As Dr. Makaziwe Mendela’s voice faded and the closing music swelled, a thunderous applause echoed throughout the studio. Rising to his feet, Minnesota Orchestra’s Music Director, Osmo Vänskä, led the audience to a standing ovation, applauding the premiere of TPT’s Music for Mandela: Minnesota Orchestra in South Africa. 

Screened during two nights of premieres at our Lowertown studios, on April 23rd and 24th, the film captured stories from the Minnesota Orchestra’s historic South African tour during the summer of 2018. Following each, a panel was held to reflect and discuss the five-city tour.

Twin Cities PBS’s arts and cultural series, Minnesota Original (MNO), shared the transformative journey of the five-city tour with the Minnesota community. The tour was envisioned by the Orchestra as a cultural and musical exchange designed to bring people together through music.

And transformative it was. During the panel, Minnesota Orchestra Music Director Osmo Vänskä expressed that the film served as a reminder of why they made the journey. They went to share and learn from each other, communicating through the universal language of music. These instant, cross-cultural connections became evident on-screen and brought the journey of cultural diplomacy to life. Echoing this sentiment after the second screening, Minnesota Orchestra Principal Trombonist, Douglas Wright, stated that through this film, the audience can live through the tour and experience the interpersonal connections created through music in this unique environment.

Panelists Osmo Vänskä, Michelle Miller Burns, Kevin Smith, Marilyn Carlson Nelson and Erin Keefe with the film’s producer Ashleigh Rowe. Still image by Travis Anderson Photography.

Throughout both evenings, panelists and audience members spoke of the transformative nature of music and how it serves as a universal language, uniting humanity across races and cultures. Audience members, including Classical Movements founder and president, Neeta Helms, commented that through this experience, Minnesotans represented the country and served as “a vision.”

To end the evening, audience members were asked to write short reflections on musical notes with prompts. Messages of love, friendship, and inspiration the filled the staff.

Whether inspired to create, love, or reconcile, these are some of our favorite takeaways from the evenings’ audiences.

“What has tonight inspired you to do?”  

  • Express more of the experiences in visual art
  • Make more music
  • Keep singing and finding ways to connect with others with music – keep thinking about the ways in which I am a smaller part of a larger whole – not only in music but in life
  • Keep an open mind. Listen more. Share love and friendship.
  • Music transcends culture and race, and I will open my heart to love.

“How can music change our community?”

  • When individuals listen they begin to think. They think about others, friends, community and being to share among others: it builds community!
  • Tonight’s experience made me realize how much joy, love, peace, the music gives to me and helps pave the way for happiness, pleasure, and again, joy.
  • Create a new opportunity to unite our neighbors
  • It breaks down racial and cultural barriers. It reduces our estrangement.
  • By offering us moments of repose from our daily lives, we can reflect on the truly important things in our lives and realize we have many more things in common than that which divides us.

“Complete the phrase: Music…”

  • Unifies us…even in the least likely of people in the least likely of ways. Music is a universal language of love and expression.
  • Makes me a better listener. Gives me understanding and patience.
  • Feeds the soul
  • Gives me hope
  • Enlightens my life!

Want to see the film for yourself? Tune in to TPT2 on Sunday, May 5th at 10pm and TPT LIFE on Monday, May 6th at 6:30pm for MNO’s Season 10 premiere, Music for Mandela: Minnesota Orchestra in South Africa. A digital release date is forthcoming.

TPT wishes to express gratitude toward Jeanne Corwin, Elizabeth and Edwin Hlavka, the McVay Foundation, Elizabeth Myers, and Louise Benz Plank and John and Jennine Speier whose generosity made the international production possible.


This story and MNO are made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.