The Minnesota Orchestra is brimming with ideas these days. Announced late last week: “Symphony in 60,” a series of hour-long concerts starting in January 2015, and the return of “Inside the Classics” in March. Cutting in line before them is another new series announced today: “Jazz in the Atrium,” curated by composer and pianist Jeremy Walker.
Meanwhile, another new series is already under way: “NightCaps,” late-night chamber concerts held in the Target Atrium after performances in the big room. The idea came from the musicians’ artistic advisory committee, as a way to use the glass-enclosed room looking out on Peavey Plaza and Nicollet Mall that was part of the $50 million lobby renovation.
The unofficial first “NightCap” concert was “A Tribute to Oscar Peterson,” with Sommerfest conductor Andrew Litton on solo piano. That was Saturday, July 12. Walker was in the atrium, taking in the glittering room, hearing Litton play Peterson’s music on the Steinway grand. “By the third chord, I thought, ‘There needs to be jazz here.’ ” The atrium reminded him of the Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center, with the energy of the city just outside the windows.
Walker went home that night and started writing a five-year plan. On Sunday, he sent it to Kevin Smith, the Orchestra’s interim president and CEO. “On Tuesday [Smith] got back to me and said, ‘Let’s meet in three weeks.’ He gave the go-ahead pretty much at that meeting …
“The big thing for us was — let’s just acknowledge what this music has been all along, which is a staggering art form … If Orchestra Hall is a flagship of the arts in the Twin Cities — and it certainly is, in terms of budget and pride of place — then jazz ought to be here.”
Walker brings his own unique set of experiences and talents to the curator role. He founded and ran the St. Paul jazz club Brilliant Corners, co-founded and managed the jazz nonprofit Jazz is NOW, and launched and curated a late-night series at the Dakota Jazz Club. He knows how to flex and adjust to change. When Lyme disease cut short his saxophone career, he switched to piano and composition.
Jazz in the Atrium is about combination and connection: a combination of area artists and nationally known musicians from New York and elsewhere, and a connection with classical musicians and the classical world. A small ensemble of area musicians — Walker on piano, Anthony Cox on cello and bass, JT Bates on drums, Brandon Wozniak on saxophone — will serve as the core group, the Atrium Jazz Ensemble.
The first concert, on Dec. 2, will feature members of the Ensemble with Ted Nash, Marcus Printup and Vincent Gardner of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, who will be at Orchestra Hall that night playing a holiday show. Wynton Marsalis will welcome the atrium audience from the mic but will not perform. The Jan. 22 concert will feature New York-based pianist David Berkman.
On April 16, Cox, Walker and Bates will be joined by MPR’s Tesfa Wondemagegnehu and opera singers Angela Keeton and Seth Keeton for the world premiere performance of “The Rage of Achilles,” composed by Walker and Cox. And on May 8, Colorado-based trumpeter Ron Miles will join the Ensemble for a mix of originals and favorites. All tickets are $25, except for the Dec. 2 opener; those are $50. Buy tickets here.
Walker foresees future collaborations with Minnesota Orchestra musicians. And more national jazz artists — like pianist Geri Allen. “I’ve got my dreams for the series. It’s overdue. I’m all in, and I feel so lucky.
“Honestly, I think it’s going to be explosive.”
What is a Minnesota winter without an Ice Palace? St. Paul’s last Ice Palace was built in 2004 for the Winter Carnival. There were 35 earlier St. Paul ice palaces, starting with the first in 1886 and including the one F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about in his 1920 story called (duh) “The Ice Palace.” In 2012, the Mall of America hosted a giant maze-like Ice Castle built by the Utah company Ice Castles, LLC. This year, that company will take its show on the road to Miller Park in Eden Prairie. Weather permitting, the acre-sized structure will open in late December, stay open through April, and draw up to 70,000 visitors.
A date and location have been confirmed for the Leigh Kamman Public Celebration/Jazz Party, honoring the much-loved jazz broadcaster and longtime host of MPR’s “The Jazz Image” who died earlier this month at age 92. Mark your calendar for Sunday, January 25, 2015 from 3 –7 p.m. (or thereabouts). The place: the ballroom at the Saint Paul Hotel. Among the party planners are Steve Heckler of the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, Kevin Barnes of jazz radio station KBEM, MPR, and Jazz Central Studios.
Tonight (Halloween) at the Governor’s Residence in St. Paul: Treats. Stop by 1006 Summit Ave. between 5–7 p.m. for candy from Pearson’s, apples and gourds from Minnesota and Wisconsin and (very sensibly) toothbrushes and toothpaste.
Saturday at Burroughs Community School in Minneapolis: 60 Artists on 50th. Do your holiday shopping early at this small, juried show of jewelry and woodcuts, fiber and clay, painting, prints, photography, leather, metal and mixed media. Held in a school gymnasium, it’s about as low-key as they come, with the artists on hand and perfectly happy to tell you all about their work, or not, as you choose. 1601 W. 50th St., Minneapolis. 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Saturday at the movies: “Carmen: Live in HD.” From the Metropolitan Opera, broadcast live to movie theaters around the world. Mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili is the gypsy temptress, Aleksandrs Antonenko the besotted Don Jose, Ildar Abdrazakov the bullfighter, Escamillo. 11:55 a.m. FMI and tickets.
Saturday night at Shaw’s Bar & Grill in Northeast: Paul Metsa’s Birthday Hootenanny and All Saints’ Day Celebration. The musician, songwriter, author (“Blue Guitar Highway”), radio host and raconteur throws himself a party with guests Willie Walker, Willie West, Mari Harris, Sonny Earl, Stanley Kipper, Dave Wynne, and Chris Mulkey. 1528 University Ave. NE. 9 p.m. – 12:30 a.m.
Saturday and Sunday at the Weisman: So many reasons to visit our own Frank Gehry museum. On now: “Anishinaabensag Biimskowebshkigewag (Native Kids Ride Bikes),” an exhibition of low-rider bikes created by urban Native youth, contemporary Indigenous artists, and non-Native university students in Michigan. “Lust for Leisure,” a show of travel posters dating from the 1920s to the 1940s. And “Trains that Passed in the Night: The Photographs of O. Winston Link.” A chronicle in black-and-white of the final years of steam railroading on the Norfolk & Western Railway. Open both days 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Free.
Saturday and Sunday at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage: Classical Actors Ensemble presents “Twelfe Night Or, What You Will.” Shakespeare’s great comedy, performed in OP (original pronunciation), a historically accurate reconstruction of the accents of English spoken in Shakespeare’s day. This is not done very often; according to CAE, this is the first time in Minnesota. Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. “Twelfth Night” runs in repertory with “The Duchess of Malfi.” FMI and tickets ($15–$30, sliding scale). Through Nov. 23.
Sunday at Common Good Books: FitzFirst@Four. The first in a series of four discussions about the life and work of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Held on the first Sunday of every month, each focuses on a different short story, with a presentation from a guest expert on events, locations, and history referenced. This Sunday’s guest: Fitzgerald scholar and author Dave Page. 4 p.m. Free.