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Pinchas Zukerman: ‘Let’s bring music back to Minnesota!’

Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 was a poignant reminder of something else both orchestra lockouts are robbing us of: opportunities to hear musicians like Zukerman here at home.

Former SPCO music director Pinchas Zukerman led locked-out musicians in an all-Mozart concert on Sunday.
MinnPost photo by John Whiting

Led by their former music director Pinchas Zukerman, who worked for free, the locked-out musicians of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra played splendidly on Sunday afternoon, giving an all-Mozart concert for a sold-out crowd at Wayzata Community Church. The “Figaro” overture was sprightly and crisp. The Violin Concerto No. 5, with Zukerman conducting and soloing, was a poignant reminder of something else both orchestra lockouts are robbing us of: opportunities to hear musicians like Zukerman here at home. The mighty “Jupiter” symphony was a cup into which the musicians poured their emotions, from joy to sorrow. It was music we’ve heard before, but never quite like this. The concert closed with impassioned pleas from Zukerman. “Let’s bring music back to Minnesota!” he urged, pumping his fist in the air. And “Bring music back to the schools!” He pledged to return “to celebrate the victory of music.” We learned later that the SPCO had readied an encore but decided not to play it, since it would have seemed anticlimactic after Pinky’s rousing finale. Read William Randall Beard’s concert review here.

By chance, we were seated beside Arthur and Yvonne Lies, a couple from Fargo who first heard the SPCO when the orchestra played there in 1975, during the Dennis Russell Davies days. Ever since, they have made the round trip to St. Paul from four to 12 times each year. “Our love affair with the SPCO continues,” Arthur Lies wrote in an email yesterday morning. “The attraction is not only one of aesthetics, but of a feeling of general warmth and friendliness. … We have not only been lucky enough to befriend the SPCO musicians, we have also had the opportunity to meet guest stars and conductors, all of whom have been more than cordial to us.… When we head out on yet another 500-mile excursion we might feel a bit tired, but we always fly home buoyed by the SPCO experience. … They remain a major part of what keeps us going in a world full of disappointments and uncertainties.”

SPCO musicians yard sign
MinnPost photo by John Whiting
Audience members displayed yard signs expressing support for the SPCO musicians.

We’re now into December, and no new contract talks are scheduled for either the SPCO or the Minnesota Orchestra. The SPCO will play Handel’s “Messiah” at Central Lutheran Church on Dec. 20 and 21; the weekend before, on Dec. 15 and 16, the Minnesota Orchestra will perform “Ode to Joy” at the Ted Mann. FMI and tickets at the hotlinks. Here’s hoping Arthur and Yvonne Lies of Fargo have reasons to drive their Prius to St. Paul in January, and that the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute set for January 7-11 doesn’t get canceled.

Janis Lane-Ewart
Janis Lane-Ewart

Two sudden and surprising personnel changes happened late last week. On Thursday, Chris Dronen, president of KFAI’s board of directors, announced the departure of Janis Lane-Ewart, who has served as the station’s executive director since April 2001. The Daily Planet’s speedy Sheila Regan had the story later that day. Dronen declined to comment to the Planet; on Monday, Lane-Ewart declined to comment to MinnPost. Pam Hill Kroyer has been appointed acting executive director while the board conducts an executive search.

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On Friday, Northrop Concerts and Lectures at the University of Minnesota announced that its director, Ben Johnson, will leave Jan. 1 to accept a new position in Los Angeles as director of programs for United States Artists, a national nonprofit. Johnson will administer the USA Fellows program, which awards $50,000 grants annually to 50 artists who work in film, theater, dance, music, design, visual arts, literature, and American craft. He will also no doubt be up to his neck in the LA arts scene. Johnson has been at Northrop since August 2008, during which he curated the Northrop Dance Season, collaborated with presenters including the Schubert Club, Kate Nordstrum Projects, the Walker Art Center and the O’Shaughnessy, built relationships with arts organizations locally, nationally, and internationally, laid the groundwork for the reopening of Northrop Auditorium in April 2014, and got to know pretty much everyone in town who cares about the arts, or so it seemed. Earlier this year, Christine Tschida was named Director of Northrop, a newly created position reflecting Northrop’s expansion beyond Concerts and Lectures into academic programs and public study and meeting spaces. A press release issued Friday says that “Northrop will continue to deliver world-class, international dance programming and community engagement activities while building an expansive vision for Northrop’s new facilities.” 

Ben Johnson
Photo by Tim Rummelhoff
Ben Johnson

United States Artists, the organization that lured Johnson away, has awarded a $50,000 fellowship to Ranee Ramaswamy, founder and director of Ragamala Dance. Kristin Tillotson notes in the Strib that two Twin Cities artists received USA grants last year: choreographer/dancer Morgan Thorson and composer Mary Ellen Childs.

