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Northrop to pull out all the stops for April re-opening; Paul Metsa releases ‘Jack Ruby’ video

Photo by John Whiting
The view from the third balcony of the new Northrop, looking down at the main floor, the orchestra pit and the stage.

The University of Minnesota uses the word “revitalization” to describe the massive makeover Northrop Memorial Auditorium (now simply “Northrop”) has undergone in the past three years. It fits, because seldom has a building been so radically changed and made so ready for a brand-new, active and colorful life. What used to be the aging beast people passed on the way to somewhere else, unless they were attending a dance performance or a high school graduation, has literally been reborn. Everything on the other side of Memorial Hall at the front of the building was gutted and re-imagined. A building that once stood nearly empty 300 days a year will buzz and hum with arts and academic programs.

We’ve taken a couple of tours, and trust us when we say the new Northrop will be jaw-dropping. The redo is a beauty. Plaster walls, terrazzo floors, sweeping staircases. Pleasing symmetry, attention to detail, and respect for the past. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to see it when it reopens in April, but you might want to start planning now. On Thursday, Northrop announced an ambitious and dazzling schedule of opening events. Tickets go on sale Saturday at 10 a.m.

A Grand Reopening Gala on April 4 will feature American Ballet Theatre performing “Giselle” with live orchestra. Other programming highlights include an evening with novelist David Mitchell (“Cloud Atlas”), a live broadcast of “A Prairie Home Companion” with Garrison Keillor, a multi-day performance installation by Emily Johnson/Catalyst, and a concert by Osmo Vänskä and the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, who will re-create the first concert performed by the Minneapolis Symphony at Northrop more than 80 years ago. Not all events are ticketed; some are free to the public, some to U students. Here’s the list of events scheduled so far. By Saturday, it should include ticketing links.

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We are deeply saddened to report that Sage Cowles has died. She was 88, at home and surrounded by her family, having lived a life of generosity, community service and affection for the Twin Cities arts and culture scene, which she and her late husband, John Jr., actively supported through their participation and philanthropy. Sage was a dancer, and the annual Sage Awards for Dance are named for her. She and John, who died in March 2012, were among the founding donors of MinnPost. 

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For the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, Minnesota bluesman Paul Metsa has released a new video for his song “Jack Ruby,” about the man who shot Lee Harvey Oswald on national television on Nov. 24, 1963. Metsa wrote the strong, provocative tune in 1991, and the video tells the tale in black-and-white, including historical television footage. Did Oswald act alone? A lot of people still don’t think so, including Metsa, who sings, “Jack Ruby, Jack Ruby in a Cavanagh hat. Whoever taught you to shoot a pistol like that?” Metsa will perform the song live at the Sue McLean benefit on Saturday (see the picks below).

Mary Szybist

Graywolf Press is having a very good run. In the past five years, its authors have won the Pulitzer, the Nobel, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Kingsley Tufts Award, and a second IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. After Tuesday night, it can also claim the National Book Award, its first. Poet Mary Szybist, who lives in Oregon, won for her second book, “Incarnadine,” which Graywolf gave a glorious cover.  You can read five poems from “Incarnadine” here. Go ahead; it will only take a few moments, unless you linger over lines about houseboats’ distant lights and blue velvet shoes. Twin Cities poet Matt Rasmussen was a finalist for the prize. His book, “Black Aperture,” was published by Louisiana State University Press and won the Walt Whitman Award. Here’s a list of the other winners and finalists.

On Thursday, Walker Art Center Executive Director Olga Viso was confirmed by the Senate and appointed by President Obama to the National Council of the Arts, the advisory body of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). That makes three members of the Council with Minnesota connections. Ranee Ramaswamy, founder and co-artistic director of the Ragamala Dance Company, was also confirmed. Already on the council: Irvin Mayfield, who served as artistic director of Jazz at Orchestra Hall until the lockout. Mayfield lives in New Orleans and heads the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra but made many appearances here in jazz concerts at Orchestra Hall.

How hip is St. Paul’s Lowertown? Hip enough to be designated America’s top hipster ZIP code by RealtyTrac, a real estate information company that analyzes hipster markets. Mayor Coleman’s office immediately had some fun with this. “I couldn’t be more proud that our efforts to create a cool, but not too outwardly cool, vibrant but not too showy, and modern but also retro-feeling culture in our Lowertown area has really worked,” he said in a statement that could have been written by Garrison Keillor. “I might even buy some oversized chunky eye glasses and a fixed-gear bike.”

MCAD art sale
Photo by John Whiting
The photography gallery at MCAD’s art sale.

Need art? There’s a ton of it for sale this weekend at the 16th annual MCAD Art Sale, including paintings, drawings, illustrations, digital prints, original prints, photographs, fine art and comic art. The opening Thursday night drew hundreds of art lovers and collectors. Thousands more are expected today (6-9 p.m., $24 at the door) and tomorrow (9 a.m. – 5 p.m. free). All proceeds go directly to the individual artists or to MCAD Art Sale Scholarship funds.

