Skip to Content

Support MinnPost

This content is made possible in part by the generous sponsorship support of The University of Minnesota.

'Inuksuit' blends music and nature; Lake Harriet Elf celebration

Photo by Michael Bettine
Percussionist Heather Barringer performing John Luther Adams' "Inuksuit" at the Lynden Sculpture Garden in Milwaukee, September 2013.

Take a beautiful park with rolling wooded hills and winding trails. Add 21 percussionists and all sorts of instruments – drums, cymbals, conch shells, sirens, vibes, gongs, bells, rattles. Spread the musicians throughout the performance area and have some of them move around. Give them interesting music to play, like a piece by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams. Then wander among them, or stay put and see what happens.

Art experiences are becoming more immersive and less sit-in-your-seat. Earlier this summer at the American Swedish Institute, dancers Sally Rousse and Noah Bremer led audiences through the Turnblad Mansion for the dance/theater piece “KOM HIT!” Last week, Fringers braved the basement of the Soap Factory for “Crime and Punishment.” This weekend, audiences will move between eight performances spaces during Bedlam Lowertown’s “The Big Lowdown.” And on Sunday evening at Caponi Art Park in Eagan, St. Paul’s new music ensemble Zeitgeist will perform Adams’ “Inuksuit” under the sky, among the trees and paths and birds.

It will last about 70 minutes. You can bring the kids. You don’t need to be silent or still. You don’t even have to applaud at the end, as the musicians will step away from their instruments and leave the final measures to nature.

This won’t be the first time Adams’ music has been heard in the Twin Cities. The SPCO gave the world premiere performance of his “Become River” in April. (Adams won his Pulitzer for its predecessor, “Become Ocean.”) In 2013, Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche played a piece Adams wrote for him, called “Ilamaq,” at the Walker.

“Inuksuit” is a work Adams composed in 2009 for nine to 99 percussion players. The New York Times has dubbed it “the ultimate environmental piece.” It has been performed so often – in forests, parks and gardens in Chicago, New York, Milwaukee, Edinburgh, Lisbon, The Hague, Berkeley, Knoxville, Pittsburgh and Richmond, Virginia, even on frozen Lake Superior – that it verges on being a popular piece of contemporary classical music, something that doesn’t happen very often.

Adams has lived in Alaska for decades, and its landscape and seasons have shaped his work. “Inuksuit” is named for the large stone cairns found throughout Northern Canada and Alaska that serve as markers. Percussionist Heather Barringer, Zeitgeist’s co-artistic director and one of the musicians who will play on Sunday, offers this listening tip: “Stand in front of a drummer. Put something strong in your foreground. Soon you’ll begin to hear two or three other people who are further away, in the midground. Gradually you’ll become aware that percussionists are all around you – markers of the human stance on our land, just like the Inuksuit all over Alaska and Canada.”

The boundaries between the sounds made by the musicians and the sounds of nature will blur. “The piece ends with a group of percussionists playing birdcalls on glockenspiel and crotales. When we were in Milwaukee, you couldn’t tell the difference between the musical birdcalls and the real ones,” Barringer says. Zeitgeist played “Inuksuit” for their first time in Milwaukee last Sept. 7. Sunday’s concert will be the regional premiere.

At Caponi, Zeitgeist, normally a quartet, will be joined by professional percussionists including Dave Hagedorn, Will Kemperman, Peter O’Gorman and Alexander Burgess and many students. “We have a percussionist coming from Madison, Wisconsin, to play, and another from Wyoming,” Barringer says. “Our performance on Sunday gives us an opportunity to play a piece by a composer we love who’s internationally recognized in a park that we’re fond of, and to expand our ranks beyond the quartet. It brings a lot of people together. And it’s fun to spend a day in the woods.”

Critics have called Adams’ piece “rapturous,” “glorious” and “epic.” Here’s a promotional trailer for the recorded version, and here’s an excerpt on SoundCloud. Sunday’s performance will take place on the clearing before Caponi’s Theater in the Woods. There is a rain date – Monday, Aug. 18 – but “drizzles and sprinkles won’t dissuade us,” Barringer says. “ ‘Inuksuit’ has been performed in torrential downpours and dust storms.” Starts at 6:30 p.m. Free, but a $5 donation is suggested to support the Caponi Art Park Summer Performance Series.

