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Distress signals: SOS groups form for Minnesota Orchestra, Vänskä

ALSO: MPR announces fall series of ‘Wits,’ Ben Sidran at the Dakota Thursday; individual SPCO tickets on sale; and more.

Osmo Vänskä conducted the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra in a "Grammy Celebration Concert" Feb. 1 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Photo by John Whiting

Last week’s uproar over the Minnesota Orchestra’s preemptive buy-up of domain names was noticed by the Daily Kos (“Opponents of Minnesota Orchestra Lockout are ON FIRE!”), NPR, and the New Yorker’s Alex Ross, who also commented on Alan Fletcher’s speech to Tuesday’s Orchestrate Excellence forum (“I cannot bring myself to believe – despite mounting evidence – that they [the board and management] actually want a drastically reduced orchestra, its assets stripped, its ambitions narrowed, its activities no longer relevant to the outside world”). Blogger Emily Hogstad, who broke the “Domaingate” story, became an overnight celebrity. Even “Gustav Mahler” stepped into the fray, commenting on the Kos that “anything that prevents performances of my works is bad.”

The uproar turned out to be good for Save Our Symphony Minnesota, a brand-new group of self-described “locked-out patrons and donors of the Minnesota Orchestra whose input, advice, and questions have been ignored by the board and management of the Minnesota Orchestral Association.” SOSMN launched its website, blog, and Facebook page last Tuesday; in the first 48 hours, the Facebook page drew more than 3,700 “likes.” That number is fast approaching 6,000. SOSMN has also helped boost the “likes” count above 8,000 at the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra’s Facebook page.

It might have been fortuitous that the MOA snapped up, and other more obvious choices. SOMO and SOO don’t have the sinking-ship urgency of SOSMN, and SOSMN is a nod across the river at SOSPCO, the group of Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra fans who formed in frustration during that orchestra’s lockout.

There are now two large citizens’ groups making noise about the lockout: SOSMN and Orchestrate Excellence. Each has the same goal – ending the lockout – but they’re going about it differently. The former is pro-labor torches-and-pitchforks, the latter more measured and moderate; it wants a resolution, but it’s not taking sides. The two organizations are not at odds, nor are they mutually exclusive. You can “like” both.

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On Thursday at the Fair, where he made an appearance at the Star Tribune booth, Gov. Mark Dayton said he believes the two sides of the labor dispute are in their “last window of opportunity … I’m hoping, and this is just my own assumption, that they both want to get it solved and they have until basically Labor Day to do so.” That’s six days from now. What are the chances? There’s always hope. In June, the Nashville Symphony Orchestra was saved just days before a foreclosure auction – by a large infusion of cash from a major donor.

If that’s what it takes, then SOS: Save Osmo, yet another new group of Minnesota Orchestra supporters, may have more influence than anyone. Launched Saturday on Facebook, SOS: Save Osmo is a pledge campaign that promises financial support for the MOA when four conditions are met: 1) the MOA recommits to its original mission statement; 2) it ensures that Osmo Vänskä remains as music director; 3) the musicians are paid competitive salaries commensurate with the orchestra’s stature as one of the top 10 American orchestras; and 4) a new endowment campaign is launched to create long-term financial stability. We might add a fifth condition, based on Alan Fletcher’s speech last week to the Orchestrate Excellence community forum: 5) musicians are added to the board.

Early signatories to SOS: Save Osmo include Minneapolis attorney Lee Henderson, former Minnesota Orchestra cellist (and current Bakken Trio manager) Mina Fisher, former Minnesota Orchestra associate principal cellist Janet Horvath; Bill Slobotski, who describes himself as a passionate orchestra fan; and Nils Halker, Science Museum of Minnesota professional development specialist and SOSMN secretary. All have spoken out against the lockout.


MPR has announced the fall 2013 series of “Wits,” plus a new Wits Social Club with bennies. “Wits,” if you don’t know, is a national radio program hosted by John Moe featuring comedians and indie musicians that airs weekly on MPR News and The Current. The show is recorded before a live audience at the Fitzgerald (just like “A Prairie Home Companion”), with stops and starts and occasional do-overs. It’s a party and a tweet fest. The line-up: Oct. 17: Chris Kluwe, Dave Hill, and Sara Watkins (Nickel Creek). Oct. 24: Paul F. Tompkins and Yo La Tengo. Oct. 25: Tompkins again, this time with Rhett Miller (the Old 97’s). Nov. 1: Aisha Taylor (“The Talk”) and Loudon Wainwright III.  Nov. 7: Ellie Kemper (“The Office”) and Waxahatchee (Katie Crutchfield). Nov. 14: Margaret Cho and Josh Ritter. Nov. 21: Jim Gaffigan and Busdriver. Dec. 5: Tim Heidecker, Aimee Mann and Ted Leo. Dec. 13: David Cross (“Arrested Development”) and Har Mar Superstar. Dec. 20: Maria Bamford and Thao Nguyen. Tickets go on sale to the public Sept. 17. Wits Social Club members can buy tickets (at a discount) starting Sept. 4 at a special Happy Hour party.

har mar superstar
Har Mar Superstar will appear with comedian David Cross at Wits on Dec. 13.

