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Save Our Symphony to offer ‘deep dive’ on orchestra finances

ALSO: ‘Images of Africa’ film series; Jawaahir Dance Company Presents Arabian Bouquet; author Stephen Jimenez to discuss ‘The Book of Matt’; and more.

The Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra played a concert at the Ted Mann under the baton of their 90-year-old conductor laureate Stanislaw Skrowaczewski.
Photo by John Whiting

If you didn’t know the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra have been locked out by management in a rancorous labor dispute well into its second year, that their much-loved music director resigned on Oct. 1, that they have never set foot in the newly renovated Orchestra Hall, that they haven’t been on a regular schedule of rehearsals, that they are living without salaries or health benefits, you couldn’t tell from Friday’s concert at the Ted Mann. Under the baton of their 90-year-old conductor laureate Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, who practically skipped across the stage to the podium, the musicians sounded fantastic – on Wagner’s lush Prelude and Liebestod from “Tristan and Isolde,” Mozart’s expressive Piano Concerto No. 23, with guest artist Lydia Artymiw, and especially Brahms’ Second Symphony, a mostly cheerful work of enchanting beauty. It was music at the highest level, almost as if the past 14 months had never happened.

Even the now-obligatory post-intermission talk by a musician – this time it was Ellen Dinwiddie Smith, third horn, and a member of the Minnesota Orchestra since 1993 – was surprisingly upbeat. She thanked us for coming, shared the good news that donations to the musicians on Give to the Max Day exceeded their goal, announced the upcoming December concerts with former music director Eije Oue at the Convention Center, and urged the crowd to buy tickets for friends and students. “As you can imagine, we have very little overhead,” she commented wryly, and the audience roared with laughter. She also hinted broadly of “many” concerts to come after the New Year, with “some very exciting world-renowned guests.”

Wednesday night at Open Book, the grassroots group Save Our Symphony Minnesota (SOSMN) will hold a presentation titled “The MOA Debacle: Unlocking the Truth.” Group leaders will present findings from their analysis of the Minnesota Orchestral Association’s financial, endowment, strategic and operational documents; MOA’s public statements to legislators, patrons, and the press; and other sources. It will be heavy on the numbers.

“It’s a deep dive into the MOA’s financial history in recent years,” SOSMN vice chair Jon Eisenberg told MinnPost on Monday. “There will be a lot of eye-openers. The focus will be on the difference between what MOA knew internally and what they were saying externally.” The public and press are invited; the room at Open Book – the Target Performance Hall – holds 150. “The main thing we’re hoping to do is educate and enlighten people about what we found regarding the MOA finances,” Eisenberg said. “We’re a community-based group of volunteers, doing the best we can with the information we have. We don’t have the 2013 financials from MOA, although we’ve been asking for them. The audited financial statement should be available in November, but we haven’t seen that yet. The 2012 tax return was never turned over to us; we stumbled across it on Guidestar. One of the things we’ll be talking about is transparency.” SOSM will issue calls to action to “every stakeholder involved: the state, the city, the orchestral association, musicians, individuals attending.” 7 p.m. Wednesday, 1011 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis.

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Meanwhile, New Yorker music critic Alex Ross continues his withering assessment of goings-on in the Minneapple. From his article to be published in the Nov. 25 issue and now online: “I had planned to devote this space to a pair of Carnegie Hall concerts by the Minnesota Orchestra, which was to have performed the complete symphonies of Sibelius in the course of the season. The concerts, scheduled for November 2nd and 3rd, did not take place, and the remainder of the Sibelius cycle was cancelled … The swift plunge of this magnificent orchestra looks to be one of the most flagrant cases of mismanagement in the recent history of American classical music.”

If you were at the Ted Mann on Thursday or Friday, you might have picked up a flier announcing a concert to be held Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, in honor of Skrowaczewski. Titled “Happy 90th, Maestro Stan!” it will feature guests Lynn Harrell (cellist) and the Guthrie’s Joe Dowling (narrator), with world premiere compositions written for the event by John Harbison, Paul Schoenfield, Gunther Schuller, Steven Stucky and Skrowaczewski himself. Presented by the Chamber Music Society of Minnesota, it’s scheduled for 8 p.m. at Bethel University’s Benson Great Hall. Tickets here ($25-$15).

In other arts news, we learned last week that the McKnight Foundation will no longer fund the New Media Project Grant after 2014. Administered by IFP MN (Independent Filmmaker Project Minnesota), this generous ($50,000) grant is for artists working in film, video, interactive games, mobile apps, radio, and other forms of new media. St. Olaf graduate Andrew Voegtline won the first New Media grant in March 2013 for a project called “Digital Cities,” an interactive art experience combining music, film, dance and smartphone technology. We wondered why McKnight had chosen not to continue with this grant and whether that signaled any other changes in its arts funding. We sent an email to McKnight communications director Tim Hanrahan, who got right back to us.

“While recognizing the New Media Artist Project Grant’s innovation and terrific national exposure, we simply believe we can maximize our outreach to Minnesota artists by channeling McKnight’s limited arts funds differently,” Hanrahan responded. “McKnight’s discontinuation of support for this relatively new, unique IFP grant program isn’t indicative of any planned funding trend. Just last week, we posted new arts grantmaking guidelines, reaffirming McKnight’s ongoing commitment to Minnesota’s working artists.” Whew to that. We’re still not over the Bush Foundation’s 2010 decision to end its Bush Artist Fellowships.

