Renee Fleming to open Minnesota Orchestra’s 2014-15 classical season

Courtesy of DECCA/Andrew Eccles
Renee Fleming

Twenty-five weeks of classical subscription concerts, ten with Osmo Vänskä at the podium. Programming designed by music director Vänskä in close collaboration with the orchestra’s musicians. Stellar guest artists and the return of familiar faces. Beloved traditions and new initiatives. Old favorites, contemporary music and world premieres. The Minnesota Orchestra’s 2014-15 classical season, announced Friday and put together in record time, should please both supporters and wait-and-seers.

Among the highlights are a season opening gala on Sept. 5 with superstar soprano Renee Fleming; a festival of music inspired by Shakespeare’s plays; a salute to the German composer Richard Strauss; a “Spirit and Spring” series spotlighting music of faith and contemplation, preceded by conversations with panels of spiritual leaders and writers; the Orchestra’s first New Year’s Eve concerts since 1998, followed by a party in the lobby; a Valentine’s Day concert at Northrop; and a staging of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical “Carousel,” conducted by Sarah Hicks – the start of a new Minnesota Orchestra project to present a great American musical each year.

After Fleming, the parade of guest artists includes pianists André Watts and Garrick Ohlsson, violinist Gil Shaham, cellist Alisa Weilerstein — and former principal clarinet Burt Hara, in his first solo appearance here since joining the LA Philharmonic last year. Minnesota Orchestra musicians Erin Keefe, Anthony Ross, Charles Lazarus, John Miller Jr., Mark Kelley, J. Christopher Marshall and Norbert Nielubowski will all be featured soloists. Conductor Laureate Stanislaw Skrowaczewski will return, as will former music directors Edo de Waart and Eiji Oue. Other guest conductors will include Sommerfest artistic director Andrew Litton, Eric Whitacre, SPCO artistic partner Roberto Abbado and Mark Wigglesworth.

If you’ve been attending concerts all along — both those produced independently by the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra during the lockout and those presented during the abbreviated 2014 classical season — you’ll like 2014-15. It’s fresh, it’s varied, and it’s a full season, something we haven’t seen since 2011-12. If you’ve been holding off until lightning-rod CEO Michael Henson was gone (his last day is Aug. 31), Vänskä was restored to his former position (done), and the MOA exhibited a real commitment to more classical concerts (see above), this season should draw you back in. There’s a lot more to it than we’ve described here; to view the full calendar, visit the website. Additional series, including Live at Orchestra Hall and Inside the Classics, will be announced later this summer.

In other Minnesota Orchestra news, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts is the new director of the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute, the prestigious composer training program the orchestra offers each year with the American Composers Forum. Puts succeeds Aaron Jay Kernis, the institute’s founder and director, who resigned during the lockout on the same day as Osmo Vänskä. With the lockout over and Vänskä back, the institute resumes. Puts is a name well known to Minnesota music lovers: The Pulitzer-winning opera “Silent Night” was commissioned by the Minnesota Opera and had its world premiere at the Ordway in 2011. He’s already at work on a second Minnesota Opera commission, “The Manchurian Candidate,” which will have its world premiere here in March 2015.

The Minnesota Orchestra is performing Puts’ Symphony No. 4, “From Mission San Juan,” this week. If you don’t have tickets to Saturday’s subscription concert, you can hear it for free at 10 p.m. that night as part of Northern Spark. Puts has signed a three-year contract; his first Composer Institute will be held the week of January 12, 2015, ending in a Future Classics concert led by Vänskä on January 16.

Various public spaces in and around the Ordway now have official names, the Arts Partnership announced Wednesday. (The Arts Partnership is the nonprofit collaboration of arts organizations – the Minnesota Opera, SPCO, Schubert Club and Ordway Center for the Performing Arts – that share the building.) There’s the 3M Plaza, the Target Atrium, the Securian Sky Lobby and the Securian Balcony Lobby, all named in honor of corporate contributors and supporters. The concert hall now under construction, which replaces the former McKnight Theatre, will be called … the concert hall. John and Ruth Huss, whose gift made the new space possible, declined to have it named after them.

