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Two orchestras, two violists: a Minnesota love story

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Two orchestras, two violists: a Minnesota love story


On a recent Friday morning, two star violists readied themselves for a rehearsal.

Rebecca Albers placed one hand on the piano, using the other to scoop up her 16-month-old son. Maiya Papach kneeled on the floor, nestling a small violin beneath their 4-year-old daughter’s chin. For just a moment, their St. Paul home, which had been a blur of kids and dogs, was still.

Then the couple’s daughter began to play.

She bowed the string tentatively at first but by the piece’s end was grinning. As she took a bow, everyone, including their 16-month-old, applauded.

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Most weekend nights, you can find Papach, 46, performing as principal violist of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and Albers, 40, as principal violist of the Minnesota Orchestra. They’ve played Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. But these are the performances they’re living for, these days.

Their life here, filled with string quartets and wood blocks and walks to the park, is made possible by the fact that the Twin Cities boasts two acclaimed orchestras, a rarity.

“To have two violists of that caliber as principals in the same city — not to mention the fact that they’re married — is pretty incredible,” said Erin Keefe, concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra and a friend so close the three refer to one another as “sister wives.”

Though neither grew up in Minnesota, Albers and Papach have recruited a crew from their Cathedral Hill neighborhood, loved ones who babysit during concerts and bridge the half-hour gaps when their rehearsals overlap.

Papach’s sister, who is pursuing her doctorate in composition at the University of Minnesota, lives two doors down. Albers’ sister Julie Albers became the SPCO’s principal cellist in 2014. Their mother, a Suzuki music teacher, moved nearby. In fact, so many family members have settled in Minnesota that they note which family members don’t live in town, rather than which ones do.

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“Pretty huge viola jobs have come up — like once-in-a-generation jobs — and we’ve looked the other way because we like it here,” Albers said. “We have our family, we have our community. We’re really, really grateful to both be able to live and work here.

“Hopefully that continues to be the case.”

‘A haven for each other’

Their love story begins, fittingly, at a classical music festival.

The two had met before, at the Juilliard School in New York City, where they shared a teacher. But they didn’t get to know each other until the summer of 2006, at the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont. Albers nursed a crush on Papach, who fascinated her, “but you had no idea,” Albers said, sitting on the rug beside Papach, as their son tugged on her shirt and their daughter pressed a picture book into her lap. “No idea,” Papach said.

The next summer, the two greeted one another with a hug. “I wasn’t really thinking about it,” Papach said, “but we hugged and my body was like, ‘I want to stay here.’”

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They got engaged just a few months later.

Albers had moved to Michigan to join a quartet and Papach had been freelancing in New York City when Papach nabbed the SPCO job in 2008. Albers decided to follow. Then the Minnesota Orchestra had an opening, and she auditioned, becoming assistant principal viola in 2010. She won the principal position, becoming the orchestra’s lead violist and go-to soloist, in 2017.

“She takes big, bold leaps of faith,” Papach said admiringly. Same goes for having kids: “I always thought I would like to have a family,” Papach said, “but I was a little more of a scaredy-cat.”

On her instrument and in her home, Albers is the natural leader, the organizer. Friends and colleagues describe Papach as the dreamer, the searcher. The physical comedian, too. Explaining why she’ll never switch from a paper score to an iPad screen, Papach pulled her arms tight to her chest and jutted her head forward, mimicking a dinosaur.

“They’re so different from one another, but in the same way they are as players, they really complement each other,” said Keefe, who performs with both violists in Accordo, a string ensemble composed of present and former principal players from both orchestras. “They’re really able to get inside each other’s heads and become a haven for each other.”

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A haven for their friends, too. “Our job can be very stressful and personal,” said Steven Copes, the SPCO’s concertmaster. “You need someone you can trust to talk about things with, to put your head on straight.” The two of them, but especially Papach, have “been there for me as I’ve gone through some very difficult times.”

During the Minnesota Orchestra’s lockout, then again during the pandemic’s shutdown, Keefe found herself spending most nights with Albers and Papach. They’re the kind of friends you don’t need to clean for, she said, the friends you can wear pajamas around. To most people, Keefe’s husband Osmo Vänskä is former music director of the Minnesota Orchestra. But to Albers and Papach’s daughter, he’s “ukki,” the Finnish word for grandfather.

Next month, when both Albers and Papach will perform with Accordo, creating “a scheduling nightmare,” as Papach put it, Vänskä will babysit.

Playing together is easy, the pair said. “We have different strengths on the instrument, but similar instincts,” Albers said. “So we might be doing different articulations, but the overall intention is united.”

