10 retiring from SPCO; new prints, drawings at MIA

Courtesy of the SPCO/Steve J. Sherman
The new contract also reduced the size of the ensemble from 34 to 28. Subtracting 10 from 28 leaves the equivalent of a mid-sized big band.

We’ve been waiting to hear how many St. Paul Chamber Orchestra musicians would retire, and now we know: a whopping 10, each with more than 30 seasons of playing with the SPCO. An incentivized retirement package was part of the contract signed in April by musicians and management after a 191-day lockout. The new contract also reduced the size of the ensemble from 34 to 28. Subtracting 10 from 28 leaves the equivalent of a mid-sized big band. Departing are Gary Bordner, principal trumpet; Fred Bretschger, assistant principal bass; Christopher Brown, principal bass; Evelina Chao, assistant principal viola; Thomas Kornacker, co-principal second violin; Brenda Manual Mickens, violin; Michal Sobieski, violin; Paul Straka, horn; Tamás Strasser, viola; and Thomas Tempel, oboe. MPR’s Euan Kerr has been reporting the story. “On the one hand,” SPCO president Bruce Coppock told Kerr, “we are saying goodbye to old friends. On the other hand, orchestras are evolutionary beings.” Since evolution is a long, slow process, we can only speculate on how the orchestra will sound going forward. But at least now we know the immediate damages.

For the moment, Minnesota Orchestra management and musicians are not pelting each other with rotten tomatoes. Even after last week’s cancellation of the summer season, both sides were uncharacteristically silent. The Strib’s Graydon Royce reports that exploratory talks with a mediator are taking place behind the scenes. A letter from a reader published Wednesday in the Strib posed a rueful what-if: “One can’t help wondering how differently the past year might have turned out if the Minnesota Orchestra board had begun by praising our wonderful musicians to the skies and telling us, in an all-out fundraising campaign, just what it would take to keep them.”

If the Minnesota Orchestra labor dispute miraculously ended tomorrow, the problems facing the orchestra – and many orchestras across the U.S. and around the world – would not go away. Formed earlier this year, Orchestrate Excellence, an independent coalition of audience and community members committed to preserving the quality of the Minnesota Orchestra while finding a path toward a secure financial future, will hold its first community forum Tuesday, Aug. 20, from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. at Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis. The keynote speaker will be Alan Fletcher, president and CEO of the Aspen Music Festival and School, who made the state of classical music the subject of a recent convocation address. The forum is free and open to the public.

Open now at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts: “It’s New/It’s Now: Recent Gifts of Contemporary Prints and Drawings.” Over 120 original works on paper, dating from 1960 to the present, including works by Francis Bacon, Chuck Close, Jasper Johns, Elsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, David Hockney, and more. Tickets here ($14/$12, free to members).

Courtesy Francesco Clemente
Francesco Clemente, Untitled (Self-portrait), 1984. Color woodcut on Kozo paper; artist’s proof. Gift of Kate Butler Peterson. 2010.107.3.

With the Minnesota State Capitol soon to become a construction site until December 2016, you might want to head over for a final look before the banging starts. Guided tours are still being offered daily (suggested donation $6). FMI. A Capitol Art and Artists Tour takes place Saturday, July 27, and an Architecture of the State Capitol Tour on Saturday, Aug. 17, both at 11 a.m. ($9/$8/$6). Learn about more tours here. Interior work begins Sept. 2.

For “Downton Abbey” fans, both those suffering from withdrawal and those still sore about Season 3: tpt is rerunning the documentary “Secrets of Highclere Castle,” in which it is revealed that the real lord and lady of the place where the series is filmed seem like regular people, except they live in Downton Abbey. Sunday at 7 p.m., Monday at 1 a.m., next Saturday (July 27) at 5 p.m.

Three Minnesota State Arts Board grant programs are now accepting applications: Artist Initiative (which supports the artistic and career development of individual artists at all career stages), Arts Tour Minnesota (which supports performances, exhibitions, and other activities in Minnesota by professional touring artists and arts organizations, and supports Minnesota presenters in hosting them), and Cultural Community Partnership (designed to enhance the artistic and career development of artists of color). Grants range from $1,000-$100,000 (the big ones are for touring). Learn more at the links.

