Finnish flags for Vänskä; ‘Belle’ to open Mpls-St. Paul Film Festival

Photo by John Whiting
On Friday night, the audience made its wishes known by shouting, rhythmically clapping and stamping on the new white-oak floors, waving Finnish flags and unfurling “Finnish It!” banners.

Will he, won’t he return as music director of the Minnesota Orchestra? Despite speculation, no official announcement was made this weekend about Osmo Vänskä’s future, but the message from the audience and the musicians was clear and, at times, very loud: Bring back Osmo. On Friday night, the audience made its wishes known by shouting, rhythmically clapping and stamping on the new white-oak floors, waving Finnish flags and unfurling “Finnish It!” banners, all before the orchestra and Vänskä came on stage. They greeted the musicians and the maestro with a standing ovation and deafening applause, which Vänskä cut short by turning to face the orchestra. And then the musicians showed their support by playing splendidly and wholeheartedly.

Performing the fourth and first Sibelius symphonies, for which they recently won the Grammy, they gave us the emotion, precision and astonishing dynamics for which they became internationally known during Vänskä’s tenure. Although written by the same composer, the two symphonies are very different. The Fourth is the lying-awake-in-the-middle-of-the-night one, anxious and brooding and dark; the First is a radiant sunrise, the optimistic start of a new day. Principal cellist Tony Ross was outstanding in the Fourth; the question now is will he, won’t he accept the principal cello position at the Chicago Lyric Opera he has reportedly been offered? Acting principal clarinet Gregory T. Williams opened the First; as his solo soared, no doubt many in the crowd were thinking fond thoughts of principal clarinet Burt Hara, who recently decided not to return to Minnesota after a one-year leave at the L.A. Philharmonic. Vänskä, as ever, was beautiful to watch, dancing and swaying, guiding the musicians with grand and subtle gestures. As James Oestreich wrote rather drily for the New York Times, “Wow, what a job audition!”

Photo by John Whiting
Vänskä led the Minnesota Orchestra in the fourth and first Sibelius symphonies.

Was the lavish flower arrangement at the front of the stage a welcoming or congratulatory gesture by the MOA? It was not. It was a gift from the citizens’ group SOSMN, which noticed there were no flowers on stage at Thursday’s concert and promptly ordered some for both Friday and Saturday. SOSMN can also take credit for the proliferation of Finnish flags at Orchestra Hall during the weekend concerts; we’re guessing that Ingebretsen’s had a spike in sales of all things Finnish, thanks to SOSMN’s “Finnish It!” campaign.

Meanwhile, in case you haven’t heard, eight Minnesota Orchestra board members resigned Friday in response to the news that CEO and President Michael Henson will step down at the end of August. Their timing – in the midst of Vänskä’s first concerts at Orchestra Hall after the lockout, and during talks about his possible return – seemed pointed. Call it Osmosis? SOSMN, which has become the go-to group for comments on the orchestra’s endless saga, responded almost immediately with a press release saying, in part, “Save Our Symphony Minnesota (SOSMN) is disappointed to learn that eight members of the Minnesota Orchestral Association (MOA) Board have resigned in protest of last week’s announcement … Nevertheless … we believe that Henson’s departure will pave the way to restoration and growth of audiences, donations and artistic excellence.”

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Past its own lockout, moving full steam ahead, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra has announced its 2014-15 season. Things we wanted to know right away: Who will open the new concert hall at the Ordway, and when do we get to see violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja and pianist Jeremy Denk make their debuts as artistic partners?

The answer to the first question is the SPCO musicians themselves. Rather than bring in a star conductor or soloist, SPCO musicians will lead and perform a series of celebratory concerts next March featuring Mozart’s “Jupiter” symphony, Adams’ Chamber Symphony, Rossini’s Overture to “The Thieving Magpie,” and Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.” Those dates, if you have your calendar handy: March 5 and 6. About the new hall, Kyu-young Kim, the SPCO’s principal second violin and senior director of artistic planning, is enthusiastic. “The intimacy of the space and the ability of the audience to hear every nuance of the orchestra will transform the concert experience,” Kim said in a statement, “and I’m literally counting the days until we can begin making music in the new hall.”

Kopatchinskaja’s first performances will be in November at Temple Israel, Wooddale Church, St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, Wayzata Community Church, St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, and the Ted Mann. She’ll play music by Mozart, Mansurian, Bartók, Mendelssohn, and Schubert, and also traditional folk music accompanied by her parents, musicians Emilia Kopatchinskaja and Viktor Kopatchinsky. She’ll return in March with Bach, Ligeti and Schubert. Denk will play Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 and music by Charles Ives in October; in February, he’ll be back with Bach.

The other artistic partners will perform major concerts throughout the year. Roberto Abbado will open the season in September with Beethoven’s Seventh and Eighth symphonies and return in April for Ravel, with Lise de la Salle at the piano. Christian Zacharias will play Mozart in October and May. Thomas Zehetmair will lead works by Mozart, Chopin and Schubert in May and perform pieces by Casken and Bach. (Edo de Waart’s tenure as artistic partner ends with the 2013-14 season.)

