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SPCO musicians ratify contract; concerts to resume May 9

On Monday, the musicians of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra accepted management’s latest proposal and its conditions, which include a significant salary cut and the downsizing of the orchestra from 34 players to 28. After a lockout that began Oct. 1 and lasted 191 days, they will play their first official concert on May 9 at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Apple Valley, a program of music by Schoenberg, Robert Schumann and Mozart featuring cellist Steven Isserlis and conducted by Thomas Zehetmair.

The lockout is over, but all is far from copacetic. Along with signing a three-year agreement, the musicians called for “the immediate commencement of a search for a new SPCO leader with proven orchestra management experience, and the vision and skill to substantially increase revenues.”

“We’re eager and excited to return to the stage and play music again for our loyal audiences,” said Carole Mason Smith, chair of the musicians’ negotiating committee, in a press release sent yesterday afternoon. “But we remain deeply concerned about the artistic quality of the SPCO for future generations.”

We spoke with Mason Smith later that day.

MinnPost: How are you feeling, now that the lockout has ended?

Carole Mason Smith: It’s a relief to know that we’ll be getting back to work, that we’re going to have revenue coming in to every household. But it’s a regressive agreement, and there’s no improvement over the course of the agreement. Besides being personally difficult on musicians and their families, it makes it more of a challenge to remain competitive musically. So that’s something we’re going to have to work out.

There are going to be a lot of changes. We’re really going to have to scramble to be competitive. With all the openings we’re going to have, because of people leaving and taking incentivized retirements, it’s a real concern. We won’t know until June [how many people will stay].

MP: The musicians have called for the SPCO to immediately start searching for a new leader. Dobson West is interim president; he wasn’t supposed to be there permanently. Was there any effort to find a new leader during the lockout?

CMS: They started it, then suspended it. Now it’s time to start again. I don’t think that should come as a surprise to anyone.

MP: Will the musicians have a say in choosing the new leader? 

CMS: That’s yet to be determined. 

MP: Did the orchestra, in fact, come close to not having a 2013-14 season?

CMS: You’ll have to ask the management. They said it was a real possibility the orchestra would cease to exist.

MP: Was that a turning point for the musicians?

CMS: We took notice of it, for sure. It’s not a matter of cost, it’s a matter of being able to find the revenue. To do that, we need new management, new leadership who will understand the idea of not sacrificing the product. 

MP: What is the general mood of the musicians?

CMS: What we’re going to do right now is concentrate on making music. The sooner we can get back to that, the sooner we will find our own center and figure out where to go from there.

A lot of musicians have taken other guaranteed work, not knowing what would happen. You can’t blame them. But you won’t see everybody you’re expecting to see at our concerts. A lot of musicians – regular, core members – won’t be there. I’m glad we have our artistic partners coming in. It will make a difference to see Thomas [Zehetmair] and Dawn [Upshaw] and Edo [de Waart].

MP: When will the new season be announced?

CMS: I don’t know. I would assume as soon as possible. We’re behind. There was difficulty lining up a season because of uncertainty.

MP: Who planned the new season?

CMS: We have not been allowed inside the building [the SPCO offices] for seven months. I don’t know who planned the next season. I would assume the artistic director, Patrick Castillo, planned it, but he resigned last week. I hope he completed the season, but I haven’t seen it.  

MP: When do you start rehearsals for your May 9 concert?

CMS: May 7. We were not allowed to have music until after the lockout was declared over – that’s at midnight tonight. Having music has been a big concern for a lot of our musicians, but management would not hand out music. We like to be prepared. This has not made it any easier. 

It’s good to get back to work, but this is going to be really challenging. It really is.


After Thursday night’s Mozart-Bruckner concert at the O’Shaughnessy, the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra told their board on Friday that it must end the lockout before negotiations can begin. Orchestra president Michael Henson called this “a new barrier.” Here’s Larry Fuchsberg’s review of Thursday’s concert. Here’s what violist Sam Bergman said to the audience after the intermission and before the Bruckner.

Rudresh Mahanthappa
Photo by Jimmy Katz
Rudresh Mahanthappa

Jazz saxophonist and composer Rudresh Mahanthappa has won the 2013 Doris Duke Performing Artist Award. Some of us will remember him from his incendiary shows at the Walker with Kinsmen (one of his many bands) and pianist Vijay Iyer, and at the Ted Mann with Danilo Perez for the Northrop Jazz series. Mahanthappa is currently touring with his latest band, Gamak, and creating a new collaborative work with our own Ragamala Dance called “Song of the Jasmine,” a co-commission with the Walker that premieres there in April 2014. The Doris Duke is a dream award; each winner receives an unrestricted, multiyear cash grant of $225,000 plus as much as $25,000 more for audience development and another $25,000 incentive for saving for retirement years. Other 2013 awardees in jazz include Anthony Braxton, Billy Childs, Amir ElSaffar, Miya Masoaka, Myra Melford, and William Parker. Here’s the complete list of the Class of 2013.