The new owners of the Old Log have announced the 2013-14 season of the New Old Log Theater. Sept. 5-Oct. 26: the honky-tonk musical comedy “Cowgirls.” Nov. 8-Dec. 7: the regional premiere of “Rancho Mirage,” a new play by Steve Dietz. With Stacia Rice, Ann Michels, and James Denton (“Desperate Housewives”). Nov. 18-Dec. 29: the Tony-nominated “A Year with Frog and Toad.” Bring the kids. Jan. 23-Maych 29, 2014: “Almost, Maine,” a midwinter night’s love story. April 3-May 18: “Steel Magnolias.” Season and individual tickets are available now.

The Walker’s Internet Cat Video Festival has gone global. Will it become an annual Twin Cities tradition – like, say, “The Nutcracker” or the Zombie Pub Crawl? We certainly hope so. This year it moves from the Walker lawn to the State Fair Grandstand (Wednesday, Aug. 28, 7 p.m.), with seats instead of grass. Further upgrades include a clever host, Julie Klausner, a New York-based comedy writer, performer, author and podcaster (“How Was Your Week”) who has a cat named Jimmy Jazz. Also appearing: celebrity cats and auteurs (like Will Braden of “Henri Le Chat Noir”). Plus there’s that brand-new 70-minute video reel. Vote for this year’s Golden Kitty Award by Wednesday, July 31. Get tickets here ($10).

In response to the Trayvon Martin verdict, Stevie Wonder has announced that he will not perform in Florida until the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law is abolished. Slate says Wonder’s boycott is “politically savvy, morally righteous, and it could be enormously important.” In a searing Facebook status update posted early Thursday, musician and Minneapolis native José James described being “brutally assaulted by a white man in broad daylight walking on the street I grew up on.” He was 14. He was later told by the police “it was my fault for provoking him + I needed to ‘watch out’ in the future.” James concludes, “I love my fans but I am canceling all my shows in Florida.” Since last year, James has been touring the world and performing for big crowds in support of his new album for the storied Blue Note label. He’s exactly the sort of musician young people in Florida want to see.

Our picks for the weekend

handsome family
Photo by Jason Creps
Husband-and-wife singer/songwriters Brett and Rennie
Sparks are the Handsome Family

Tonight (Friday, July 19) at the Cedar: The Handsome Family. Don’t let that sweet, innocent name fool you. Husband-and-wife singer/songwriters Brett and Rennie Sparks are not the Brady Bunch. Their songs are dark, their sensibilities twisted. Their new album, “Wilderness” (Carrot Top), gave us chills. NPR and the New Yorker and Mother Jones all love them. This is modern roots music, sunk deep in decaying soil. Old-timey ballads spiffed up with samples, loops, and effects. Songs titled “Flies,” “Octopus,” “Spider,” and “Wildebeest.” Lyrics about being crawled on, maybe eaten. Doors at 7 p.m., show at 8. FMI and tickets ($15).

Tonight at the Rochester Civic Theatre: Experimental & Underground Queer Cinema: A Brief History. In celebration of Rochester’s 2013 Pridefest, this 90-minute screening of eight films spans 1947 to the present. Here’s the list. The films start at 10, but arrive early for music by Dianna Parks & Friends on the patio stage. Free and open to the public. Cash bar available. Mature audiences only. Co-presented by the Rochester Art Center.

Courtesy of Light Grey Art Lab

Tonight at Light Grey Art Lab: opening night for “Station Zero!” Read a vintage science-fiction novel, then design your own cover and make it poster-size. That’s what more than 80 artists have done for this show, which should be a lot of fun. Sci-fi, old books, new art: what’s not to like? Runs through Aug. 9. 7 – 10 p.m., 118 East 26th St., Minneapolis (on the corner of Stephens and 26th).