Individual tickets are now on sale to the SPCO’s 2013–14 season, which begins with four weeks of music from Beethoven’s “heroic” period including Symphony No. 5 (on opening night) and the “Pastoral,” the Fourth and the “Emperor” Concerto, plus works by Bach, Mozart, Schoenberg and Dvorák and the world premiere of John Harbison’s “Crossroads.” Conductors are SPCO artistic partners Edo de Waart and Christian Zacharias. Here’s the concert calendar; click an event FMI and tickets.

Common Good Books is starting a book club. The first meeting will be at 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 29, giving you plenty of time to read the club’s first selection: Jess Walter’s “The Financial Lives of Poets.” A small-time reporter quits his job to write financial journalism in the form of blank verse. That can’t possibly turn out well. RSVP at the store or email 38 S. Snelling Ave., St. Paul; free. Wine and cheese are provided, as essential to book clubs as books themselves.

Authors, publishers and agents: Nominations are open for the 26th annual Minnesota Book Awards now through 5 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13. Here’s the 411. Nominations are open as well for the Minnesota Book Artist Award through 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11. Anyone may nominate a candidate for the Artist Award, and candidates may nominate themselves. FMI.

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The Minnesota Historical Society is offering the sort of student internship some of us would have died for in high school. “Design Diaries International” is a new project that explores the question, “How do clothes represent culture and who we are?” Through fashion, history, and culture, teens in St. Paul will connect with Palestinian teens in Jerusalem, create original garments, and hold their own fashion show at the Minnesota History Center to demonstrate what they’ve learned about American and Palestinian clothing. Plus they’ll earn $8/hour. Four will be selected to travel to Jerusalem in 2014. FMI. Applicants should have basic sewing skills.

Our picks for the week

Tonight (Tuesday, Aug. 27) at the Trylon: “Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack.” Hot summer nights are made for Japanese monster movies. When Godzilla goes on the prowl, the daughter of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces calls upon Mothra, King Ghidorah and Baragon for help. (Not up on your daikaiju? Godzilla is a reptilian monster born of the nuclear age; Mothra is a humongous moth; King Ghidorah is a three-headed dragon; Baragon, not pictured, is a dinosaur with big ears and a horn who can fire a heat ray from his mouth.) In Japanese with English subtitles. 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., 3258 Minnehaha Ave., Minneapolis. Tickets here.

godzilla, mothra, and king ghidorah
Get your daikaiju on at the Trylon Microcinema on Tuesday night.

Wednesday at the Fair: Read & Ride Day. Show your valid library card at the gate for a discounted admission. Head to Carousel Park for free Minnesota Book Awards bookmarks, fans (worth their weight in gold), and the new literary map, “From Main Street to Your Street: Minnesota Writers on the Map.” Created by the Minnesota Historical Society and Friends of the St. Paul Public Library, the map features 112 Minnesota authors. Here’s Mary Ann Grossmann’s story about it. We want one for the car.

Thursday at the Dakota: Ben Sidran. Singer, pianist, composer (“Space Cowboy”), radio host (NPR’s Peabody-winning “Jazz Alive”), TV host (VH-1’s “New Visions”), author, and Ph.D. Sidran stops by the Dakota once each year or so for an evening of smart, cool and low-key entertainment. He’s touring behind his latest CD, “Don’t Cry for No Hipster.” He writes in the liner notes, “One must approach the hip experience with a lifetime of preparation,” and he should know; this is his 35th solo record. Here’s a preview by Mordecai Specktor, publisher and editor of The American Jewish World and long-time Sidran fan. 7 p.m., 1010 Nicollet Mall. FMI and tickets.

Thursday at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts: “It’s New/It’s Now: Recent Gifts of Contemporary Prints and Drawings.” This show of more than 120 original works on paper by Chuck Close, Jasper Johns, Jim Dine, Richard Serra, Frank Stella, Robert Motherwell, Ellsworth Kelly, Elizabeth Murray, David Hockney, and more closes Sept. 1. Catch it while you can. Public tours at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets here ($12/$10/$8, free to members). Thursday night is a great time to go to the MIA.

Correction: An earlier version of this story wrongly identified Bill Slobotski, a signatory to SOS: Save Osmo; the reference has been corrected.