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Minnesota Orchestra musicians hold their own sold-out opening night

Skrowaczewski
Photo by John Whiting
Conductor emeritus Stanislav Skrowaczewski led the locked-out Minnesota Orchestra musicians in a concert at the Convention Center.

Thursday night was supposed to be opening night for the Minnesota Orchestra’s 2012-13 season, and it was, against all odds. Locked out by management on Sept. 30, with concerts canceled through Nov. 25, the musicians booked the Convention Center, asked conductor emeritus Stanislav Skrowaczewski to lead them, sold tickets, showed up in formal wear, and performed two masterworks of the repertoire, Dvorák’s Cello Concerto and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5.

The Dvorák was originally slated for later this month. The Shostakovich was not on the schedule for this year, and we can surmise the musicians chose it because they played it fairly recently (last November), because Skrowaczewski can conduct it from memory, and because it carries a message: neener-neener, Stalin.

Traditionally, opening night is a festive occasion. This one had an edge, underscored by green T-shirts and buttons saying “Support Minnesota Orchestra Musicians.” After intermission and before the Shostakovich, violist Sam Bergman told the audience, “This orchestra is standing on the edge of a precipice tonight. We’re about to be cast on the rocks of fiscal austerity.” Not all of the musicians were present; some were playing elsewhere, as guests with other orchestras. But most were, and before a sold-out house of 2,100, they played as if their lives depended on it. Conditions being what they are — talks stalled, bitterness rising, some musicians already planning to leave — it’s hard not to fear that the Minnesota Orchestra may never again sound as good.

On Wednesday, Dobson West, president of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, gave the SPCO musicians a deadline: accept management’s “voting offer” by 6 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 21) or be locked out, with concerts canceled through Nov. 4. Hours later, Carole Mason-Smith, chair of the musicians’ negotiations committee, issued a response from the musicians calling management’s offer “both disingenuous and destructive. It fails to preserve the orchestra’s artistic excellence, and it destroys this ensemble now and into the future … A lockout is the last thing we want, but, with so much at stake, we cannot make an irresponsible decision.” Unresolved issues include proposed salary cuts (management claims 15 percent, musicians say 33 percent), the size of the orchestra, and artistic control.  

On Monday, the chamber group Accordo launched its fourth season with “An Evening in Austria-Hungary,” with music by Haydn, Bartók, Dohnányi, and Mozart. Performing at Christ Church Lutheran in the Longfellow neighborhood, principal musicians from both orchestras – Tony Ross and Rebecca Albers of the Minnesota Orchestra; Kyu-Yung Kim, Ruggero Allifranchini, and Maiya Papach of the SPCO – played this passionate, uplifting program as if nothing else mattered. Ross made only one sidelong reference to his orchestra’s lockout. Introducing Mozart’s exquisite Viola Quintet in C Major, he mentioned that Mozart wrote it “on spec; he needed some income, a familiar thing these days.” New this year: risers for the musicians, so audience members seated near the back no longer have to crane their necks. This addition makes the whole Accordo experience – already warm, intimate, and inviting – even better. Accordo’s next concert is “A Tribute to Debussy on his 150th” on Monday, Dec. 3, with guest pianist Benjamin Hochman. FMI and tickets

Introducing the 8th Annual SAGE Awards for Dance, held Wednesday at the Cowles Center, Ben Johnson, director of Northrop Concerts and Lectures, noted that “Minneapolis is on fire” with dance. It was a night of celebration for our large and lively dance community. This year’s winners: Shapiro and Smith Dance, Uri Sands, and Wynn Fricke (Outstanding Performance); Katie Johnson, Andrew Lester, and Eva Mohn (Outstanding Performer); Obtuse Crew (Outstanding Ensemble); Peter O’Gorman and Mike Grogan (Outstanding Design); Morris Johnson (Outstanding Dance Educator); and Lirena Branitski (Special Citation). Coming up at the Cowles: a weekend with world-famous Indian dancer Alarmél Valli, guru to Ragamala’s Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy. See an award-winning film about her life and work tonight (Friday, Oct. 19) and a live performance Saturday featuring an orchestra from India. Here’s the film’s trailer. FMI and tickets.

Earlier this week, Alaska-born, Minneapolis-based dance and choreographer Emily Johnson won a prestigious New York Dance and Performance Award (a.k.a. a Bessie) for “The Thank-you Bar,” performed at New York Live Arts in Chelsea last November. (Some of us saw it here at Northrop in 2010.) Johnson and her company, Catalyst, are part of this year’s Women of Substance series at the O’Shaughnessy, where you can see them in April 2013. FMI and tickets. Here’s a Minnesota Original profile of Johnson.

“When a Man Loves a Diva,” scheduled for an encore run at the Lab starting tonight (Friday, Oct. 19), has been canceled because of a medical emergency. Ticketholders may contact the box office at 612-333-7977 for an exchange or refund.

