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Schubert Club's Barry Kempton unveils lively, less formal lineup

Barry Kempton
Courtesy of the Schubert Club
Barry Kempton is making plans aimed at keeping the 130-year-old Schubert Club relevant and lively.

In mid-January, friends of the Schubert Club received an email from Barry Kempton, its artistic and executive director since January 2012. It was refreshing. Kempton didn’t announce concert cancellations or beg for money.

Rather, he chatted about his own Schubert Club favorites from the past 12 months and announced a flurry of plans aimed at keeping the 130-year-old classical music organization relevant and lively: launching a new, less formal concert series, putting concerts and events online, using the Schubert Club Museum as a performance and social space, commissioning new works, offering more family activities.

Over the weekend, the Schubert Club announced its 2013-14 International Artist Series, which includes pianists Jonathan Biss and Valentina Lisitsa, violinists Christiain Tetzlaff and Gidon Kremer, and baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky. MinnPost spoke with Kempton about the future.

MinnPost: You’re taking the Schubert Club in new directions.

Barry Kempton: When I got here just over a year ago, I was very lucky. I came to an organization in good shape financially and artistically. That gave me the opportunity to think in the longer term and not to be dealing with any immediate crisis. We began in the 19th century and survived the 20th, we’re doing well, but we need to make sure we stay on top of things.

The International Artist Series and Music in the Park will continue without major change. As we look at planning additional programming, we’re keen to not add more of the same. Classical music is core to us, though that term has blurred boundaries. We need to be thinking about younger audiences, more culturally diverse audiences. We’re looking at programs aimed at an audience which might be attracted to a less formal ambience, with musicians comfortable with more engaging, less traditional presentation skills.

MP: You do have an aging audience.

BK: We’re lucky to have such a big audience. We want to serve them as well as we can, as long as we can, while thinking of the next generations. We’re not convinced that they will come to the same format or the same venue. I’m keen on presenting all classical music, old and new, but with a very fresh style, maybe in nonconventional spaces. 

MP: Are you exploring more partnerships?

BK: Yes. I’m a big believer that shared risk and shared energy make for a better audience experience. Accordo [a partnership between Northrop Concerts and Lectures, Kate Nordstrum Presents, and the Schubert Club] is a perfect example.

MP: Your new “Live at the Museum” series has already begun.

BK: Yes, last Wednesday with Lyra Baroque’s artistic director, Jacques Ogg. He led the audience on a tour of our harpsichord collection. This Thursday [Feb. 14] is our “Cocktails With Culture” happy hour. [Go here for the complete “Live at the Museum” schedule. Coming up: a build-your-own-dulcimer family workshop, a concert with wine and food tasting, a CD release, and an emerging young artists’ performance.]

MP: The 2013-14 International Artist Series is the first you have programmed since coming to the Schubert Club. Are you saying anything in particular with the lineup?

BK: I haven’t tried to make any major changes to the format. The idea of mixing voice and stringed instrument and piano is a good one. It seems to be successful. I jumped at the opportunity to bring [violinist] Gidon Kremer with his chamber orchestra — the most unusual concert in the season. It’s a big string ensemble of 17-18 musicians. This is not meant to signal a change going forward, but it’s something this community hasn’t seen. 

The balance between superstar artists mixed in with some who are less known is one that the Schubert Club has espoused for many years, and it works very well. The artist I know least about is Valentina Lisitsa. Her credentials are formidable. Her stature in the classical music world has grown around her presence on YouTube, where she’s had something like 60 million visits, more than any classical artist. We’re curious to know whether that affects her audience and brings in a different crowd. 

[Here’s Lisitska playing Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata — more than 4,300,000 views so far.] 


Before coming to the Schubert Club in early 2012, Kempton spent five years as chief executive of the City of London Sinfonia. And before that, he served first as general manager and subsequently as vice president for artistic planning at the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. We’ve learned that he won’t say much about the SPCO and Minnesota Orchestra lockouts, and we can understand why, but we wish someone running a major arts organization would.

The latest news on the lockouts is little changed. On Friday, the Minnesota Orchestra canceled more concerts, this time through April 7. The musicians responded, “Management has taken another step toward throwing away the entire Orchestra season, leading us to ask, ‘Was this the plan all along?’ ” They’re not the only ones asking. On Wednesday, Feb. 13, the musicians are holding a benefit event to support music educationFMI and tickets. On Sunday during the snowstorm, SPCO musicians played a benefit at the University Club for their own hardship fund, raising just under $3,000. Carole Mason-Smith, chair of the SPCO Musicians negotiating committee, reports that they are reviewing the details of management's latest offer, continue to ask questions and hope to meet again soon. Mason-Smith will be at the Capitol Wednesday afternoon, testifying before the Legacy Committee.

Where else besides the theater-mad Twin Cities could you find two concurrent productions of Eugene O’Neill’s seminal, wrenching “Long Day’s Journey into Night”We saw the Guthrie’s version in January, and on Thursday we went to the Gonzo Group’s take on what is arguably the greatest American play. The Guthrie’s is what you would expect: solid, strong, superb. No pennies were pinched there. Gonzo’s is Kickstarter-funded, seat-of-the-pants and full of surprises; not all are successful, but none should deter you from going.

What works at the Gonzo: Real-life couple Claudia Wilkens and Richard Ooms as parents Mary and James Tyrone; their son, Michael Ooms, as Jamie; and Gonzo’s executive director Luke Weber as Edmund.

