompanying lecture in March and music by Latin American composers in May. What does this season say about MSO's mission for its music?
KF: With music, we all come with our own point of view, and we go to that spot on the dial. But there's a sense of adventure musically that I am asking our audience to join. ... It's this idea that if you like Brahms, you'll like Sibelius; and if you like those two, you'll like the music of the Muppets. There's a whole musical language that unites them.
There is just so much great music. Try us. Come out. Hear how beautifully the orchestra plays. We play home-grown, artisan music — something our town should be really proud of.
If You Go What MSO's "This is My Song -- Music of Sibelius and Brahms" When 3 p.m. Sunday Where Mankato West High School auditorium Tickets $25, $20 and $15. For advance tickets, visit www.mankatosymphony.com, or twinriversarts.ticketforce.com.