The respect they have for one another extends to the music, she continued. “I don’t know that we could actually have a solid relationship if one of us didn’t respect the other completely musically.

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“It’s a funny thing how much the music bleeds into our lives.”

‘It keeps opening doors’

As Albers gathered boots and mittens, hats and a helmet, Papach slung harnesses on the dogs, an 11-year-old mutt with an underbite and 5-year-old with a brindled coat. After starts and stops, they headed to the park.

Their daughter swooshed down the sidewalk on her bike. Their son toddled sideways toward a stick, then toward a tree. But half a block in, they found a rhythm.

Becoming parents has shifted their lives, their musical lives included. There are the mundane things: the lack of sleep, the scarcity of time. Papach prepares more by reading, by listening. Gone are the pre-concert naps. Albers often practices in the kitchen, once the kids are asleep.

But Albers believes having kids has made her more creative, too. “Being a parent is so much experimentation, just trying to figure out, what is going to get her to put on her jacket today,” she said, laughing.

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As a toddler growing up in a musical family in Colorado, Albers tugged at the scrolls of her two older sisters’ instruments. She bothered them so much that finally they gave her a violin.

Papach’s mother, too, was a musician, a flutist — “orchestral music was her religion.” Born in South Bend, Ind., Papach spent much of her childhood in Japan, where she fell in love with music. It means more to her now than it ever has.

“It keeps opening doors,” she said. “The same piece can reveal itself totally differently at different points in life, depending on what you’re doing, what you’re feeling, what you’re going through.” Papach nodded toward her daughter.

“So that’s what I want her to have.”

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Minnesota

Minnesota felon arrested for murder of LA model Maleesa Mooney who was found stuffed in refrigerator at her luxury apartment

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Minnesota felon arrested for murder of LA model Maleesa Mooney who was found stuffed in refrigerator at her luxury apartment


A Minnesota convicted felon was arrested Wednesday in the murder of a Los Angeles-based model who was stuffed inside her refrigerator, her mouth gagged and wrists and ankles bound together.

Maleesa Mooney, 31, sister of Guyanese pop star Jourdin Pauline, was found dead on Sept. 12, 2023 when LAPD conducted a welfare check at her luxury apartment in downtown Los Angeles.

Magnus Daniel Humphrey was picked up by police at his Hopkins, Minn. home on an unrelated warrant and was identified as the “suspect responsible” for Mooney’s brutal slaying.

“The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office filed murder charges against Humphrey,” the LAPD said in a statement. “Humphrey waived extradition and will be transported back to Los Angeles to face charges.”

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An arrest was made in the death of Los Angeles-based model Maleesa Mooney, who was found dead in her apartment inside a refrigerator on Sept. 12, 2023. Jourdin Pauline/Instagram

The murder charge includes a special allegation of murder during the commission of torture, according to FOX 11 LA, citing court records.

Investigators have not revealed the relationship between Humphrey, 41, and Mooney.

He had been on probation for federal narcotic offenses after being released from prison on Feb. 7, according to Justice Department records.

Humphrey has been convicted of several felonies in Minnesota and Illinois, including for gun charges, assaults, sexual assaults, and false imprisonment, according to court records viewed by The Post.

Mooney worked as a real estate agent at Beverly Hills-based agency Nest Seeker and had only moved into her Skye at Bunker Hill unit a month before her death.

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Mooney, who worked as a real estate agent at Beverly Hills-based agency Nest Seekers, had only moved into her Skye at Bunker Hill unit a month before her death. Jourdin Pauline/Instagram

Mooney’s sister told local TV station KTLA at the time that her sister was two months pregnant when she died and had always wanted to be a mom.

“I can’t imagine what my sister went through and it pains me to even think about it,” Pauline told the outlet.

The model was last seen alive after surveillance cameras at her apartment complex captured her on Sept. 6, according to the outlet.

The LAPD conducted a welfare check on Mooney around 4 p.m. on Sept. 12, after her parents’ text messages were going unanswered, raising suspicions. 

Police found Mooney’s body in the refrigerator and blood on the floor.

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Mooney was living at the Skye at Bunker Hill luxury apartments on Figueroa Street. KTLA 5

A coroner report found Mooney had suffered blunt force injuries to her face/head, back, and upper left arm

“The blunt force traumatic injuries observed at autopsy are generally not considered acutely life-threatening on their own,’ according to the autopsy report.

But the report considered the injuries and suggested Mooney had been in some form of dispute.