Tonight through Sunday at the Ritz: Eclectic Edge Ensemble’s 10th Anniversary Concert. The jazz dance company revisits favorites from the past and premieres new work in an evening-length performance of choreography by artistic director Karis Sloss and live music by local composers. Includes “Sailing the Sky Waltzing,” two duets from “Reeling Over Love,” and “Still,” a meditation on the difficulties of dealing with mental-health issues featuring banjoist Michael Rossetto (Spaghetti Western String Co.), cellist Ethan Sutton, and percussionist JT Bates (Fat Kid Wednesdays). 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets here ($17 advance/$20 door) or call 612-436-1129.

Saturday in St. Paul: University Grove Home Tour. A unique neighborhood of 103 single-family homes owned by University of Minnesota faculty and staff, situated on land owned by the U, University Grove is a collection of early- and mid-20th-century architect-designed homes. The New York Times has called it an “architectural time capsule” of modern America. View exteriors and a few interiors on this tour presented by the Minnesota Historical Society. The 9 a.m. tour is sold out; some tickets ($35/$30) are still available for the 1 p.m. tour. Register here or call 651-259-3015.

Minnesota River Arts Fair
Photo by Darrell Tangen
The Minnesota River Arts Fair

Saturday and Sunday in Savage: Minnesota River Arts Fair. Each summer brings an abundance (some might say a deluge) of art fairs, but the Savage Arts Council has done something different. Along with holding their festival at The Landing in Shakopee (formerly Historic Murphy’s Landing), an 1880s village setting with costumed interpreters, they have added a major literary event. A new Literary Landing Pavilion will host 12 Minnesota authors who will be on hand the entire time to present their latest books in readings, talks, and signings. At noon on Saturday and Sunday, popular crime novelist Erin Hart will give a keynote talk. The fair will also feature a plein-air painting competition, activities for kids, music, food vendors, and (of course) artists’ booths. 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., 2187 Highway 101 East, Shakopee. Free; park fees are waived for the weekend.

Monday in Loring Park: the Walker’s Summer Music & Movies series begins with “The Hawks and the Sparrows” (“Uccellacci E Uccellini”), a comic fable directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini starring Toto, the stone-faced clown. Italian with English subtitles. The night opens with the Current’s DJ Barb Abney and live music by Prissy Clerks – “new pop for now people.” Music at 7, movie at dusk. Free. If it rains, everything moves to the Walker Cinema, where seating is first-come, first-served.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Stan Hooper on 07/20/2013 - 12:54 am.


    I think I’m missing something in the math expressed for numbers of band members and attrition. You subtracted 10 from 28, but it seems that perhaps the paring down from 34 hasn’t yet occurred (that’s what I might be missing?), so if you subtract 10 from 34 you get 24 and need to hire 4 new band members. I realize, of course, that the 10 that are retiring might not leave a perfectly distributed remnant for good instrumental balance for a chamber orchestra, but at least on the surface, it seems less cumbersome to have to deal with -4 than with -18 for hiring purposes. Now, you can tell me what I’m actually missing.

  2. Submitted by Amy Adams on 07/20/2013 - 02:35 pm.

    Well, what you’re missing is a lot of good musicians…

    Stan, 10 musicians accepted the retirement package. But prior to this, there were some unfilled positions as well…these vacancies included principle cello, viola, trumpet…
    There’s a discussion going on at Adaptistration on this subject.

  3. Submitted by Pamela Espeland on 07/20/2013 - 04:59 pm.


    To be perfectly honest, Stan, math is not my strong suit. But I’m still not clear on exactly how many SPCO musicians are leaving and how many are staying. I asked in June and the SPCO wasn’t able to answer because the retirements had not yet been officially announced. Save Our SPCO posted a list of resignations and remaining musicians on June 7 (http://sospco.org/uncategorized/spco-resignations-and-remaining-musicians/); that list, which seems to have been updated since, shows 18 musicians remaining. Either way, I left myself some wiggle room. A big band can range from 12-25 musicians.

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