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MN Orchestra situation ‘particularly agonizing and seemingly inexplicable’

ALSO: Five reasons to see “An Iliad” at the Guthrie; Schubert Club to offer concerts at ‘Aria’; an MIA sculpture’s backstory; big bands coming to parks; and more.

The Minnesota Orchestra lockout continues to garner national attention, lately from the New York Times.
MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig

The New York Times has taken a particular interest in the Minnesota Orchestra. In an article published Sunday, James Oestreich reported on the latest developments: the cancellation of the rest of the 2012-13 season, Osmo Vänskä’s threat to quit, Burt Hara’s imminent departure. “While no one can question the need for financial prudence in an economy still rife with uncertainties,” Oestreich wrote, “the present course seems bent on destroying the institution in order to save it.” He called our situation “particularly agonizing and seemingly inexplicable,” the orchestra “an ensemble poised on the cusp of certifiable greatness” and Hara’s loss “immense.” And he noted, rather sternly, that “it is long past time for reasonable adults to sit down in a room and talk: if need be, in company with some friend of the orchestra, like the mayor or the chief executive of one of the city’s flagship corporations.”

Why has no one stepped forward – no friend of the orchestra, no person in power, no successor to philanthropist Kenneth Dayton? A May 4 editorial in the Star Tribune asked readers to “try to name a civic leader who could help broker a settlement in the bitter orchestra dispute.” Is there really, truly no one? How lame and sad is that?

In response to the musicians’ open letter to the people of Minnesota, published in the Star Tribune on Sunday, May 5, the orchestra board and management published its own letter on Saturday restating its position, summarizing the latest contract offer, and comparing the salaries, work weeks, time off, sick pay, and medical insurance of musicians under the new contract with those of the “average U.S. worker,” which the orchestra defines as professionals with PhDs and master’s degrees. The Times compared apples with apples: “Players’ annual base salary would be cut from $113,000 to $78,000. (By comparison, the musicians of the San Francisco Symphony emerged from a recent strike and Carnegie cancellation with a base salary of $148,000.)”

Today is Tim Gihring’s last day at Minnesota Monthly. “After 10 years, hundreds of shows, boatloads of carp, and two still-missing ruby slippers,” he wrote on Facebook, “I’m moving on to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, where I’ll work in the Audience Engagement division as its new ‘brand narrator.’” MnMo’s senior arts writer, Gihring had served as acting editor after editor Joel Hoekstra’s departure in January to start his own business. The magazine’s masthead is looking a bit thin. Gihring’s “Weekend Best Bets” ran in MinnPost on Thursdays during 2012.

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In February, the Schubert Club’s artistic and executive director Barry Kempton told MinnPost, “We’re looking at programs aimed at an audience which might be attracted to a less formal ambiance.” We now know a bit more about that. On Monday, the Schubert Club announced that it will present a new series of concerts called “Schubert Mix” at Aria (the former Jeune Lune) starting in January 2014. Some will be in partnership with the SPCO’s Liquid Music series and the American Composers Forum. The line-up will come out later this month. “Our idea behind Schubert Club Mix is to relax our presentation style and the ambiance of the venue without at all compromising the quality of the music-making,” Kempton said in a press release. Aria founder Peter Remes added, “It has been our vision to develop this unique building as a destination for arts and culture.” 

st john
Courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Benedetto da Rovezzano, Saint John the
Baptist, circa 1505

You might have heard about this by now, but in case you missed it: The Minneapolis Institute of Arts has made a new acquisition with a thrilling backstory. “St. John the Baptist,” a Renaissance bust by Benedetto da Rovezzano, a contemporary of da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael, will be the earliest Renaissance sculpture in the MIA’s collection. During WWII, it was one of more than 6,000 masterpieces looted by the Nazis, hidden in Austria’s Altaussee salt mines and intended for Hitler’s future Führermuseum. When it became clear that the the Axis would lose the war, Hitler’s second-in-command ordered the mines destroyed. Instead, the miners saved it (and the art), and the Monuments Men of the U.S. Army later returned the bust to the Netherlands, where it was bought by a private collector. In a cosmic-justice twist, “St. John the Baptist” was put on display last Wednesday, the 68th anniversary of V-E Day.

