The Weekend Tourist // Taking in the orchestras temporary home

Last week I attended a concert of the Minnesota Orchestra in their upcoming “home away from home.” Orchestra Hall will begin its $50 million dollar renovation this summer. So starting in October, they’ll hold most concerts in their 2012–2013 season in the nearby Minneapolis Convention Center auditorium, 1301 2nd Ave. S. Both Sheryl Crow and Paul Simon played there too, but I missed those concerts. In fact, even though I’ve been to the convention center dozens of times, I’ve never even seen the auditorium. It was fun to be somewhere new and exciting. The acoustics were great, the seats comfortable, and there’s plenty of space to mill around during intermission.

The Minnesota Orchestra gave their first performance way back in 1903. Since then, the thriving orchestra has performed all over the world, recorded numerous albums, and for 35 years has broadcast their Friday night concerts live on Minnesota Public Radio. They perform about 200 programs a year. In addition to classical music, the orchestra entertains listeners with pops concerts, jazz music, and invites many guest musicians and singers to join them.

Initially a clarinet player, in 2003 Finnish born Osmo Vänskä became the orchestra’s 10th conductor. Under his direction, numerous albums have been recorded and one even earned a Grammy nomination. (Visit to purchase or download music.)

Minnesota architect Leonard Parker was born in Poland but moved to the U.S. with his parents as a child. After studying architecture at the University of Minnesota, Parker earned a masters degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Upon graduation he landed a job in Eero Saarinen’s prestigious firm and worked on legendary projects including the St. Louis Gateway Arch and the education wing of Minneapolis’s own Christ Church Lutheran.

In 1958 Parker moved back to Minneapolis to open his own firm. His most well known projects include the University of Minnesota’s Mondale Law School and Humphrey Institute, Minnesota Public Radio and the Minnesota Judicial Center. His firm won more than 100 architecture awards and 15 national and international design competitions. Leonard Parker also won our own international competition to design the Minneapolis Convention Center.

The Minneapolis Convention Center was completed in 1990. Typical of Parker’s designs, the architecture is timeless. Parker believed that buildings should fit into their surroundings and not call too much attention to themselves. Leonard Parker passed away last summer at the age of 90. His theories and legacy live on in the numerous students he touched while teaching at the U of M for 34 years.

(Historic tip: Look for carved shields over meeting room doorways. They were rescued from the old Auditorium building that was demolished for the convention center. Rumor has it that the Auditorium’s old pipe organ is somewhere in storage. Could it resurface for the Minnesota Orchestra? Stay tuned … )

Dinner before the show

Two blocks from the convention center is one of downtown’s oldest Thai restaurants — King & I Thai (1346 Lasalle Ave.). Tucked in the lower level of an apartment building, this restaurant is fancier than I expected — carved woodwork and lots of sculpture and artwork. Spicy food aficionados love the spice tray.

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This week’s column is the second of two combining architecture and music. If you missed the first one about chamber music concerts at Eliel Saarinen’s historic Christ Church Lutheran, visit