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Liquid Music's new season: a fearless push of the restart button

Fans of new music were thrilled when Kate Nordstrum was hired by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. The organization seemed like a good home for the kind of adventurous programming she pioneered at the Southern before it was toppled by financial woes. The SPCO wanted to broaden its audience, experiment with new formats, and build relationships with up-and-coming composers. Nordstrum created a new series, named it Liquid Music, and planned the first season, which began with a bang in November 2012 with two sold-out performances by composer/musician/performance artist Laurie Anderson.

And then came the lockout. Liquid Music events involving SPCO musicians were canceled or rescheduled. Ticketholders who arrived at the Hamm Building for the remaining concerts were met by musicians and members of Save Our SPCO, who handed out leaflets titled “Liquidation Music.” What would have been the Minnesota premiere of a new work by Sarah Kirkland Snider hit a huge snag when members of yMusic, the New York-based instrumental ensemble, were warned by their union not to play. If they did, they would face expulsion and fines of up to $50,000. Most musicians didn’t learn this until they landed in Minnesota. This might have been the lowest point of a series that could have shriveled and died.

“It’s been a hard year to navigate,” Nordstrum admits. “But I’m incredibly proud of the projects that happened. I tried to do right by everyone – artists, funders, partners, ticket buyers, and management – but there was a lot of complication last year.” Now that the lockout has ended, she says, “I couldn’t be more excited to be working during a season where the musicians of the SPCO are back in the building. I feel optimistic, with a sense of starting over.”

Announced late last week, the 2013-14 Liquid Music season is strong, varied, and provocative. We’ll tell you more in a moment. But first, the answers to two questions we heard people ask at this year’s Liquid Music shows: 1) If the SPCO had to cut its own musicians’ salaries to stay afloat, how could it fund a new-music series? 2) When the Minnesota Orchestra locked out its musicians, it canceled everything including jazz concerts, Bill Cosby, and other events that did not involve its musicians. Why did the SPCO continue Liquid Music during its lockout?

Nordstrum took the first question. “All of the money for Liquid Music is brought in specifically for this series. Nothing comes from the SPCO in terms of overhead.” The series has its own grantors, sponsors and partners, including the Augustine Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Saint Paul STAR program. Traditional SPCO donors are off-limits. For the second question, we turned to Dobson West, interim SPCO president and board chair. “It was a difficult decision in a difficult time, but we felt that moving ahead with the series was important to do,” he said. “We felt it was helpful to our mission in terms of expanding the audience base and testing the boundaries of classical music. We also moved forward with our CONNECT educational program and continued to offer our [online] listening library.”

This year's Liquid Music season is a fearless push of the restart button. Ten widely divergent events include co-presentations with the Walker, the Schubert Club, the Amsterdam and the American Composers Forum, three projects featuring SPCO musicians, and a recording inspired by the work of visual artist Jim Hodges. Concerts will be held at the SPCO Center, the Fitz, the Walker, the Amsterdam and Aria in Minneapolis. Sept. 22: Zola Jesus in collaboration with former SPCO artistic partner Stephen Prutsman; percussion and cello duo Ian Ding and Ashley Bathgate. Oct. 18: Seattle composer Jherek Bischoff with an all-star cast of guest vocalists and instrumentalists. Nov. 5: Ensemble Dal Niente. Nov. 16: Electronic experimentalists Oneohtrix Point Never and Tim Hecker.  Jan. 12, 2014: Violinist Hilary Hahn and Hauschka (German pianist/composer Volker Bertelmann). Feb. 13: Olga Bell with Tom Vek and Angel Deradoorian. Feb. 14-May 11 (in the Walker galleries): recorded music by the trio of rapper Serengeti, composer/producer Son Lux and singer/songwriter Sufjan Stevens. March 21-22: Timo Andres: "Work Songs" with Gabriel Kahane, Becca Stevens, and others. May 6: Daniel Bjarnason and Nadia Sirota. June 3: the "post-classical" string quartet ETHEL and "Documerica," a multimedia meditation on today’s environmental and social issues featuring music by Twin Cities composer Mary Ellen Childs. (The newest member of ETHEL is Twin Cities' violinist Kip Jones.)  FMI and tickets.