Hidebound H o T B
Photo by Bruce Silcox
“Hidebound” sets the story of the conquest of Central American inside a tiny barbecue shack manned by Abraham Lincoln.


In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater opened its season last night (Thursday, Oct. 18) with “Hidebound” by playwright and activist Erik Ehn, adapted by Alison Heimstead. The play is part of Ehn’s Soulographie cycle, which explores genocides around the world. “Hidebound” sets the story of the conquest of Central America inside a tiny barbecue shack manned by Abraham Lincoln. Each performance will be followed by a salon-style discussion led by educators and artists including Ehn (tonight, Oct. 19). Through Oct. 28. FMI and tickets.

We heard the new Rolling Stones single, “Doom and Gloom,” on the Current the other day, and it left us feeling kind of gloomy. It rocks like a Stones single, but it doesn't make us want to behave badly, the way Stones singles used to do. Is Mick really singing about Iraq, poverty and fracking? Yes (sigh), he is. Here’s a video with animated lyrics. Synchronistically, the Parkway hosts a three-day Stones film festival starting tonight (Friday, Oct. 19) with the Minnesota premiere of “Charlie Is My Darling,” the first documentary ever filmed about the Stones (1965), and continuing through Sunday with five more concert films and rock docs. 21+. FMI and tickets. One of the last single-screen movie houses in the Twin Cities, the Parkway is in a class by itself. Arrive early and nab a two-person loveseat; snack on the usual movie fare or stop by Pepito’s next door first and pick up margaritas and burritos, which you can bring into the theater.

Jazz fans are getting a double dose of pianist Bill Carrothers this month at the Artists’ Quarter. Last weekend he played there with drummer Ari Hoenig, in from NYC, and bassist Chris Bates. He returns tonight (Friday, Oct. 19) and tomorrow with drummer Dave King and bassist Billy Peterson. The occasion this time is the release of King’s new CD on Sunnyside, “I’ve Been Ringing You.” Recorded in a church in Minneapolis, it’s a mellow and moody collection of straight-ahead tunes by people like Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hammerstein. No matter how many times you’ve heard King play with his stack of other bands (The Bad Plus, Happy Apple, Gang Font, Halloween, Alaska, etc.), this will surprise you. The phrase “breathtakingly, dumbfoundingly beautiful” comes to mind. 9 p.m. at the AQ.

On Saturday, Oct. 20, the U of M School of Music will honor Minnesota composer and Pulitzer Prize winner Dominick Argento with a Collage Concert, an ensemble performance featuring more than 300 students and faculty. A preeminent American opera composer, Argento taught at the U for nearly 40 years. He turns 85 on Oct. 27. The concert will include a selection of music from throughout his career: songs, chamber works, and the Valentino Dances arranged for orchestra and chorus. Twin Cities music celebs Vern Sutton, Libby Larsen, Stephen Paulus, and Dale Warland will pay tribute to Argento throughout the evening. 7:30 p.m. at the Ted Mann Concert Hall. Free and open to the public; first come, first seated.

Dominic Argento
Courtesy of Dominic Argento
On Saturday the U of M School of Music will honor Minnesota composer and Pulitzer Prize winner Dominick Argento with a Collage Concert.

On Monday, Oct. 22, Plymouth Church continues its respected Literary Witnesses series with a reading by Minnesota poet John Caddy, McKnight Foundation Distinguished Artist for 2012. After surviving a stroke in 1994 that paralyzed his left side, Caddy “fell in love with Mother Earth all over again” and has dedicated his work ever since to celebrating Earth’s daily gifts. His books are published by Milkweed, and his blog, Morning Earth, is read by thousands. 7 p.m., free.

On Monday and Tuesday (Oct. 22-23), Pillsbury House Theatre presents “Mark My Words,” 10 original short plays written by South Minneapolis youth. This is the 16th year of PHT’s Chicago Avenue Project, the award-winning mentoring program that teams neighborhood kids with top Twin Cities theater artists, actors and directors. “You think you’re coming in to teach the kids so much,” writer Levi Weinhagen has said, “but halfway through you realize you’re learning more from them than they are from you.” This year’s pros include Sarah Agnew, Sarah Bellamy, Lisa Brimmer, Nathan Christopher, Leah Cooper, Beth Gilleland, Jamil Jude, Taj Ruler, Randy Reyes, Saymoukda Vongsay, Weinhagen, and Seniz Yargici Lennes. 7 p.m. Oct. 22, 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Oct. 23. Free and open to the public; all ages. First come, first served. 

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Comments (2)

What a great article!

How fortunate we are to have so many wonderful arts organizations in the Twin Cities.

The MinnOrch and SPCO situations are pathetic.

And thanks, Stan, thank you so much.

Good for the Musicians

It would be great if every concert venue in the state that could hold 4,000 people or more and the musicians would find a way to bring the Orchestra to town, perhaps with grants from their local arts council.