Rohan Preston reports that Penumbra Theatre is making progress toward reaching its goal of raising $340,000 by year’s end. When it hits that mark, it can resume production of shows. “The news of a renowned African-American theater on the ropes was picked up from coast to coast,” Preston writes. “Since then, patrons and funders have been responding with offers of help. While the theater is not out of the woods yet … the St. Paul-based company has raised 70 percent of its goal, or about $238,000.” As of yesterday, tickets were still available for “Home for the Holidays: Hot Chocolate” on Monday, Dec. 17, the last in a series of three star-studded benefits being held this month. The first two sold out.

It’s been ten years since Senator Paul Wellstone, his wife, Sheila, and his daughter, Marcia, died in a plane crash that changed the course of Minnesota politics. Tonight (Tuesday, Dec. 4) at Dayton Avenue Presbyterian Church, Paul David Wellstone Jr., will read from and discuss his new book, “Becoming Wellstone: Healing from Tragedy and Carrying On My Father’s Legacy.” Wellstone’s memoir opens with an almost unbearable account of his arrival at the still-flaming wreckage of the plane. 7 p.m., 217 Mackubin St., St. Paul. Sponsored by SubText: A Bookstore.

Tonight at Common Good Books, Andrew Solomon discusses his new book, “Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity.” It’s about how families deal with exceptional children – not “exceptional” in the sunny ways we often mean (gifted, talented, or otherwise promising), but in ways that can turn lives inside-out and upside-down. What happens when children are born with dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, or multiple severe disabilities? When they identify as gay or transgender? When they develop schizophrenia? Solomon is a gay child of straight parents and author of the acclaimed earlier book on depression, “The Noonday Demon.” 7 p.m., 38 S. Snelling, St. Paul.

If you happen to be in Cleveland on Wednesday, stop by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to hear Andrew Flory talk about Marvin Gaye. An assistant professor of music at Carleton College, Flory will give a talk called “Reissuing Marvin: Musicology and the Modern Expanded Edition.” He provided musicological assistance and wrote the main essay for the recent Hip-O release of the 40th Anniversary Expanded Edition of Gaye’s “Trouble Man,” a jazz-soul soundtrack for a mostly forgotten 1972 film. Marvin Gaye fans, put this on your Christmas list.
Artist Gregory Euclide designed the cover for
Volume 4 of the Minnesota Beatle Project

On the topic of Christmas lists, Volume 4 in the Minnesota Beatle Project series comes out today, and we’re headed to the Fetus any minute to pick up our copy. Quantities are limited to 5,000 CDs and 500 double vinyl albums. Here’s the track listing:

  1. John Mark Nelson: A Day in the Life
  2. Haley Bonar: Mean Mr. Mustard
  3. DeVotchKa: Girl
  4. Chastity Brown: For No One
  5. Trampled by Turtles: Baby’s in Black
  6. Van Stee: Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
  7. Halloween, Alaska: Misery
  8. Molly Maher and her Disbelievers: Think For Yourself
  9. Big Trouble: You Never Give Me Your Money
  10. Astronautalis: Back in the U.S.S.R.
  11. Caroline Smith & The Goodnight Sleeps: Cry Baby Cry
  12. Mark Joseph feat. Reed Grimm: Baby, You’re a Rich Man
  13. Bloomington Jefferson High School: She Loves You

The Fetus will host a release party tonight starting at 7 that includes a performance by Chastity Brown. 100 percent of net proceeds from Beatle Project albums are used to rebuild and enhance music and art education for children in Minnesota public schools. Pinchas Zukerman would approve.

On Thursday, journalist Calvin Trillin comes to Talk of the Stacks, a free program of the Friends of the Hennepin County Library. He’ll read from “Dogfight: The 2012 Presidential Campaign in Verse” and the career-spanning collection “Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin: Forty Years of His Funny Stuff.” A staff writer at the New Yorker, Trillin is also the deadline poet for The Nation. (Deadline poet? Talk about a tough job.) Doors at 6:15 p.m., program at 7 p.m. at the Minneapolis Central Library, 300 Nicollet Mall. This will be one of those laugh-out-loud evenings we could all use more of.

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We’re gathering information now for our second list of holiday shows, to run this Friday. We’ll continue with the Shop Local theme. If you have something to tell us, send an email to

Michael Pearce Donley and Peter Vitale in Park Square Theatre's '2 Pianos 4 Hand
Courtesy of Park Square Theatre
Michael Pearce Donley and Peter Vitale in Park Square Theatre’s ‘2 Pianos 4 Hands’

Are you looking for holiday entertainment that’s not holiday themed? With lots of music but not a single day of Christmas, silent night, fa-la-la or pa-rum-pum-pum-pum? Park Square Theater is a refuge from the holiday crazies. Opening Friday, “2 Pianos 4 Hands” stars Michael Pearce Donley (“Triple Espresso”) and Peter Vitale in a variety of roles: students, parents, music teachers, conservatory snobs. The one-liners fly and the music morphs from Bach to Billy Joel. Donley promises, “There is NO holiday music in the show, unless you consider a snippet of ‘Linus and Lucy’ from ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ to be holiday music (it’s not presented in a holiday context). No mistletoe, no chestnuts, not a candy cane to be found. We’ve even tried to avoid using red and green in the lighting.” Through Dec. 30. FMI, tickets, and a video snippet