“However, based on the circumstances of how Ms. Mooney was found, these injuries suggest she was likely involved in a violent physical altercation prior to her death. Given this, the role that drugs and/or alcohol may have played in Ms. Mooney’s death, if any, is uncertain,” the report stated.

A makeshift memorial is set-up for Maleesa Mooney outside her apartment building on Sept. 20, 2023. AP

A toxicology report showed the model had benzoylecgonine —a cocaine metabolite in her system along with a mix of cocaethylene and ethanol.

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Her death came just two days after another model, Nichole “Nikki” Coats, was found dead inside her LA apartment on Grand Avenue.

The models’ deaths sparked fears of a serial killer as both were killed inside their downtown Los Angeles residences. 

Coats’ death was ruled accidental as the cause was listed as “cocaine and ethanol toxicity.”



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College enrollment across Minnesota State system is up for first time in over a decade

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College enrollment across Minnesota State system is up for first time in over a decade


College enrollment is up across the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system for the first time in over a decade, according to Chancellor Scott Olson.

The Minnesota State system consists of 33 public community and technical colleges and state universities around the state.

The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system is comprised of 33 public colleges and universities.

Courtesy of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities

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While enrollment has been declining at colleges nationwide for years, Olson credits recent state investments in higher education for reversing the trend.

“Increasing financial support for students through new programs like the North Star Promise, as well as the state grant program, the emergency assistance grant program, the Minnesota American Indian scholarship program, and other things you’ve invested in, all help students make decisions about attending college,” Olson said while presenting to the State Senate higher education committee on Tuesday.

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In a 2023 bill, the Minnesota Legislature allocated over $4 billion to higher education, then establishing two tuition- and fee-free pathways for Minnesota residents.

The North Star Promise Scholarship Program covers tuition and fees for an undergraduate education at Minnesota’s public two- and four-year colleges and universities. The program is available starting Fall 2024 for Minnesota residents with a family adjusted gross income below $80,000.

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An estimated 15,000 students will benefit from the North Star program in its first year, according to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

The American Indian Scholars Program is for Minnesota residents who are enrolled members or citizens of a federally recognized American Indian Tribe or Canadian First Nation or who are enrolled members or citizens of Minnesota Tribal Nations, regardless of residency. It provides full tuition and fee waivers for students pursuing an undergraduate education at Minnesota’s public two- and four-year colleges and universities.

Bemidji State University

Bemidji State University is one of 33 public community and technical colleges and state universities

John Enger | MPR News file photo

Olson reported enrollment improved 2 percent across the Minnesota State system in the 2023-2024 school year, for an estimated total of about 107,000 students across the system, with growth driven by increasing numbers in community and technical colleges. In comparison, Minnesota State had about 126,000 students in 2018-2019.

As of Tuesday, Olson said applications are up 18 percent in their system for fall 2024.

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Minnesota State’s success reflects a national trend towards community colleges and shorter credential programs. In January, the National Student Clearinghouse reported enrollment growth was highest at community colleges for fall 2023. Enrollment for both certificate and associate degree programs grew by about 2 percent, compared to less than one percent for bachelor’s degrees.

“There’s optimism that this trend of annual enrollment growth will continue into the near and far future,” Olson said.

Meanwhile, the University of Minnesota said at the meeting that enrollment declined minimally at four of its five campuses between the 2022-23 and 2023-24 school years. Overall, total system enrollment has fluctuated nominally over the past 10 years, generally holding around 67,000 to 68,000 students.

Learning Resources Center appears

The James W. Miller Learning Resources Center at St. Cloud State University.

Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News | 2023

The two higher education institutions shared their enrollment numbers before making requests for millions of dollars in investments to improve aging facilities and supplement operating budgets.

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The University of Minnesota is seeking $500 million to preserve and replace buildings, and $45 million for operating costs. Minnesota State is seeking $541.4 million for building preservation and replacement, and $61 million for operational spending. 



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Three slain Minnesota first responders remembered for their commitment to service

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Three slain Minnesota first responders remembered for their commitment to service


Two young police officers and a firefighter-paramedic were killed in a burst of gunfire Sunday as they responded to a domestic disturbance call in the Minneapolis suburb of Burnsville. Another officer also was injured, and the man identified as the shooter fatally shot himself, police said.

Here are the victims’ stories.


Burnsville Police Officer Paul Elmstrand.

Courtesy of the City of Burnsville

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Paul Elmstrand, 27, was the youngest of five children. He was raised on his family’s farm in North Branch, north of Minneapolis, where his parents, Rodney and Sara Elmstrand, mostly grow strawberries and pumpkins, his mother said Tuesday.