The New Media Project Grant continues for one more year. Go here for application guidelines and a link to the online application form. Information sessions were held last week; since the submission deadline is Feb. 11, 2014, we can probably expect more of those. Check back if you’re interested, or contact IFP.

McKnight’s grantmaking includes an annual sum to the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (MRAC), which is used for the Next Step Fund, which provides funding for individual artists in any discipline for the purpose of career development and artistic achievement. In FY 2013, MRAC received 376 applications from artists and awarded 38 Next Step grants totaling $180,225. In total, using state tax-based funds and McKnight money, MRAC awarded 472 grants totaling $3,159,366 during the fiscal year. If you want to know more, MRAC just posted its annual report.

Our picks for the week

Photo by Michael Lionstar
Stephen Jimenez

Tonight (Tuesday, Nov. 19): Award-winning journalist and author Stephen Jimenez discusses “The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths about the Murder of Matthew Shepard.” Jimenez has spent 13 years researching this case, which quickly became less about the horrific murder of a gay University of Wyoming student and more about politics, distorted media coverage and America’s most famous hate crime. His book is based on extensive interviews with the prosecutor who convicted Shepard’s two killers, the killers themselves, and former friends and lovers of Shepard. A book signing will follow. 4 p.m. at the University of Minnesota Bookstore in Coffman Memorial Union. Free.

Tonight: Christian Tetzlaff and Lars Vogt. In March 2012, internationally acclaimed violinist Tetzlaff was scheduled to play six concerts in the Twin Cities in a single week, including a Schubert Club International Artist Series date. Five of the six were canceled when he flew back to Germany for a family emergency. For his rescheduled Schubert Club appearance, he’ll be joined by pianist Vogt for a program of music by Mozart, Bartok, Kurtag and Beethoven. 7:30 p.m. at the Ordway. FMI and tickets.

Tonight and tomorrow: the “Images of Africa” film series continues at the St. Anthony Main and Mixed Blood. “Mother of George,” scheduled for closing night (Wednesday), will return for a one-week theatrical engagement starting Friday. Starring Danai Gurira (of TV’s “The Walking Dead”), this film explores what happens when a Nigerian couple living in Brooklyn are unable to conceive a child. Here’s the trailer. Here’s the complete series program. Showing tonight: “Salut Cousin!” an immigration comedy set in Paris.

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dance photo
Photo by Ann Marsden
Choreographer Cassandra Shore

Wednesday – Sunday: Jawaahir Dance Company Presents Arabian Bouquet. Arabian dance and music; sequins, satin, and spectacle. Inspired by the love songs of Warda al-Jazeera, “the Algerian Rose,” legendary star of Middle Eastern film and stage (when she died in May 2012, she was given a state funeral and buried among national heroes), choreographed by Cassandra Shore, featuring music by the Beirut-born George Lammam and his ensemble, with Lebanese singer Mayssa Karaa and guest performer Karim Nagi on the riq (Arabic tambourine). This sounds pretty fabulous. At the Ritz Theater in northeast Minneapolis. 8 p.m. all nights. FMI and tickets ($15-$29). Tonight is “pay-as-able” night.

Thursday – Sunday: Savage Umbrella’s “Leaves.” Using Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” as source material, this play explores the American spirit in dialogue, poetry, and song. What started as a short run in Sept. 2010 is back at the Playwrights’ Center through Sunday in a remounted, re-imagined, expanded version with new conversations and music. Written by Laura Leffler-McCabe and Tanner Curl. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets (suggested pricing $12-$20, no one turned away).

Thursday: Opening night for “Album: Cinematheque Tangier, a project by Yto Barrada” at the Walker. This month’s Target Free Thursday Night party features Tangier-based artist Barrada and guest DJ / rupture (Jace Clayton, heard here in April as part of the SPCO’s “Liquid Music” series) in an evening of North African music and movies. The exhibition includes films, artworks and artifacts that speak to the artist’s connection with Tangier’s history of migration, indigenous communities and colonization. In 2006, Barrada founded the independent cinema Cinémathèque de Tanger in an abandoned structure in the Moroccan city’s Casbah district; today it’s a cultural center. Come tonight for the party, the music and glimpses of Morocco’s visual and cinematic culture; return another time for a more thoughtful exploration of the show, which continues through May 18. 6-9 p.m. Free.

Thursday: James Norton discusses “The Secret Atlas of North Coast Food.” Some of the best food in America is right here in the upper Midwest. But we knew that. Created by the minds behind Heavy Table, the famed Twin Cities’ foodie website, this book of essays, maps and illustrations explores the history, culture and gastronomy of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. Contributors include Norton (Heavy Table, “The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin”), John Kovalic (“Dark Tower”), and Andy Sturdevant (Minnpost’s “The Stroll,” “Potluck Supper with Meeting to Follow”). 7 p.m. at Common Good Books in St. Paul. The event is co-sponsored by The Golden Fig and Sweet Science Ice Cream, which implies treats.