After the longest labor dispute in the history of American orchestras (even Louisville’s was shorter, and Detroit’s less than half as long – here’s a helpful infographic from classical MPR), the Minnesota Orchestra has hit the ground running, with a new contract, new website, new logo (bye, single large cube; hi, two rings of little cubes that look like hexagons), a jam-packed new season that starts this weekend with a series of four homecoming concerts, and, as of last Friday, a new board chair.
Gordon Sprenger, former president and CEO of Allina Health System and an MOA board member since 2006, has succeeded Jon Campbell, who said in December that he would step down once an agreement was reached with the musicians. The board also ratified a slate of officers, including vice chairs Karen Himle, Nancy Lindahl and Marilyn Carlson Nelson. Those who were hoping that president and CEO Michael Henson would be leaving have been disappointed. Henson did, however, take a 15 percent reduction in compensation – the same cut the musicians agreed to, but from a much bigger pie.
In a statement issued Friday, Sprenger said, “Our collective work now is to restore trusting, respectful relationships within the organization among musicians, board and administration and to build broad bridges of support to our greater community.” There’s been no specific or decisive word yet about the search for a new music director, although Sprenger told MPR that “the board will now turn its attention with appropriate deliberation to examining this whole issue of artistic leadership.” Conductors have been announced for all of the concerts in the 2014 season. Meanwhile, former Music Director Osmo Vänskä has hinted on Facebook that he would return if asked.
Minneapolis attorney and classical music lover Lee Henderson has been a gadfly all along, writing a series of commentaries and letters with a shared theme and goal: maintaining a world-class orchestra in Minnesota. “It’s my mission in life,” he told MinnPost on Monday, only half joking. In May of last year, he proposed a new five-year plan for the orchestra. He co-founded the citizens’ group SOS: Save Osmo in September (the group hoped to prevent Vänskä’s resignation and raised over $850,000 in pledges, which have since been released), outlined a seven-point plan for the musicians to become self-sustaining in November, and asked the city of Minneapolis in January to terminate its lease with the MOA for noncompliance. Now that the musicians are back at work, Henderson has turned his attention to the question of the music director.
On Saturday, the Star Tribune published his latest commentary, bluntly titled “Bring back Osmo Vänskä.” Henderson wrote, in part: “For this orchestra, excellence and Vänskä are wrapped together … Vänskä was the orchestra’s best fundraiser and its greatest box-office draw … In short, Vänskä was and is the face of the franchise.” Henderson further noted, “If there was a lesson to be learned from this ordeal, it is that the audience has earned a say in how the orchestra is run.” Then he invited readers to comment online or email him directly about “why you want Vänskä to return and whether or not you will make donations if he does not.”
As of Monday, more than 80 comments had been posted at the Strib’s website, most in favor of Vänskä’s return. The link to his commentary had been shared on Facebook more than 1,600 times. He had received more than 400 emails and other written comments, including “some very thoughtful letters and emails from people who have been season ticket subscribers for 20, 30, or 40 years.” He also heard from many people who had donated money to the Minnesota Orchestra in the past and said their future giving was contingent on Vänskä’s return. Henderson plans to tabulate everything and send it to Sprenger by the end of the week.
Then what? “You hope the chair will read them and heed them,” Henderson said. What does he think the chances might be of Vänskä’s return? “I’ve never bought a lottery ticket. I don’t know how you can put odds on it. But I think the circumstances are there for it to happen, if it happens soon. Anybody who’s gone to the concerts knows that Vänskä and the orchestra work together in amazing ways. The opportunity to do that again is something they all want. The question is whether the pieces can come together fast enough.”
What about those “broad bridges of support to our great community” that Sprenger wants to build? Those bridges already exist. Save Our Symphony Minnesota has 10,634 Facebook followers (more than the Minnesota Orchestra), and Orchestrate Excellence drew a large crowd to a community forum it held at Westminster Presbyterian last August. Both are run by smart, serious, committed and concerned people. These are not crackpot organizations. Sprenger and his board would do well to reach out to them, and to Henderson.