Abbado’s Beethovens are the start of an ambitious undertaking. From September through February, the SPCO will play all nine Beethoven symphonies in the Ordway Music Theatre, commemorating its 30 years of performing in that space. When it opens in March, the Ordway Concert Hall will be the SPCO’s new St. Paul home. Uh-oh, we’re kind of confused about the naming of these two side-by-side venues. A “Music Theatre” sounds smaller than a “Concert Hall,” but in this case, it’s not. Also, both are Ordways. We’re already thinking of them as the Big Ordway (Music Theatre) and Little Ordway (Concert Hall). Here’s where a naming deal would help to clarify things. Donors? Anyone?

Even with its new St. Paul home, the SPCO will continue going out into Twin Cities neighborhoods and suburbs, playing concerts at Temple Israel, the Ted Mann, the Capri, Trinity Lutheran in Stillwater, and other venues – 12 in all. Does any other chamber orchestra have a dozen homes?

More highlights of the SPCO’s 2014-15 season: an all-Baroque December. World premieres. And a residency at UC Berkeley in March. The SPCO will be the first chamber orchestra to participate in Cal Performances’ Orchestra Residency program, and these will be its first West Coast appearances in eight years.

Season tickets are available now. Call 651-291-1144 or visit the website

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If you aren’t already a regular watcher of “Minnesota Original,” TPT’s original program about the arts and artists of Minnesota, here’s a nudge. Last Sunday’s show featured musician Paul Metzger, artist Kurt Seaberg (who specializes in drawings of the indigenous Sami people of Northern Europe), actress and playwright Sun Mee Chomet (“How to Be a Korean Woman”), and the Walker’s annual Artist-Designed Mini Golf. Turns out the TV series is not only eclectic but timely. On Monday, the Walker gave us a peek at this year’s mini golf course, now expanded to 18 holes including old favorites (roaming holes, a rock-and-roll soundscape, garden gnome foosball) and new challenges (a chicken coop, an overlay of all 18 greens at Augusta National Golf Course, a hole based on Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, and a rendition of Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” – a urinal). Every ticket includes free gallery admission. Starts Thursday, May 22 and runs through Monday, Sept. 1. Check the “Minnesota Original” website for air times; watch previously aired segments online.

The Textile Center in Minneapolis is seeking a new executive director. Like the Loft Literary Center, Northern Clay Center, Playwrights’ Center, and Mpls Photo Center, the Textile Center is a jewel of the Twin Cities. A place to learn and practice the fiber arts, it offers classes, presents shows and exhibitions, and serves as a home for fiber artists. It’s a respected organization on a national scale, and financially healthy. Tim Fleming has resigned to pursue other opportunities. 

And this for those who’ve been wondering about the Artists’ Quarter, closed since January 1: the Dakota has bought it. It won’t be called the Artists’ Quarter, and it will have a kitchen, which means no more bringing burgers downstairs from Great Waters.

Our picks for the week

Wednesday at the Amsterdam in St. Paul: Composer Conversation with John Luther Adams. This Thursday through Saturday, the SPCO performs Adams’ “Become River,” which he wrote for the SPCO. Come and hear him talk about it. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets (free, but required).

Wednesday at the Coffee Grounds in St. Paul: Cracked Walnut Literary Festival 2014 begins. A monthlong series of readings (poetry, spoken word, fiction, creative fiction) in all kinds of places (coffee shops, galleries, a funeral chapel, a museum) across the metro area and into greater Minnesota. Tonight, the Coffee Grounds will host Star Tribune books editor Laurie Hertzel, poet Kelly Hansen Maher, Maya Washington, Nick Metcalf, Chilli Lor, and Hawona Sullivan Janzen, who will read creative responses to the phrase “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall.” 7 p.m., 1759 Hamline Ave. N. All are free and open to the public, but if you’re at a coffee shop, it would be decent of you to buy a cup. Learn about more readings and keep up on the festival’s Facebook page.

Thursday at the St. Anthony Main Theatre in Minneapolis: Opening night of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Film Festival. Film buffs wait all year for this event – more than two weeks of films from around the world. Thursday night’s gala includes a party at the Festival Pavilion across the street from the theater and a screening of “Belle,” the true story of the illegitimate, biracial daughter of a Royal Navy admiral in 18th-century Britain. (Think Jane Austen with a black Elizabeth Bennett or Emma Woodhouse.) 7 p.m. and 7:20 p.m. FMI and tickets ($65-$75). Browse the complete lineup at the Festival’s excellent website. We’ll return Friday with comments on selected films; meanwhile, the Strib is providing extensive coverage in print and online.

