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An effervescent MN Orchestra musicians’ concert; ‘Black Nativity’

ALSO: ‘Maya’ show to end Jan. 5; ‘Black Nativity’ at Penumbra; ‘Winterlights’ tour at the MIA; George Maurer’s Big Band Holiday Show at the Dakota; and more.

Maestro Eiji Oue returned to the podium with even more antic energy than we recall from his years as the orchestra’s music director (1995-2002).
Photo by John Whiting

If the Minnesota Orchestra lockout was meant to silence the musicians, how is that working out? So far, not so good. Over the weekend, the musicians gave their most effervescent concert to date of the several they have self-produced in the nearly 15 months since the lockout began. Maestro Eiji Oue returned to the podium with even more antic energy than we recall from his years as the orchestra’s music director (1995-2002). Gesturing broadly, crouching, sometimes launching himself into the air, he led the musicians in a holiday-friendly all-Tchaikovsky program that included selections from “The Nutcracker” and (in their entirety) the mighty Piano Concerto No. 1 and the tremendous Fourth Symphony.

These are all pieces we know, maybe a bit too well, but with Oue dancing at the podium, the musicians played as if they were giving us something brand-new. (In their reviews of Saturday night’s concert, both Rob Hubbard and Larry Fuchsberg reminded us that many of the musicians – about a third, according to Fuchsberg – were hired on Oue’s watch.) Soloist Jon Kimura Parker brought all of his considerable strength to the crashing chords of the Piano Concerto, captured the quiet moments equally well and performed with infectious joy. He returned for an unexpected encore – Scott Joplin’s “Solace” – and after the thunder and lightning of the concerto, it was the gentlest of rains.

Following intermission and just before the symphony, principal cello Tony Ross told the crowd that the musicians are working every day to bring the contract dispute to a resolution and vowed that they would keep producing their own concerts and educational events, “settlement or not.” Oue bounded on stage with a clutch of the green mugs being sold to benefit the musicians. Later, he handed out roses to the women in the orchestra (and tossed one into the audience), opened his jacket to reveal a handwritten “Minnesota Orchestra Forever” message on his shirt front, and tore through the crowd at the Convention Center, hand-slapping and smiling. The musicians return in January with Mozart’s Requiem at the Ted Mann; tickets are on sale now.

At the Penumbra, “Black Nativity: A Holiday Concert” continues through Sunday (Dec. 22). All remaining performances are nearly sold out, so get those tickets if you want to experience this deeply moving, genuinely thrilling night of music. This year, Penumbra has stripped “Black Nativity” down to its core: no actors, no dialogue or staging, just simple narration and full-out, soul-baring, hair-raising gospel singing by four soloists and the choir of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church. On opening night, Dennis Spears, Yolande Bruce, Deborah Finney and Tonia Hughes (stepping in for Greta Oglesby, who had a family emergency) sang with passion and conviction. And Penumbra founder and director Lou Bellamy gave the readings like a preacher (Ansa Akyea takes over as narrator on Dec. 18). Scenic designer C. Lance Brockman has turned the theater into a church. Overheard on the way out: “That wasn’t very Lutheran.” Indeed.

downton fashion show
Photo by John Whiting
TPT hosted a a “Downton”-themed fashion show.

On Saturday at the Landmark Center, TPT welcomed 1,500 members and donors to a “Downton Abbey” party complete with a marketplace, a performance by the Oratorio Society, a “Downton”-themed fashion show (fans were encouraged to come in period costume, and many did – as lords and ladies, maids and chauffeurs), and a screening of the first hour of season four of the hit television series. OK, one spoiler: O’Brien has flown the coop.

