Philharmonic convergence: Minnesota Orchestra performs at East Ridge High School

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If the idea was to light a "Firebird" under the seats of District 833 students, the Minnesota Orchestra hit the mark.

An invited audience at East Ridge High School on Sept. 15 heard a stratospheric performance of Stravinsky's "Firebird" by the full orchestra, led by musical director Osmo Vanksa.

Band and orchestra students from East Ridge, Park and Woodbury high schools and Lake Middle School also heard "Roman Carnival Overture" by Berlioz and "Pavane pour une infante défunte" by Ravel.

The visit came about through the efforts of East Ridge Orchestra Director Kelly Demorett, who submitted an application to the orchestra's Symphonic Adventures for High Schools program. While the orchestra later performed at Robbinsdale and Coon Rapids school districts, East Ridge was the only venue to feature Vanska as conductor. The concert was not open to the public.

"It's good to get out of Minneapolis to meet young musicians who might be playing with us some day," said violist and resident wisecracker Sam Bergman, who served as master of ceremonies.

Bergman's gossipy introduction to each piece provided a glimpse of the times each composer lived in and the social and musical forces they contended with.

Believe it or not, he said, composers wanted to make money. But their art also mandated that they push the boundaries. Sometimes, commercial calculations backfired (Berlioz, he said, flopped with "Roman Carnival Overture").

Stravinsky, a supremely gifted egomaniac who claimed he was writing music for future generations, did not disdain popularity and its accompanying financial rewards, Bergman said.

During a question and answer period, various orchestra members got to talk about their jobs and their reasons for choosing the musician's life.

They answered such questions as "How many calories do you burn when you play (a lot) and "Do you like rap?" (Well, they did play with Dessa earlier this year).

It's vital that the Minnesota Orchestra continue to introduce its audience to music by new composers, conductor Vanska said.

"We have to take care of new music because there might be a Beethoven out there somewhere," he said. "Two hundred years from now, we want people to hear that music."