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Shrinking corporate support causes SPCO to drop Liquid Music

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra will cut three staff positions including that of Kate Nordstrum, Liquid Music’s curator for the past seven seasons.


Third Coast Percussion and Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche
Third Coast Percussion and Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche performed during Liquid Music's third season in 2014.
Courtesy of SPCO

We’ve been hearing that corporations including Target, Wells Fargo and 3M are shifting their funding away from the grants many arts organizations have come to rely on. We know that a lot of arts organizations are worried.

On Thursday afternoon, we learned what that means in real dollars to a major arts organization in the Twin Cities.

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Faced with a loss of $230,000-$300,000 in annual operating support for next year and beyond, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra will no longer sponsor the Liquid Music Series except for three projects that will take place next season. It will cut three staff positions including that of Kate Nordstrum, Liquid Music’s curator for the past seven seasons. Starting in the 2019-20 season, it will no longer offer Fanfare pre-concert discussions.

Jon Limbacher, the orchestra’s managing director and president, said in an email to SPCO patrons:

Refocusing resources in this way will allow us to continue to deliver on our core mission to share world-class chamber orchestra performances with this community through over 130 concerts in 17 venues next season. We will continue to make our performances accessible by offering the most affordable ticket prices of any professional American orchestra, including free tickets for children and students at nearly all of our concerts. We will also continue to offer our free digital Concert Library, where you can watch SPCO concert videos live and on-demand anytime, anywhere, completely free of charge.

The SPCO is financially healthy and addressing this funding shift proactively with thoughtful reductions in structural costs will help us maintain our financial strength and stability in the coming years.

In a press release sent a few moments earlier, Nordstrum said:

Liquid Music has had a tremendous run at The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. I have nothing but gratitude for seven seasons of incredible creativity and productivity. With the SPCO, Liquid Music presented 33 world premieres, 28 Minnesota premieres, commissioned 30 new works and saw 12 projects become albums (with more on the way). We facilitated collaborations between visionary artists and ensembles, and we often helped build dream projects from the ground up. The audience for Liquid Music expanded with each season – adventurous spirits of all ages, eager to explore, learn, and be made alive by the surprise and transformational power of new art.

Limbacher added:

Liquid Music has great value and deep support in our community after seven seasons of exciting growth at the SPCO. While we are no longer able to support it financially, we are confident it will continue to thrive in its next phase under Kate’s leadership. We will do all that we can in this transition to help make that possible.

In an email sent later that evening to friends and supporters of Liquid Music, Nordstrum wrote:

The work of Liquid Music will continue and it will grow. As for the 2019-20 season, I’ve put most projects on hold as I consider options for Liquid Music’s next phase. Via SPCO support, Liquid Music will stay committed to two large-scale projects with the Walker Art Center in November and December of 2019 (to be announced May 22) and to Ashwini Ramaswamy’s “Let the Crows Come” Nov. 8 & 9 at the Lab Theater.

Nordstrom also included a “non-exhaustive” list of nearly 160 artists and groups who have appeared with Liquid Music from 2012-19. To name just a few: Ambrose Akinmusire, Laurie Anderson, Jeff Ballard, Bon Iver, Bryce Dessner, ETHEL, Ben Frost, Philip Glass, Hilary Hahn, Vijay Iyer, Gabriel Kahane, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Jennifer Koh, Glenn Kotche, Pekka Kuusisto, Missy Mazzoli, Roomful of Teeth, Tyshawn Sorey, Sufjan Stevens, Michi Wiancko.

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The loss of the SPCO’s support is a serious thing. But this isn’t the first time Nordstrum has been on her own. Before Liquid Music, she ran the music program at the Southern Theater, collaborating with the New York-based Wordless Music. In 2011, when the Southern had its big financial crisis, Nordstrum left and started Kate Nordstrum Projects. Before then, she had helped to create the chamber ensemble Accordo, and she continued working with them. (Accordo is now under the Schubert Club’s umbrella.)

Nordstrum already has her own curatorial/production collective called Infinite Palette, and she has been acting as creative producer of the L.A. Philharmonic’s Centennial Season Fluxus Festival, which ends June 2019. The Bon Iver/TU Dance phenom “Come Through” was her idea. After sold-out performances at the Palace Theater in April 2018, it traveled to the Hollywood Bowl and recently played the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

We suspect Nordstrum will find a way to keep doing what she does: bringing us music we wouldn’t hear otherwise, opening our ears, broadening our minds, asking us to take a chance and making it worth our while.