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We hope you’re getting out to see some of the countless holiday-related arts events happening in and around the Twin Cities and across the state. Plays, concerts, dance performances, tours, exhibitions, shows – there’s something for everyone, from big-ticket to free. Before you walk through the door of the MIA, the Walker, the Guthrie or any of our arts organizations, large or small, take a few moments to read Kristin Tillotson’s article that ran in the Strib this weekend, “Minnesota arts groups are losing their greatest generation of donors.” Tillotson notes that the circle of wealthy philanthropists who have given millions over the years – families like the Daytons, Cargills, Ordways and Cowles – is growing ever smaller. Corporate support for the arts remains strong in Minnesota, but corporate dollars often come with strings attached. See also Jim Toscano’s article, “The New Philanthropists,” in the latest issue of Pollen. The way we contribute time, money, and other resources is changing. Contributions are now being seen as investments, and foundations are using metrics to measure returns. Philanthropy is becoming more bottom-line-oriented.

Let’s congratulate ourselves once more for passing the Legacy Amendment, then think hard about how to ensure not only the survival but the growth of our arts scene.

You never know what will cause someone to open his or her wallet wide. Local businessman Johannes Marliem recently gave $66,000 to Como Friends, the nonprofit partner of Como Park Zoo & Conservatory, in honor of Jaya the orangutan’s sixth birthday. Marliem, who runs a marketing firm in Minneapolis, was born in Indonesia and has adopted two orangutans at the national conservatory in Bali. “It is my hope that this donation will inspire others to join me in protecting this species,” Marliem said in a statement.

Maybe you’ve seen the billboards trumpeting “The end is near!” The end of what? “Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed,” the big exhibition that premiered at the Science Museum of Minnesota. The ancient Mayan calendar predicted the world would end on Dec. 21, 2012. That didn’t happen, at least we think it didn’t, but the exhibition here will close Jan. 5, after which it moves to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Catch it while you can

Our picks for the week

Tonight (Tuesday, Dec. 17) at the University Club: Reading by Writers. St. Paul Poet Laureate Carol Connelly hosts a stellar lineup of local poets including Heid Erdrich, Tim Nolan, Eleanor Leonard, Jim Lenfestey, Klecko, Ted King, Mary Lou Judd Carpenter, Laurie Hertzel, Mike Finley and Tom Cassidy. Music by violinist Mary Scallen and flutist Jim Miller starts at 7 p.m., reading at 7:30. Writers’ books will be available for sale. Free.

Wednesday at the American Swedish Institute: After Work Wednesday. A Swedish happy hour, with holiday lights. Food and drink specials from FIKA, a Mystery beer Bucket, and a chance to tour the galleries in the Turnblad Mansion, which stays open until 8 p.m. Museum admission required; free for members. 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Wednesday at the Weisman: WAM@20: CHOICE. How do we make choices? What impact do they have? The 400 works featured in three exhibits (this is the first) and online have all been collected since the Weisman opened in 1993. Several selection methods were used – the single curator method, collective decision-making, fact-based analysis, pure chance, and more. See what each method looks like and what happens as a result. Open Wednesdays 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Free. This exhibition closes Jan. 5.

purcell cutts
Courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The Purcell-Cutts House is decorated for the holidays.

Thursday at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts: Winterlights Public Tour. See and learn about objects from the permanent collection that tell the stories of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Dewali, Eid al-Adha, Bodhi Day, and more festivities around the world. 7 p.m. Free. Sadly, the period rooms are not decorated for the holidays – but the Purcell-Cutts House is. Owned by the MIA, the Prairie School-style house near Lake of the Isles is worth seeing anytime, but especially when its halls are decked. Costumed docents are leading 45-minute tours on weekends through Jan. 5. $5; $4 students; free for MIA members and kids under 12. FMI and tickets.

George Maurer’s Big Band Holiday Show is Thursday at the Dakota.

Thursday at the Dakota: George Maurer’s Big Band Holiday Show. Always a good time, pianist/composer Maurer’s annual extravaganza is a blend of music, humor and genuine warmth. Maurer’s recent projects include the solo CD “Elegy,” a song cycle based on the poems of Rilke (“For the Sake of a Single Poem”) and an opera (“Empire Builder”). Most of his band members have been with him for years. 7 p.m., $15. Reservations highly recommended; call 612-332-5299.