Minnesota opens with cancellation

Minnesota opens with cancellation


norman lebrecht

August 18, 2019

The orchestra has had to replace the popular soloist for its opening gala with an unknown Finn.

Andre Watts, 73, is recovering after back and neck surgery.

His late replacement is Juho Pohjonen.


  • Michael says:

    Lesser known, but not unknown. A good replacement.

  • Madeline says:

    He’s not exactly what I would consider an “unknown” as you describe him. Get on his website!

  • Edgar says:

    May Andre recover well and fully. Juho is a very fine replacement – a wonderful pianist whom I heared several years ago as soloist with the San Francisco Symphony, to great acclaim.

  • Daniel Poulin says:

    André Watts career started on a high note: he was asked to replace Glenn Gould with the New York Philarmonic (Gould declared himself ill, as often was the case during his public career). Watts played one of Liszt Concertos with Bernstein conducting. The critics were unanimously enamoured with the young American. Years later I had the opportunity to interview Watts during a week-long celebration of Glenn Gould’s life on the CBC Radio. Watts was extremely charming and said all the right things about Gould. He was invited to play Beethoven’s G major Concerto (No4) with the Toronto Symphony, the one Concerto Gould was supposed to play in New York that night. It was also the one Concerto that Gould played on his very first performance as a teenager with the TSO. Well… Let’s just say that Mr.Watts wished he would have been invited to play Liszt’s Concerto. His Beethoven was -to put it mildly- disappointing. Also, of all my conversations with Glenn through the last 5 years of his life, one moment is still very fresh in my memory. I once told him that his Beethoven’s 4th with Bernstein was my very favourite of all his recordings. It must have taken him aback because his reaction -after a long silent pause- was very emotional. “Daniel, that goes right to the heart; it means the world to me.”

    • John Marks says:

      I am not going to get into a tussle over Mr. Watts’ LvB concerti.

      I write only to rebut the inference that Mr. Watts has only excelled at Liszt and the like.

      Watts’ Scarlatti playing is so articulated but flexible that one can almost forget he is playing a modern Steinway–though I am sure that he never has that luxury!

      Mozart and Brahms, also treasurable.


      john marks

  • MacroV says:

    You know, there’s this amazing tool called “Google” where one can look up just about anything. And merely entering the name “Juho Pohjonen” into the box and hitting “enter” turns up a wealth of information that indicates what while he hasn’t done a lot of the big A-list engagements of the sort Lang Lang and Yuja do routinely, this fellow has been doing a fair amount of playing around the world, including in the U.S., and is probably capable of delivering an evening of compelling music-making. And I imagine he’s well-known to – and held in high regard by – Minnesota’s music director, who seems to be taking this opportunity to present him to his audience.

  • Paul Dawson says:

    A little short of charity to refer to him as ‘unknown’. His website carries the unbecoming conceit, which seems to be de rigeur for musicians’ personal websites, but he does seem to have achieved a fair bit during his career.

  • Onalone says:

    Pohjonen is not unknown in New York.

  • The View from America says:

    Juho Pohjonen is hardly unknown. Plus, he’s on the upswing whereas Watts is most definitely on the far right side of the bell curve. (This was plainly evident, having seen both pianists in concert within the past two years.)

  • Pamela Brown says:

    With all due respect, Norman, isn’t that just a tad dismissive? I don’t think the MO hires any actual ‘unknowns’…

  • Minneapolis says:

    Osmo Vanska toured with Pahjonen in Japan a few years ago with the Lahti Symphony. He can play. See his Saint-Saens 5th Concerto on YouTube.

  • Paul Wells says:

    Why, when I was a lad, pianists would keep their engagements even if it meant playing while the surgeons were operating. Today’s 73-year-olds are so weak. As for the unknown Finn, you’re right, he’s practically been in witness protection. http://www.juhopohjonen.com/biography

    • Dan Oren says:

      Well…according to SD he underwent 2 operations…or did he mean one multilevel operation? We need more details here. Also all musicians are not equal: pianists (and cellists) have to play seated which makes it more complicated for the surgeon….
      Let’s all wish a prompt recovery to Andre’ Watts

    • Piano Fan says:

      That’s a very unkind thing to write. You know nothing of Watts’ predicament beyond what Norman has shared.

      • Paul Wells says:

        Consider the possibility I was making fun of our host, not the pianist. I honestly thought “playing while the surgeon was operating” might be a tip-off, but the votes suggest I was too subtle.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      What about Richter and Michelangeli?

    • esfir ross says:

      Hard to pronounce and remember name as Juho Pohjonen-this why his not a household name.

  • Donald Wright says:

    Pohjonen is well-known to attendees of the annual Music@Menlo festival in California, where he plays nearly every summer. He’s a wonderful artist, always at the service of the music. I happened to be at his first solo recital for Music@Menlo in 2010 and at his most recent solo recital and chamber music performances for them a few weeks back. We on the board of Steinway Society – The Bay Area are very happy to be able to present him in a solo recital in San Jose next Spring (https://steinwaysociety.com/concerts/juho-pohjonen/).

  • David says:

    A few years ago the BBC issued a disc of Mendelssohn piano quartets with Juho Pohjonen playing. It is fantastic, it was the first recording of Mendelssohn that impressed me with the stories of Mendelssohn’s virtuosity. It made me a fan. Erin Keefe plays violin on that recording, she is the concertmaster for Minnesota and the wife of Osmo Vanska.

    I’m probably biased as the Minnesota Orchestra is my local group but Pohjonen, Keefe and Vanska get my votes of support. That opening concert will be terrific.

  • esfir ross says:

    JP’s the finest, probing pianist of his generation. I admire him from 1st recital in Bay Area. Norman show his ignorance and unaccurate journalism. I wish AW good health. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

  • Jowl Lazar says:

    May our long-time friend and colleague André Watts have a complete and speedy recovery. His decades of service to the American orchestral world deserves appreciation and he deserves nothing less.