What doesn’t: Evelyn Digirolamo as Carlotta O’Neill, the playwright’s wife, who takes the place of the Irish maid, Cathleen, in the original play. Director Jennifer Harrington read several biographies of O’Neill and was struck by descriptions of Carlotta’s efforts to create a safe place for her husband to write his painful monster of a play. Harrington felt that Cathleen was expendable (we can see her point) and saw more interesting possibilities in Carlotta. Digirolamo wanders through the play like a ghost, picking up and sorting papers, never speaking, sometimes reflecting the actions of the other characters. It’s an interesting idea but ultimately distracting.

What works: The grand front hall of the James J. Hill House, which serves as the stage. Scenes are played on the staircase, in the spaces to each side, at a table within the half-circle of chairs where the audience is seated, and even in the Hill House breakfast room, out of view; we can hear the characters’ voices but can’t see them. That was odd at first but turned out to be very effective.

What doesn’t: The lighting. Performances take place at night, and the lighting — a combination of spots and chandeliers — does not convey the passage of time morning day to night, which is central to the play.

What works, ultimately and overall: The intimate, immersive experience of being in that historic space, so near to the actors. At the Guthrie, there’s almost always an invisible wall between audience and actors. No such wall exists in Gonzo’s production. In fact, if you’re near the end of a row of chairs, as we were, you might need to move out of Wilkens’ way. Ends Saturday, Feb. 23. FMI.

A note about the Guthrie’s “Journey”: If you’re holding tickets for a future performance and you haven’t yet heard, Peter Michael Goetz has gone home to California “in order to attend to a personal matter that requires his immediate attention.” Raye Birk has stepped into the role of James Tyrone. Ends Feb. 23. FMI and tickets.

Kristine Holmgren
Kristine Holmgren

In January, Minnesota playwright, blogger and Presbyterian pastor Kristine Holmgren got big news: an invitation to blog for Beliefnet, the influential and far-reaching inspiration/spirituality site. At first, she was thrilled. Then she was told to “soften” her language. Turns out that “softening” meant not using the word “feminist” anywhere – not in her title, not in her content. “The word offends so many people,” her contact at Beliefnet demurred. Jim Romenesko has the storyas does Jezebel, with colorful comments.

When did feminism become an F-word? You might think on that if you walk through “The House We Built: Feminist Art Then and Now,” a group exhibition at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery. The show is a reminder of how very recently women artists were dismissed and discouraged, and of how important the feminist art collective WARM and its gallery were. (WARM still exists; the gallery in Minneapolis' warehouse district closed when rents skyrocketed with the coming of the Target Center.) Most of the art in this excellent show is by WARM founders and members. Many pieces have been borrowed from the permanent collections of the MIA, MMAA, Walker and Weisman. FMI. Closes Feb. 23. 

Cindy Sherman. Untitled #92. 1981. Chromogenic color print, 24 x 47 15/16
© 2011 Cindy Sherman/Courtesy of the Walker Art Center
Cindy Sherman. Untitled #92. 1981. Chromogenic color print, 24 x 47 15/16" (61 x 121.9 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Fellows of Photography Fund.

The one-woman-in-countless-roles Cindy Sherman exhibition at the Walker closes this Sunday, Feb. 17. Hours have been extended during the final weekend. Members can come an hour early (at 10 a.m.) on Saturday and Sunday. The gallery will remain open to all until 7 p.m. both nights. This week’s Target Free Thursday Night will be a V-day tribute to the artist, “I Heart Cindy.” Exhibit FMIThursday FMI.

Where to go, what to do

Tonight (Tuesday, Feb. 12): Bebe Miller Company at the O’Shaughnessy. Virtuosic dancing meets fundamental humanitySneak peak video here. Part of the Women of Substance series, a partnership with Northrop Concerts and Lectures. FMI and tickets.

Tonight: Bobby Bare Jr. at the Dakota. Here’s Chris Riemenschneider’s interview for the StribFMI and tickets. On Wednesday, Feb. 13, at the Trylon, Sound Unseen screens the fly-on-the-wall documentary about the singer/songwriter, “Don’t Follow Me (I’m Lost).” Bare will be there for a Q&A. FMI and tickets.

It is Fat Tuesday, and if celebrating Nawlins style is your thing, head to the Amsterdam for the Jack Brass Band, the McNasty Brass Band, some Abita beer from the Big Easy, and a crawfish boil. Starts at 9. Or party at the Eagles Club with four bands: the Faux Playboys, Mister Rowles, the Southside Aces and the Rockin’ Pinecones. 7 p.m. – 11. Or ease on over to the Driftwood Char Bar for Paul Metsa and Willie Walker. 7 p.m. – 9. 

Wednesday, Feb. 13: Boot Camp returns to the Artists’ Quarter. Led by composer/pianist Jeremy Walker, aka Boot, the band also includes Brandon Wozniak on saxes, Chris Bates on bass and Miguel Hurtado on drums. We’ve heard them. We like them. 9 p.m., just $5. If you forget to eat before you leave home, Vanessa, aka V-Lo, is serving homemade tacos and cake. FMI.

Wednesday: the always alluring singer Stacey Kent comes to the Dakota for two nights, with husband Jim Tomlinson on saxophone and our own Gordy Johnson on bass and Phil Hey on drums. Kent, who lives in England, first played with Johnson and Hey years ago, and now they're her regular U.S. touring band. Her love songs will give you a head start on Valentine's Day. Or wait until Thursday and the Dakota's V-Day dinner show. FMI and tickets.

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Comments (1)

MAYBE Barry has the right approach

As opposed to the, um, "reset business model" being prattled about by the big boys. Unless there is some mergers and acquisitions work being done behind the scenes? Just because I'm paranoid . . .