The McKnight Artist Fellowship for Photographers, once a separate program administered by, has been folded into the McKnight Artist Fellowships Program for Visual Artists, administered by MCAD. “Photography remains a notably distinct discipline,” McKnight arts program director Vickie Benson said in a press release, “but it also has a logical home today within the broader visual arts.” Benson noted that “similar discipline-specific grant programs nationally consider these artists increasingly within one comprehensive group.” Will that mean fewer prized McKnight fellowships overall? “There is no intent to reduce the total number of fellowships,” McKnight communications director Tim Hanrahan told MinnPost. “We’re trying to put together the best program that meets the broadest needs. At this point, the program is still in development. This is not a cutback.” 

If you love big-band music, don’t leave the Twin Cities for the next few months. Thirty-six big bands are performing 96 concerts in 41 parks, breaking all previous records of big-band insanity. A couple have already happened, but you can jump on the train as soon as next Tuesday (May 21), when the Minneapolis Southwest High School Big Band and Combos perform at the Lake Harriet Bandstand starting at 6:30 p.m. Go here for a complete list of concerts, places, and times through September 8

scene from an illiad
Photo by Aaron Fenster
Stephen Yoakam (The Poet) in the Guthrie Theater’s production of An Iliad, adapted from Homer by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare, translation by Robert Fagles.

Five reasons to see “An Iliad” at the Guthrie: 1) Playwrights Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare have made Homer’s 3,000-year-old epic poem about the Trojan War immediate and timely – partly by adding contemporary language and references (describing Achilles as “addicted to rage” and soldiers in the Greek ships as “boys from San Diego, from Lawrence, Kansas, from the Florida Panhandle”), partly by treating Robert Fagles’ famed translation as a living, breathing thing. 2) This is a one-man show, and Stephen Yoakam’s performance as the itinerant poet is spellbinding. He’s serious and funny, passionate and matter-of-fact, weary and anguished by the carnage he relates. When he sings of dead Hector’s wife, ululating her grief on the walls of Troy, it’s almost too much to bear. 3) The set, the sound, the staging and the lighting work in perfect harmony to pull you in. At first, the set is confusing – is that a pond? What’s the metal scaffolding for? – but then it all makes sense. 4) The beginning is wonderful. There’s no wall (at first) between the theater and the lobby. We see the bar, the ushers, the light streaming through the floor-to-ceiling windows. Then an elevator opens and Yoakam walks out. 5) The long litany of wars the poet recites toward the end of the play – from the devastation of Sumer far in the past to the destruction of Kabul in our own time – is appalling and sobering. As he says at the start, “Every time I sing the song, I hope it’s the last time.” But he knows it won’t be, and so do we. There’s a lot to think about as you walk out of the theater into the sweet spring night. Through May 26. FMI and tickets.

Our picks for the week and weekend

Artscape is taking Friday off, so here’s what we like for the next several days.

Tonight (Tuesday, May 14): “Love Is Law” Concert on Ecolab Plaza. Governor Dayton will sign the Freedom to Marry Bill at approximately 6 p.m. And then it’s party time. Follow the Minnesota Freedom Band from the Capitol lawn to Ecolab Plaza in downtown St. Paul for a night of celebration with Mayor Chris Coleman and special guests, with live music by Jack Brass Band, DJ Jake Rudh, H$B, Zoo Animal, P.O.S., the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus, and Chan Pohling and Friends. Food and beverage will be available for purchase. Approximately 6 – 10:15 p.m. Free.

Thursday at the TU Dance Center: Preview TU’s upcoming spring concert (May 31-June 2) at an in-studio showing. See excerpts from three world premieres including works by company co-artistic director Uri Sands and New York choreographer Camille A. Brown. Wine and cheese reception at 5 p.m, program at 5:45. 2121 University Ave. West, St. Paul. Free.

Thursday and Friday at Hopkins Center for the Arts: Armistead Maupin. In a free-spirited talk entitled “Untold Tales,” Maupin reveals the real-life inspirations for “Tales of the City.” The Pen Pals season finale. Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 11 a.m. FMI and tickets.

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Thursday-Saturday at the Walker: Elevator Repair Service. The New York theater collective that brought us “Gatz,” the critically acclaimed six-hour retelling of “The Great Gatsby,” returns to the McGuire Theater with its latest work: “Fondly, Collette Richland,” experimental playwright Sibyl Kempson’s surreal story about a small-town couple’s island vacation. ERS is previewing “Fondly” here; it’s a Walker commission, and these are the first public performances. FMI and tickets.

new work ers
Photo by Ariana Smart Truman
Elevator Repair Service is returning to the Walker.