Such modesty is rare in an era of Roberta Mann Grand Foyers, Carlson Family Stages, Bazinet Garden Lobbies and Pillsbury Auditoriums. It may also be a bit shortsighted. Earlier this year, the Allen Room at New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center, named in 2004 for major donor Herbert Allen, was renamed the Appel Room. Recently, Allen gave back naming rights to JALC, effectively dangling a baited hook for jazz-loving big fish everywhere. Helen and Robert Appel bit for $20 million, the largest individual donation in JALC history, and Allen became Appel.

In the Cargill Gallery at the MIA, “The Look of Love” is a still, small gem of a show, one so strange you probably shouldn’t miss it. If the eyes are windows to the soul, this may be the most soulful exhibition you’ll ever see, and almost too intimate. It’s not polite to stare, yet it’s all about staring.

“The Look of Love” is a private collection of so-called “eye miniatures,” a fad that began in the late 1700s when Britain’s young Prince of Wales (later George IV) sent a small painting of one of his eyes to a woman he loved. Soon wealthy sweethearts everywhere were exchanging eye portraits, and men and women were wearing rings, pendants, and brooches painted with loved ones’ eyes. Alive, or dead; some of the miniatures were commissioned in honor of the recently deceased. One of the most touching – and shocking – is the eye of an 8-month-old baby. We know from an inscription that her first name was Elizabeth. Most of the miniatures lack inscriptions, and the people who once knew them died centuries ago. They’re souls in limbo, naked and unblinking.

Courtesy of the MIA
Rose gold oval ring surrounded by a blue enamel border containing ten small and two large diamonds enclosed in a border of natural split pearls, ca. 1790. Brown left eye. Dimensions: ¾ × 1 ¼ × ⅞ in. Purchased from Edith Weber, New York.

Almost all of the paintings are watercolor on ivory, set in gold, surrounded by jewels and loaded with symbolism. Pearls may represent tears for the dead, clouds the afterlife. Some settings include woven bits of human hair. At some point, you realize you’re in a room with 98 tiny eyes, most looking right at you. Displayed behind glass in tall wooden highboys, they’re adequately lit, but too small and not close enough to see clearly. Luckily, there’s an app for that. Download “The Look of Love” later from the iTunes store or borrow an MIA iPad from the lobby at the Third Ave. entrance while you’re there. Closes Aug 24. Free.

Three cheers and our lasting gratitude to Carl Brenden, a writer for the website Thrillist, who rolled up his sleeves and compiled a master calendar of every outdoor movie in the Twin Cities this summer.  There are free outdoor movies almost every night from now until Sept. 30. Tonight: “The Princess Bride” at Lake Harriet Bandshell. Sunday: “Vertigo” on Solera’s rooftop. Next Wednesday: “The Goonies” at Van Cleve Park. And so on. Carl, our hero.

In national arts news: Dr. Jane Chu, president and CEO of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, Mo., has been confirmed by the Senate as the next chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, the largest government grantor to arts organizations in the U.S. The NEA had been headless for 18 months, ever since Broadway producer Rocco Landesman stepped down in late 2012. Chu was nominated for the post in February by President Obama … America has a new poet laureate. Charles Wright, author of 24 collections of poems including, most recently, “Caribou” (2014), will take up his duties in the fall. In announcing Wright’s appointment, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington called him “a master of the meditative, image-driven lyric.” The poet laureate is selected for a one-year term, based on poetic merit alone. You can read some of Wright’s poems here. Or listen to him read his own work here.

For musicians: If you’ve been sitting on your 416 Club Commission proposal, the deadline is this Sunday, June 15. At stake: $3,500 plus a $1,000 stipend for production expenses, a public performance on the Cedar’s stage, and a chance to get paid for creating something new. FMI.