We know two good reasons to head for the Mall of America during the next several days, besides the shopping. On Saturday, Nina Garcia, fashion director at Marie Claire magazine and the notoriously no-nonsense “Project Runway” judge, will be at the new Verizon Destination Store to help customers “personalize and find new and interesting accessories for their wireless devices.” We just want to see what she looks like in person. 1:30-3:30 p.m., 60 E. Broadway (Level 2, East 264). On Black Friday (Nov. 29), the Italian trio Il Volo will perform and sign copies of their new Christmas album. The teen pop-opera trio toured with Barbra Streisand in 2012, so they’re pretty good. 2 p.m. in the Rotunda.

Our picks for the weekend and Monday

Bob Newhart

Tonight: Bob Newhart at the State Theatre. “I am a minimalist,” Bob Newhart once said. “I like saying the most with the least.” The deadpan comedian might be the funniest man on the planet. Incredibly, he won his first-ever Emmy this year, for his guest appearance on “The Big Bang Theory.” Area jazz vocalist Patty Peterson and her big band will open. 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($48.50-$58.50).

Opens tonight: Zenon Dance Company at the Cowles. Zenon is one enduring reason Minnesota is nationally known for dance. Its rare blend of modern and jazz, its work with masters and emerging choreographers, and its openness to change have kept it fresh and exciting for three decades. The Twin Cities company launches its 31st season with the world premiere of Stephanie Batten Bland’s “Caught,” the Zenon premiere of Danny Buraczeski’s “Ezekiel’s Wheel,” and a reprise of luciana achugar’s “Molten Substance,” in which four dancers put on blue jeans without using their hands, with live percussion performed on stage by JT Bates. Continues tomorrow and next weekend, Nov. 29-30. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($34).

Saturday: A Tribute to Sue McLean at First Avenue. A night to honor the great concert promoter who did so much for music in the Twin Cities, and for musicians everywhere; to hear the live music she loved; and to help the young daughter she left behind when she died earlier this year at age 63. Proceeds benefit the Lilly McLean Trust. The line-up includes Eric Hutchinson, Soul Asylum, the BoDeans, X-Boys, two members of the Jayhawks, Rogue Valley, Haley Bonar, Molly Maher and Her Disbelievers – and Paul Metsa, who’ll perform “Jack Ruby.” Expect scads of guests. Online and live auctions will include items from McLean’s personal music memorabilia collection. FMI and tickets ($50/$150 VIP).

Saturday: “Fathom Lane” record release at Icehouse. Michael Ferrier’s band has been all over the airwaves with their cover of Lou Reed’s “A Perfect Day.” It was coincidence, not an attempt to cash in, that the track came out online shortly before Reed died on Oct. 27, but it hasn’t hurt the visibility of the group Ferrier started two years ago. He’s writing exquisite original tunes, but if he wants to dip a bit more into the Lou Reed catalog, and then maybe think about some Leonard Cohen, that would be perfectly fine. Actually, he and co-vocalist Ashleigh Still can sing whatever they want. Fathom Lane (the name of the band as well as the album) makes lush, layered, spacious and woozy music that borrows from pop, rock, country, roots and jazz, taking only what it needs. As you may know if you’re a regular Artscape reader, we don’t spend a lot of time away from classical and jazz, but we love Fathom Lane. Batteryboy opens. Doors open at 10:30 p.m., show at 11. FMI and tickets ($8).

Monday: “Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special: The Day of the Doctor.” All of reality is at stake as the Doctor’s own dangerous past comes back to haunt him. Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith and Tenth Doctor David Tennant star. A behind-the-scenes featurette follows the RealD 3D screening. FMI, times and tickets

Rokia Traoré
Photo by Mathieu Zazzo
Rokia Traoré

Monday: Rokia Traoré at the CedarShannon Neeser of Theoroi, a group of arts ambassadors ages 21-35 sponsored by the Schubert Club, contributed this preview of the concert: “I’m curious and excited about this show. I emailed Michael Rossetto, the Cedar’s marketing director, and asked him to tell me about it. ‘Her 2009 concert ranks among my favorite all-time Cedar concerts,’ he wrote back. ‘I truly feel that an artist like Rokia is the embodiment of what The Cedar’s mission is. With recent turmoil in Mali and the persecution of musicians, it is of the utmost importance that venues across the globe continue to present artists from that region.’ I listened to some of her music on Spotify, the Cedar’s website and Youtube. She has a beautiful voice, and I love what she does with it. A song turns into spoken word and back again to song. Her passion for her music and her homeland flows out in a tumble of syllables and sounds. I read that her new album, ‘Beautiful Africa,’ is inspired by Western rock music but remains uniquely Malian. I’m not quite sure what it means, but I can’t wait to hear it.” Shannon also wrote, “The Cedar knows great music.” They certainly do, which has brought us to their doors on many occasions, not knowing exactly what we would hear but trusting that it would be worth hearing. Doors open at 7, music at 7:30. Standing show. FMI and tickets ($30-$35).

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