Only a limited number of tickets remain to Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s performance at the Ordway on Sunday. We love Ladysmith and wish everyone could see them live. It’s one of those satisfying, exhilarating, and deeply spiritual experiences – not in a preachy way, but in an uplifting, hope-inspiring way. After hearing Ladysmith, you’re likely to believe that human beings are a lot better than you thought going in. The group just won another Grammy (their fourth) for “Live: Singing for Peace Around the World” (Best World Music Album) and are touring behind their latest, “Always With Us,” a tribute to Nellie Shabalala, wife of founder Joseph Shabalala; Nellie passed away in 2002. Sunday at 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets. If all the seats are gone, check for standing room.
We’ve never watched the Fox series “New Girl,” but Prince was on Sunday when the show aired after the Super Bowl, and Hulu has gathered the relevant excerpts. We like this one. This one is kind of weird. Prince lessons learned: “Anything beautiful is worth getting hurt for.” (Guess who said that? He did!) Also, pancakes should always be finished. And if you want to play ping-pong with Prince, wear a sexy dress.
Back in January, the Bryant Lake Bowl presented an evening of 10-minute plays. Some of us were reminded of “Short Attention Span Theater,” the show that ran on the Comedy Channel and later Comedy Central. On Feb. 15-16, Walking Shadow Theatre Company and Mixed Blood are joining forces for the One Minute Play Festival, the perfect night out for those with the attention span of a flea. Fifty local playwrights have written 90 new plays about all sorts of things: relationships, work, the Twin Cities, cats, the Polar Vortex. The purpose: to give a snapshot of our community right now. For argument’s sake, let’s say you’ve promised your mom, who’s worried that you’re not getting enough culture, that you’ll see at least one play a month. You can wipe out 7½ years in a single evening. 8 p.m. both nights at Mixed Blood. FMI and tickets ($15).
Our picks for the week
Tonight (Tuesday, Feb. 4): Antonio Zambujo at the Dakota. Zambujo sings fado, the soul music of Portugal. Music of melancholy, mourning, longing and loss. Unless you speak Portuguese, you won’t understand a word, but you’ll know exatamente what Zambujo is singing about. We’ve heard female fado singers before – Ana Moura, “barefoot diva” Cesária Évora – but never a male fado singer. Here’s a taste. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($35).
Tomorrow at the Black Dog: Joel Shapira “Inherence” CD Release. In 2012, Twin Cities guitarist Shapira and New York guitarist Jack DeSalvo met in a New Jersey recording studio to play and record music by Wayne Shorter, DeSalvo, and their own imaginations. The result is one of those rare albums you lean in to hear so you don’t miss a single note or nuance. DeSalvo can’t be here, so joining Shapira for the CD release will be Dean Granros, another master of the instrument. Expect to be transported. 7:30 p.m. No cover. FMI.
Wednesday at Common Good Books: Sarah Churchwell discusses “Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of the Great Gatsby.” Literary history meets murder mystery in American literature scholar Sarah Churchwell’s book. As the Fitzgeralds return to New York for the publication of his fourth book, “Tales of the Jazz Age,” a double murder takes place in nearby New Jersey. Churchwell sifts through newspaper accounts, letters, and archival material to reveal how the crime helped to shape “The Great Gatsby.”
Thursday at Intermedia Arts: “These Birds Walk.” Filmed on the streets of Karachi, Pakistan, this acclaimed film documents the struggles of street children and the Samaritans who look out for them. This profoundly sad yet beautiful film has been compared to Truffaut’s “400 Blows.” Here’s the trailer. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets here ($7/$9). Through Sunday.
Thursday at the Minnesota Museum of American Art: “OBJECTS: MMAA” opens. Art vs. craft: what’s the difference? The lines blur when fine artists borrow from craft traditions and craft artists move away from functional objects. Featuring 50 pieces by 50 artists from the MMAA’s collection, including some that have never been shown before, this exhibition features items from the postwar period, when craft was a reaction against consumer culture, and today, when craft is a response to the digitization of culture. Artists represented include potter Peter Voulkos; jewelry artist Stanley Lechtzin; painters and printmakers Frank Bigbear, Adolph Gottlieb, and Miriam Schapiro; and artists like Monica Rudquist and Ruben Nusz, who are redefining the art and craft object. 7-8:30 p.m. Free. Through April 13, 2014.