***

 When John Luther Adams was here in April for “Become River,” an SPCO commission, he made time for a Composer Conversation. The Composer Conversation series was launched in 2012 as a co-presentation of the SPCO, MPR, and the American Composers Forum and was held at MPR. It got off to a rough start when the SPCO’s labor dispute forced the cancellation of three out of five events, including the originally scheduled conversation with Adams. The series returned in 2013-14 with the same co-presenters and was held at the Amsterdam.

We’ve always thought it was a great idea and are thrilled that it’s back for a third year. Minnesota Opera has joined the pile of co-presenters, so the series can now draw from the SPCO’s concert season, the SPCO’s Liquid Music season and the opera’s season.

Once again, the Composer Conversations take place at the Amsterdam. On Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015: Kevin Puts. The Pulitzer Prize winner for “Silent Night” will be here for the premiere of “The Manchurian Candidate.” Thursday, April 2: Bryce Dessner, Caroline Shaw and Richard Reed Perry. All three will play two nights of Liquid Music concerts at the Walker. Wednesday, April 22: Fred Lerdahl. His third SPCO commission will have its world premiere at the Ordway April 23–26. Thursday, May 7: Missy Mazzoli. “Boston’s post-millennial Mozart” will give a Liquid Music concert at the Walker on May 9.

The Picks

Tonight (Thursday, Aug. 14): Mixed Precipitation’s “King Arthur: A Picnic Operetta” opens at the Dodge Nature Center and Community Garden in West St. Paul. Scotty Reynolds directs the sixth season of the “edible opera adventure” that takes place in community gardens and urban farms throughout the Twin Cities. The performance is a punk retelling of Henry Purcell’s 1684 English Baroque opera, the story is ripped from the local headlines (something about a colossal new sporting arena), and the food (a five-course tasting menu served during the show) is by Chef Nick Schneider, formerly of Café Brenda and Spoonriver. Through Sunday, Sept. 21, various locations. 7 p.m. FMI and reservations (suggested donation $10–$20 per person).

Tonight at Galaxie Library in Apple Valley: Novelist, short story writer and screenwriter Amy Bloom presents her third full-length novel, “Lucky Us.” Part of the 2014 Club Book series. 7 p.m. Free.

Tonight at Minneapolis Central Library: The Eloise Butler Wildflower Florilegium Exhibit opens. Nearly 50 botanical paintings by students of the Minnesota School of Botanical Arts depict native plants found at the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden, the oldest public wildflower garden in America. 6:30 to 8 p.m. Welcome reception and tour. Free. Through Wednesday, Oct. 15.

Friday during the day: Birthday Celebration for the Lake Harriet Elf. If you have no idea what we’re talking about, ignore this. But if you’re a fan of the little guy who lives in a tree along the lake’s walking path, here are the deets: 9:15 a.m.: Lake Harriet Elf Day Proclamation in City Hall Room 317. Birthday cake after. Kids’ tours of City Hall every hour on the hour from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., starting in Room 319. Here’s Kim McGuire’s article for the Strib about the elf and why we care.

The Weekend

Opens Friday at the Film Society’s St. Anthony Main Theatre: “Dinosaur 13.” An engrossing documentary about the 1990 discovery of “Sue,” the largest, most complete T. rex ever found, and the years-long legal battle that came after. Here’s the trailer. FMI and tickets ($6–$8.50)

Friday-Sunday at the Science Museum: Ultimate Dinosaurs.” Better hurry. Closes Aug. 24.

Saturday at the Museum of Russian Art: Duo Parnas with Denis Evstuhin. The Minnesota debut of sisters Madalyn Parnas (violin) and Cicely Parnas (cello). The young virtuoso pianist Evstuhin has appeared on the world’s stages, most recently at the Polish Festival in Minneapolis, where he played Chopin. The program includes music by Beethoven, Shostakovich, Auerbach and Arensky. 7 p.m., doors at 6:30. FMI and tickets ($25–$30).

Get MinnPost's top stories in your inbox

Related Tags:

About the Author:

Comments (1)

More John Luther Adams in the Twin Cities

Jon Cranney, former artistic director for the Children's Theatre Company, tells us that Adams also composed the music for "Crow and Weasel," a play at the CTC in the early 1990s.