On sale today at 10 a.m.: Nellie McKay with the Turtle Island String Quartet at the Dakota, Sept. 17. That’s a match we wouldn’t have thought of, but it sure sounds interesting. 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., $30-$45. 612-332-5299.

Our picks for the weekend

Friday through Sunday at St. Anthony Main in Minneapolis: Stone Arch Bridge Festival. Arts, crafts, live music, a car show, a motorcycle show, food, family activities and people watching along one of the city’s most beautiful stretches of the Mississippi River. Friday: 6-10 p.m. Saturday: 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. Sunday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. FMI.

Saturday night in Minneapolis: Northern Spark. The all-night, citywide arts festival, now in its fourth year. Read our first-timer’s guide, wander the website, pick something and go. For night owls, art lovers, scenesters, the curious, and people who complain that Minneapolis shuts down too early.

Saturday at Icehouse: Gabriel Kahane. If you don’t go to Northern Spark, do this. Singer/songwriter/pianist/composer Kahane was here as recently as March, for Timo Andres’ Liquid Music concert at the SPCO Center. He’s just released a new album, “The Ambassador,” his first for Sony Masterworks. A song cycle inspired by the architecture and pop culture of Los Angeles, it’s smart, haunting and elegant, music that embraces modern classical and chamber pop, Tin Pan Alley and jazz. Casey Foubert (Sufjan Stevens) opens. Doors at 10:30 p.m, show at 11. 21+. FMI and tickets ($12-$15). (Yes, you’ll buy your tickets from the Cedar, but you’ll go to Icehouse to see the show.)

Sunday at the Lake Harriet Bandshell: Cantus. The male vocal ensemble’s annual Father’s Day concert is the last chance to see (and hear) members Adam Reinwald, Gary Ruschman and David Walton. 4135 West Harriet Parkway in Minneapolis. 2 p.m. Free.

Sunday at Colonial Church in Edina: Safe Hands Rescue Benefit Concert. A chamber music concert featuring musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, the SPCO and the Minnesota Opera Orchestra and music by Mozart, Piazzolla, Dvorak, Elgar, and Randall Thompson. Turns out many of the musicians are dog lovers, and many have dogs adopted from Safe Hands. 6200 Colonial Way, Edina. 3 p.m. $20 suggested donation. Cash or check only. FMI.

Sunday at the Dakota: Billy Hart Quartet. The legendary drummer, veteran of Herbie Hancock’s sextet and years with McCoy Tyner and Stan Getz, leads a group of great players half his age: pianist Ethan Iverson (The Bad Plus), saxophonist Mark Turner and bassist Ben Street. They recently released their first CD on ECM, “One Is the Other.” Here’s Britt Robson’s preview for the Strib. This is the sort of top-notch touring group the Dakota used to feature a lot more often – like Bill Charlap’s trio, who came through last month. We should catch them when we can. 7 p.m. (one set only). FMI and tickets ($20).

Monday at the White Bear Center for the Arts: Opening reception for “Nancy MacKenzie: Hands On.” A career retrospective of the internationally known fiber artist whose work includes wall pieces, hand-dyed textiles, sculptural wearable items, and found objects. Margaret Miller, founder and former director of the Textile Center, will speak about MacKenzie and her exploration of many media. 6-9 p.m., lecture at 7 p.m. Please register to attend the lecture. Call 651-407-0597 or email

Monday at the Southern: The Playwrights’ Center McKnight Theater Artists Present Works in Progress. Sun Mee Chomet, Denise Prosek, Stephen Yoakam and their collaborators will give us a peek at what they’re working on as McKnight fellows. Chomet is collaborating with a performance artist and taiko artist on a reimagining of Aoki’s “The Queen’s Garden.” Prosek, best known as a music director, is writing a musical of her own, about the restaurant industry. Yoakam is partnering with dancer/choreographer Uri Sands and his company TU Dance. 7 p.m. Free, but you should definitely reserve tickets, and it would be good of you to consider a donation once you get there. FMI and tickets.

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