Superstar jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, a member of the Doris Duke Class of 2012, brings his Beautiful Dreamers trio to the Dakota tomorrow and Thursday, with Eyvind Kang on violin and viola, Rudy Royston on drums. “Beautiful Dreamers” is the perfect name for this unconventional threesome that floats and swings through a repertoire of Americana and jazz. 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. FMI and tickets ($40-$35).

frisell photo
Courtesy of the Dakota
Bill Frisell

The Minnesota Opera’s 50th anniversary season has ended, but the opera is giving us a fabulous encore: three free outdoor concert performances of Puccini’s “La Bohème.” These family-friendly events will feature the Minnesota Opera Orchestra and Chorus and soloists including Harold Meers (making his company debut), Karin Wolverton and Andrew Wilkowski (last seen in “Silent Night”), Rodolfo Nieti (“Hamlet”), and Christie Hageman and Brad Benoit (“Turandot”). Leonardo Vordoni (“Lucia di Lammermoor”) conducts. Friday, June 14, 7 p.m. at Harriet Island Pavilion in St. Paul; Saturday, June 15, 7:30 p.m. at Lake Harriet Bandshell in Minneapolis; Sunday, June 16, 7 p.m. at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault. The Minnesota Opera? Free? “La Bohème?” A trifecta of reasons not to head for the cabin that weekend.

The Walker has announced the dates for “Summer Music and Movies in Loring Park,” its popular annual sampler of classic film and eclectic music. Four Mondays: July 29-Aug. 19. Free. This year’s films take their cue from “The Autoconstrucción Suites,” the ongoing exhibition by Abraham Cruzvillegas, so it’s not out of line to expect some Mexican flavor – and perhaps music made on the spot from whatever musicians find? This is a golden opportunity to present some improvising musicians. Walker, what say you? Bands and films will be named in late May.

music and movies in the park
Courtesy of the Walker Art Center/Cameron Wittig
Returning in July: “Summer Music and Movies in Loring Park”

Merle Haggard is coming to the State Theatre on Friday, July 19. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but with the loss last week of George Jones at 81, you might think about catching Haggard this time around; he recently turned 76. Haggard will bring his band the Strangers. The last time Haggard came through town, with Kris Kristofferson in July 2012, they sold out. FMI and tickets ($63.50-$53.50).

Poet Billy Collins is due at the Pantages Theatre on Friday, Nov. 1. Collins served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 2001-2003; his last three collections have broken sales records for poetry. A poet at the Pantages? Many of Collins’ readings are SRO. He’s warm, charming, accessible, and often funny. Here’s an example. FMI and tickets ($40.50-$30.50).

Carl Flink, Ananya Chatterjea, and Aparna and Ranee Raswamy have been selected as 2012 McKnight Choreography Fellows. All will receive unrestricted $25,000 fellowships and residencies at nationally known programs in 2014. Flink (Black Label Movement) will spend six and a half weeks at the American Dance Festival in Durham, NC. Chatterjea will spend a week with her company, Ananya Dance Theatre, at the Tofte Lake Center in northern Minnesota. Aparna and Ranee Ramaswamy (Ragamala Dance) will be in residence at the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography in Tallahassee, FL, for two weeks.

A new Minnesota musical opens off-Broadway in July. “Sasquatched! The Musical” by Minnesota composer and author Phil Darg has been selected for the New York Musical Theatre’s 2013 Next Link showcase. Darg interprets Bigfoot (his colloquial name) as an intelligent, gentle, loquacious and dignified creature. We’ll see what New Yorkers think about that.

For artists: the 2013 Minnesota State Fair Fine Arts Show is open for registration. (Confession: it opened April 1, but we fell behind the ball.) Start by reading the rules and regulations. Register here. Registration is required, is available online only, and closes at 4:30 p.m. sharp on Monday, July 1. $3,150 in additional prizes will be awarded. The Minnesota Museum of American Art will purchase one work from the juried exhibition for its permanent collection.