Friday at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts: “Directed: The Intersection of Book, Film and Visual Narrative.” Book arts meet film in an exhibition of work by more than 70 artists from across disciplines and around the world. Films and videos present narratives in book-like ways; artists’ books use cinematic storytelling practices like montage, close-ups, fades, slow motion, flashbacks, and split screens. Opening reception 6-9 p.m. Through Aug. 4. Free. FMI.

Friday at the History Center: RetroRama. Some things never go out of style, like a good party, the perfect pair of jeans, or an heirloom hand-knit sweater. RetroRama celebrates the classics with an expanded fashion show DJ’ed by Jake Rudh featuring vintage clothes and original work by local designers. Wear something classic, practice your walk, and you can strut down the runway, too. The evening also includes carnival games by Lili’s Burlesque, pop-up boutiques, a make-your-own-charm-bracelet-or-tie-clip craft activity, cocktail demonstrations, and demos on the lost art of the old-fashioned shave. 8-11 p.m. Make it a night and head for the afterparty at the Amsterdam. 10:30 p.m.-2 a.m. FMI and tickets ($25/$20).

Friday-Sunday in Northeast Minneapolis: Art-A-Whirl. The 18th year of America’s largest open studio tour. See work by more than 500 artists in over 70 studio buildings, art galleries, homes, storefronts, businesses, and restaurants throughout the city’s arts district. View installations and demonstrations, hear live music, eat, drink, and people-watch; more than 30,000 art lovers are expected to attend. Plan your visit with the Artist Directory and Guide. (Pick up a free copy at any of the information booths.) Download a free Metro Transit pass and avoid parking hassles, then take the free trolleys from place to place. FMI.

Friday-Sunday at the State Fair Grounds: Art on a Line – Group Show of Midwest Watermedia Artists. Now in its 11th year, this is the single largest show of watermedia art in the upper Midwest, featuring over 4,500 works of original art by more than 90 artists. (Watermedia art = traditional watercolor and other types of water-based media including acrylic, gesso, gouache, ink, and some collage.) All three days will feature door prizes of original art and painting demonstrations. 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Sunday. At the Fine Arts Building. Free. FMI.

Friday-Sunday at Studio Z: “Early Inspirations.” The baroque chamber music ensemble Flying Forms and the new music chamber ensemble Zeitgeist are neighbors on the second floor of the Northwestern Building in Lowertown. This weekend, they’ll come together in concert. Flying Forms (Tami Morse, harpsichord; Marc Levine, baroque violin) will play new work written for its instruments; Zeitgeist (Heather Barringer and Patti Cudd, percussion; Pat O’Keefe, woodwinds; Shannon Wettstein, piano) will perform new work inspired by music of the Renaissance and Baroque. 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. $10. Tickets here.

Saturday at the Ordway: Sing-A-Long Sound of Music. Local cabaret star and force of nature Erin Schwab hosts one of our favorite things (like raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens). The film screens, the audience sings along, and everyone goes home happy. Noon and 6:30 p.m at the Ordway. FMI and tickets (limited).

Saturday at the Steeple Center in Rosemount: Jazz at the Steeple Center. The Rosemount Area Arts Council is launching a new jazz series with a concert by jazz guitarist Paul Renz and Broadway flutist Anders Bostrom. Doors at 7 p.m., music at 8. 14375 South Robert Trail, in the former St. Joseph’s Church building. Tickets ($15-$10) at the door.

Saturday and Sunday in downtown Stillwater: Rivertown Art Festival. Now in its 36th year, the St. Croix Valley’s largest art fair features more than 100 local artists and vendors. 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. in Lowell Park. FMI.

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Sunday at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church: Dave Brubeck’s ”Gates of Justice.” This concert of tolerance and compassion is the annual benefit for the Dignity Center, an outreach ministry that offers support, opportunity, and resources to persons in need on their path to self-sufficiency. Brubeck, the great jazz pianist and composer who died last December at 91, wrote “Gates of Justice” in 1969, shortly after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. With the HAUMC Choir and Brass Orchestra, Laura Caviani on piano, Chris Bates on bass, Dave Schmalenberger on drums, and James Ahrens and Elwyn Fraser on vocals, all directed by William Mathis. FMI and tickets ($35).