He enjoyed running cross-country as a boy and he chose to work in law enforcement because of his admiration for a family friend who was a state trooper, his mother said.

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Elmstrand was class president at Cambridge-Isanti High School in Cambridge, a city of about 10,000 residents near North Branch. He graduated with a criminal justice degree from the University of Northwestern-St. Paul in 2018 and married his high school sweetheart, Cindy, the next year.

They had two children: Maria, 2, and Mateo, 6 months.

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“He was the most generous, loving, patient person I’ve ever known with the biggest smile,” Cindy Elmstrand-Castruita said of her husband in a statement. “He had a servant’s heart and would drop everything to help someone who was in need.”

Elmstrand joined the Burnsville Police Department in 2017 as a community service officer, becoming a police officer in 2019. Among other roles, he was a member of the department’s mobile command staff.

Elmstrand also worked as a part-time officer with the University of Minnesota Police Department.

“He really loved people, and he loved Jesus.” said Sara Elmstrand. “He was a real people person who could talk to anyone. A great dad,. A great husband. I don’t think he had any enemies.”

Sara Elmstrand said her son’s funeral will be Saturday at Woodridge Community Church in Long Lake.

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Burnsville Police Officer Matthew Ruge.

Burnsville Police Officer Matthew Ruge.

Courtesy of the City of Burnsville

Most relatives of Burnsville Officer Matthew Ruge live in the Chicago area, but he and his family moved to Minnesota when he was a child, his cousin Josh Ruge said Tuesday via Facebook Messenger.

Ruge, who was 27, grew up in Wabasha, Minnesota, a city of about 2,500 people roughly 85 miles southeast of Minneapolis. A neighbor, Robin Gwaltney, recalled that he was kind and respectful, even at a young age.

“It was a pleasure to know him,” Gwaltney told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “I’m so proud of what he turned out to be — such a wonderful young man. It’s just a darn shame.”

He graduated from Minnesota State University, Mankato’s Law Enforcement Program in 2018, the university said on its Facebook page. He joined the Burnsville police force in 2020. Ruge was part of the department’s crisis negotiations team and was a physical evidence officer.

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Josh Ruge said the last he had heard about Matt was how happy his family was that his cousin wasn’t an officer in Minneapolis during the protests that followed the May 2020 police killing of George Floyd.

“And then this ends up happening to him anyways,” Josh Ruge said.

Gwaltney wasn’t surprised that Matt Ruge went into law enforcement.

“He was a young man who wanted to do nice things for people,” she told the newspaper.


Burnsville firefighter and paramedic Adam Finseth.

Burnsville firefighter and paramedic Adam Finseth.

Courtesy of the City of Burnsville

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Adam Finseth, 40, was an Army veteran with a long history of service to his country and community.

Finseth graduated from John Marshall High School in Rochester, Minnesota, in 2001. He served in the Army Reserve from February 2003 to October 2003, when he joined the regular Army. He served until February 2009, according to an email from Fonda Bock, a spokesperson for the U.S. Army Human Resources Command.

During his time in the Army, Finseth was twice deployed to Iraq — for a year starting in September 2005, and for 14 months beginning in September 2007. He earned 13 awards, including the Army Achievement Medal and Army Good Conduct Medal, and was promoted to staff sergeant in January 2008.

Finseth began his firefighting and paramedic career with the fire department in Hastings, southeast of Minneapolis, in 2015, the Pioneer Press reported. He later worked with the department in Savage, Minnesota, before going to Burnsville.

The Savage Fire Department said on Facebook that Finseth treated everyone with respect, empathy and compassion, and that he “embodied the true spirit of a firefighter. … His legacy is etched in the memories of those who served alongside him and characterized by his calm demeanor and unwavering support for his fellow team members.”

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Finseth joined the Burnsville department as a firefighter and paramedic in February 2019, according to a news release from the city.

In his off time, Finseth coached youth baseball.

He was part of the Burnsville public safety team’s SWAT unit that was called to the scene of the domestic disturbance on Sunday. He was treating one of the injured officers when he was shot, police said.


A police officer poses for a portrait.

Burnsville Police Officer Adam Medlicott.

Courtesy of Burnsville Police Department

Burnsville police Sgt. Adam Medlicott was taken to Hennepin County Medical Center after being shot. He was released from the hospital Monday.

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Medlicott, 38, joined the police department in August 2014 and was promoted to sergeant in September 2022, the city said. He serves as a patrol sergeant, supervises community service officers and is a drug recognition expert, it said.

A city spokesperson said in an email that Medlicott was named Burnsville’s officer of the year in 2020.



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