For artists: if you’re not using social media, you’re missing important opportunities to connect, engage, build your audience, and sell your stuff. On Wednesday afternoon, May 8, the Metropolitan Regional Art Council hosts “The Power of Social Media: Stories and Strategies from the Sector,” presented by Jamie Miller (Fast Horse, Paper Darts, Young Nonprofit Professionals Network) and Chris Oien (Minnesota Council on Foundations, Young Nonprofit Nonprofessionals Network). The workshop is free, but please register in advance. At MRAC, 2324 University Ave. W., Suite 114, St. Paul.

Our picks for the week

Jazz Appreciation Month culminates today with International Jazz Day. If you’re in Istanbul, we hope you’re attending the UNESCO-organized Global Concert featuring Herbie Hancock and friends including Terence Blanchard, Anat Cohen, Robert Glasper, Al Jarreau, Ramsey Lewis, Hugh Masekela, Branford Marsalis, Jean-Luc Ponty, Wayne Shorter, Esperanza Spalding, and the star-studded list goes on. Not in Turkey? You can stream the concert live on YouTube starting at 1 p.m. this afternoon. Tonight, you can hear live jazz at Hell’s Kitchen (Triosé, 6 p.m.), Café Maude on Penn (Joel Shapira, 7 p.m.), the Artists’ Quarter (Cory Wong Quartet, 7 p.m., followed by Dean Magraw, 9 p.m.), Jazz Central (Adam Meckler Orchestra, 8:30 p.m.), and the Amsterdam (Jack Brass Band, 9 p.m.).

Tonight at the Woman’s Club of Minneapolis: “Art Smart: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Buying Art.” Get the skinny from insiders. Bring questions for Sally Johnson, director of the Groveland Gallery; Anita Sue Kolman, co-owner of Kolman & Pryor Gallery; Jennifer Phelps, art director, Burnet Gallery at Le Méridien Chambers; and Ruth Ann Benson, chair of the gallery committee at the Woman’s Club. Heavy hors d’oeuvres. 6 p.m.-8 p.m. ($15). Reservations required; call 612-813-5300.

Tonight at the Ordway: Jessye Norman. The great American soprano celebrates the Schubert Club’s 130th anniversary with a tribute to American masters including George Gershwin and Duke Ellington. The only ones not standing for her final number, “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing,” will be those who have died in their seats from sheer happiness. A few tickets remain, including standing room ($99-$35).

Tonight at the American Swedish Institute: Cocktails at the Castle. Even the Swedes are glad the snow melted in time for the ASI’s version of Valborgsmässoafton, the annual European welcome to spring. Enjoy bonfires, live music, a DJ, food from FIKA, live art performances, a cash bar, and DIY decoupage, a nod to ASI’s ongoing exhibition of birchwood plaques. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($7). 18+.

Wednesday at Common Good Books: Ken Budd reads from “The Voluntourist: A Six-Country Tale of Love, Loss, Fatherhood, Fate, and Singing Bon Jovi in Bethlehem.” Budd tells his personal story about traveling the world as a volunteer: in New Orleans after Katrina, in Costa Rica to teach English, in China to work with special-needs children, on the West Bank assisting refugees. Someone should have trimmed that subtitle, but Budd’s appearance promises to be enlightening and inspiring. 7 p.m. Free.

Thursday at Common Good Books (two nights in a row? It happens): Sarah Stonich reads from “Vacationland.” Stories set on a lake in northernmost Minnesota, from the best-selling author of “These Granite Islands.” 7 p.m. Free.

Wednesday and Thursday at the Dakota: Bill Frisell. See above.

mushroom painting
Courtesy of Art for Shelter
Art for Shelter raises funds for Simpson Housing Services

Thursday at the Burnet Gallery, Le Méridien Chambers: “Art 4 Shelter.” More than 1,000 original works of art, most priced at $30, will be offered for sale, with every penny of the proceeds going to Simpson Housing Services. It’s a party and a game of chance: Pieces will be hung randomly and refreshed throughout the evening, all will be signed only on the back, and you won’t learn whose art you’ve bought until you pay for it. So you might end up with something by a famous artist (Alec Soth, for example) or an unknown. Preview starts at 6 p.m., sale begins at 7 with the ring of a bell. Complimentary wine and hors d’oeuvres. Cash, check, or credit card. FMI.

Thursday at Pangea World Theater: a staged reading of excerpts from “Sabra Falling,” a new play by Ismail Khalidi. Born in Beirut, raised in Chicago, Khalidi is a Palestinian-American playwright, actor, author and writer-in-residence for Mizna, an organization that promotes Arab-American literature. His latest play is set in the Sabra refugee camp in 1982, a time when Beirut was under siege. 7 p.m., 711 West Lake St., Minneapolis. $5 suggested donation.

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