Back when the Schubert Club's artistic and executive director Barry Kempton told MinnPost he was taking that organization in new directions, he alluded to “younger audiences” and “a less formal ambience.” Also announced late last week: Schubert Club Mix, a new contemporary classical music series that will take place at Aria. Two of the three events in the debut season (Hilary Hahn and Hauscha, ETHEL: Documerica) are collaborations with Liquid Music. The third is something we’ve been hoping would come to the Twin Cities. On April 13, 2014, Mix will present Anthony de Mare’s critically acclaimed “Liaisons: Re-Imagining Sondheim from the Piano,” with newly composed solo piano pieces based on songs by Sondheim. Composers include Mary Ellen Childs, jazz pianist Fred Hersch, film composer Thomas Newman and minimalist Steve Reich. FMI and tickets.

***

On Friday, a sold-out, tightly packed audience at St. John’s Episcopal Church heard yet another poignant concert by the locked-out musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra: an evening of chamber music performed by 14 musicians, four of whom are leaving soon for positions elsewhere. A glittering Brandenburg No. 6, with departing violist Tom Turner and cellist Pitnarry Shin, preceded Marc Mellits’ String Quartert No. 3: Tapas, a challenging modern work the musicians started learning just two weeks ago at the urging of departing violinist Gina DiBello, who knows the composer. After the intermission, departing principal clarinetist Burt Hara soared in Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in A Major. Does anyone have a more heartfelt and exquisite tone? Hara and cellist Tony Ross are members of the small south Minneapolis church. “Our silver lining is you,” Ross told the crowd before the Mozart. “The fabric of our orchestra is unraveling at an alarming pace.” During the lockout, the orchestra’s complement has fallen to 74 musicians, down from 98. (The Orchestra is disputing these numbers; we're checking them out and will report back when we learn more.) For a more detailed account of the evening, and more photos, go here.

musicians of the minnesota orchestra
MinnPost photo by John Whiting
The locked-out musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra played a sold-out concert at John’s Episcopal Church.

Following up on a few earlier items: We erroneously reported earlier that the Basilica Block Party was sold out. It’s not, but tickets prices have gone up … Erin Krakow (“Army Wives”) will play Miss Elizabeth Bennett opposite Vincent Kartheiser’s (“Mad Men”) Mr. Darcy in the Guthrie’s “Pride and Prejudice” this summer. Guthrie, are you going all Hollywood on us? If so, we wouldn’t mind seeing Henry Cavill (“The Tudors,” “Man of Steel”) on one of your three stages, or Mamie Gummer … The new FX series based on the Coen Bros.’ “Fargo” will be filmed in Alberta or Manitoba, not Minnesota or North Dakota. As reported by RadioTimes: “unlike Minnesota, Canada now offers tax incentives to attract foreign film and television productions.” 

Wait! Update! Starting July 1, Minnesota has $10 million to entice filmmakers to come here. The newly revitalized and far more robust Snowbate program, which offers incentives to qualified feature films, TV series, documentaries and commercials that locate production or post-production in Minnesota, was part of the omnibus jobs, economic development and housing bill signed by Gov. Mark Dayton on May 23. Yesterday we were the least competitive state for filmmaking; today we’re in the top 15. Note to FX: The heck do ya mean, Canada?

writers map

Stop by your local library for a copy of “From Main Street to Your Street: Minnesota Writers on the Map.” Produced by the Minnesota Historical Society, the Minnesota Book Awards, and Explore Minnesota, funded by Legacy money, this new literary map of our state features more than 100 writers, past and present, who have made significant contributions to our literary legacy. The map will move online sometime this month. We’ll post the link when we know it.

Do you think you’re funny? Funny enough to write a sitcom? Founded by Minnesota comic Scott Hansen and SNL’s Bo Kaprall, the First Annual Upper Midwest Sitcom Writing Competition may be your ticket to fame, glory, and hanging out with Tina Fey. The top three finalists receive a cash prize and a full-table read of their scripts. The winner’s script will be read by development execs at 20th Century Fox and 821 Productions. Packages range from send-a-script to a four-hour workshop ($59-$249). FMI and tickets.

Springboard for the Arts will commission three Lowertown/downtown St. Paul artists to create high-quality, easily reproducible B&W artwork picturing Lowertown. Throughout 2013, these “Lowertown Sketchbook” pieces will be reproduced on drink coasters available in Lowertown watering holes and other locations. Selected artists will receive a $200 stipend, plus their website/email will appear on the coasters. The submission deadline is Friday, June 14. FMI and submission form.