Thursday at the U’s Continuing Education and Conference Center in St. Paul: “Of Monuments and Men: Cultural Property in Conflict.” Have you ever thought that the Elgin marbles should be returned to Greece? Or wished that some nation had saved the monumental Buddha statues in central Afghanistan from the Taliban? Should museums that unwittingly bought art looted by the Nazis have to return it to the original owners’ families? What does “cultural property” mean? Who owns the past? As part of the U’s Headliners series, law professor Stephen Cribari will lead a conversation on a fascinating topic. 7 p.m. FMI and registration ($15).

Thursday at the Minneapolis Central Library: Ron Padgett. The celebrated poet, editor and translator is the “Talk of the Stacks” guest, in honor of National Poetry Month. A Pulitzer Prize finalist, Padgett has written more than 30 collections of poetry and books of prose. His latest, “Collected Poems,” is just out with Coffee House Press. Doors at 6:15 p.m. Program starts at 7. Free and open to the public; first come, first seated. Books available for sale and signing.

Courtesy of Vanessa Voskuil Performance
A scene from The Student, presented by The O’Shaughnessy and Vanessa Voskuil Performance.

Thursday and Friday at the O’Shaughnessy in St. Paul: “The Student.” A large-scale, community-inclusive music and dance theater performance event featuring some 80 local and international dancers, actors and community members, and 100 student vocalists from St. Kate’s, Hamline, and Perpich Center for the Arts. Choreographed and directed by Vanessa Voskuil, with music by award-winning composer Janike Vandervelde and sound artist Jesse Whitney of A. Wolf and her Claws. Voskuil received a 2009 McKnight Artist Fellowship for Chroeography. 7:30 p.m. both nights. FMI and tickets.

Thursday through Saturday at the Ordway in St. Paul: the SPCO with the Miró Quartet. Stephen Schick conducts Beethoven’s First; the regional premiere of “How Wild the Sea,” a new work by Pulitzer Prize winner Kevin Puts for string quartet and chamber orchestra; the world premiere of John Luther Adams’ “Become River,” written for the SPCO; and Rossini’s Overture to “The Barber of Seville.” FMI and tickets ($12-$42). 

Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 04/01/2014 - 09:01 am.

    What a place to live!

    We are so fortunate.

    Let us hope that a suitable course correction can be made at the Minnesota Orchestra.

    The Twin Cities and Minnesota itself is a great place for music, art, and theater.

    And football, and basketball, and hockey …

    • Submitted by Arthur Horowitz on 04/01/2014 - 05:36 pm.

      And baseball?

      “The Twin Cities and Minnesota itself is a great place for music, art, and theater. And football,and basketball, and hockey” …and baseball (again someday). But just as the Vikings have signed free agents. the Minnesota Orchestra Board must now re-sign the premier “Free Agent” conductor without further delay!

  2. Submitted by Arthur Horowitz on 04/01/2014 - 11:11 am.

    Resignation of the “Gang of Eight”

    Ah so now the “gang of eight” joins the “axis( triumvirate) of evil” in departing the Minnesota Orchestral Association Board! The public is now gaining some insight into who on the board was in favor of the 16 month orchestra lockout.

    But the real stories Friday night was the four minute demonstration by the Orchestra Hall audience clamoring for Osmo’s re-engagement preceding the concert. Even more newsworthy though was the extraordinary reading of Sibelius’ First Symphony given by Osmo and OUR orchestra, perhaps the most telling reason of why we should have a world class orchestra and a world class conductor. Osmo may have hurt a lot of feelings on the Board by conducting Ms. Dayton’s and Mayor Rybak’s concert at the Convention Center during the lockout without the Orchestra Board’s permission as he no doubt did when he criticized the lockout while still under contract. But now, the remaining board members must act like adults not children with hurt feelings and bring Mr. Vanska back as music director and chief conductor. We have a great conductor in our midst and the “Board” through its injudicious past actions has confirmed his “Superstar” status in the eyes of our community. Dare the board not re engage him and you will see many more defections by the musicians, from the “Maestro’s Circle”(contributors), and the audience.

  3. Submitted by Linda Murrell on 04/01/2014 - 11:44 am.

    MInnesota Orchestra

    The Saturday evening audience was reveling in the music but moreso, in seeing Mr. Vanska onstage with the musicians who respond so exquisitely to his artistic direction. With Finnish flags waving and calls from the balcony for OSMO, BRING OSMO HOME, the audience exploded to their feet, clapping even through the Turn Your Cell Phones Off announcement. If we have learned one intractable truth from the lockout, it is that the Orchestra’s fan base has a boisterous voice and an irrepressible spirit. Bring back Osmo as Musical Director. Keep Tony Ross employed here. Lure more top notch musicians to fill the open chairs. Do a better job marketing. We love our Orchestra, its musicians and its world class sound. We can fix this!

  4. Submitted by Carl Voss on 04/01/2014 - 03:14 pm.

    the John Adamses

    Note: the composer speaking at the Amsterdam tomorrow is John Luther Adams, not the more famous composer John Adams.

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