Susanna Schouweiler, mnartists.org editor, wrote on Facebook: “Finally! MN public TV is venturing beyond kids and old folks to draw younger, web-savvy audiences.” Read her piece for KnightArts on tpt’s new Open Air initiative, a smart combination of original web-only and broadcast material and live events. Now if only we could see some new stuff during pledge week. “Celtic Thunder” makes us want to throw rocks through windows.

Our picks for the week

Tonight at Bloomington’s Normandale Lake Bandshell: “Welcome Summer!” A free concert of festive music by the 90-piece band Minnesota Symphonic Winds. The program includes Berlioz’s “Hungarian March,” “Sundance” by contemporary American composer Frank Ticheli, folk tunes, Broadway hits, and “Minnesota Portraits” by Minneapolis Southwest High School alum Carl Schroeder, with musical depictions of Fort Snelling, sunrise at Lake Calhoun, and the Mississippi River. Bring blankets, lawn chairs, picnics, maybe a down comforter, depending on the weather. 7 p.m. at the intersection of 84th St. and Chalet Road in Bloomington.

Opens tonight at the Plymouth Playhouse: “The Geriatrical Theatrical: Celebrating the Chronologically Enriched.” A new musical about aging by playwright John Fenn and composer Drew Jansen, directed by Bain Boehlke and starring real-life husband-and-wife Richard Ooms and Claudia Wilkens. Through July 28. We just checked; tonight is sold out. FMI and tickets ($30/$27/$15).

axe giant banner

Tomorrow at the Trylon: “Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan.” We Midwesterners think of Paul Bunyan as a kindly, king-sized folk hero. Director Gary Jones ("Spiders," "Mosquitos") takes a different view of the big man with the axe. The story: Bratty young adults sentenced to a first-time offenders' boot camp meet Bunyan in the woods, and he's still super mad about something that happened ages ago that ended badly for a bunch of loggers. The perfect summer horror flick for Minnesotans stars B-movie stalwarts Joe Estevez ("San Franpsycho," "Beach Babes from Beyond") and Dan Haggerty (“Grizzly Adams”) along with fresh meat, um, faces. Lizzie Borden would love this. Co-presented by the Minneapolis Beard and Moustache Club. FMI and tickets. 7 p.m., 3258 Minnehaha Ave., Minneapolis. On June 7, the film hacks its way to the Zinema in Duluth, where it stays through June 13.

Thursday at the Southern: “Trick Boxing.” Megan McClellan and Brian Sostek are donating several performances of their family-friendly physical comedy to the Southern as a benefit. The tale of a hapless apple seller, the former Fringe hit has played to audiences around the world; last year it had a run at the Guthrie. Rapid-fire dialogue, Fred-and-Ginger-style dancing, and puppets. Make a reservation, see it for free, then pay whatever you think it was worth. 7:30 p.m.Through June 8. FMI and reservations.

Thursday at Al’s Breakfast in Dinkytown: Dinner with Ragamala. The company’s annual fundraiser features an authentic veggie-friendly south-Indian dinner cooked by co-artistic director Ranee Ramaswamy and the rest of Ragamala. Dine in or take out (call in your take-out order at 612-331-9991). 5:30 – 8:30 p.m., 413 14th Ave. SE, Dinkytown. Minimum donation $12/plate.

Closes Sunday, June 9, at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts: “More Real? Art in the Age of Truthiness.” We humbly suggest that you don’t miss this groundbreaking, thought-provoking and thoroughly modern exhibition of works by 28 artists. Here’s what we wrote when we saw it in MarchFMI and tickets.

This Saturday, June 8, is Northern Sparkthe all-night celebration of art and community that begins at sundown (8:58 p.m.) in Lowertown. Get some sleep.

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Comments (2)

Yeah right.

“It was a difficult decision in a difficult time, but we felt that moving ahead with the series was important to do,” he said.

How could it be a difficult decision? It was UNION BUSTING, the specialty of your lockout law firm to which you have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars. GAME ON!!

It was the West of times, it was the Worst of times...Ir

It was a difficult decision in a difficult time...Wow.
Statements like this, remarkably detached from answering the question, from reality, from any painful admission of responsibility...make me wonder why Minnesotans don't drink even more than they do.