Holiday Preview, Part 2; and why the Minnesota Orchestra’s Kevin Smith changed his mind

Orange Mighty Trio perform a Christmas CD Release Concert at the Cedar on Friday, Dec. 19.

More of where to go and what to see and hear over the holidays.

Big Band Holidays: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at Orchestra Hall. Jazz superstar Wynton Marsalis and his great American band are always welcome here, and they always deliver. Their sound is big enough to fill the room, and every member is a top soloist as well as an ensemble player. This year they’re bringing Cécile McLorin Salvant, a gifted young singer who has rocketed from obscurity to international fame (and a Grammy nomination) in two short years. Tuesday, Dec. 2, 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($40-$105). Followed by the first “Jazz in the Target Atrium” concert with Jeremy Walker (piano), Anthony Cox (bass), JT Bates (drums), and members of JALCO, with opening remarks by Marsalis. 9:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($50, includes drink ticket).

“The Chanukah Guest” at Hillcrest Center Theater. Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company’s 2014 holiday show is a new commission and a world premiere production. Bring the kids; the play by Jenna Zark (who wrote last year’s “The Magic Dreidels”) is based on the children’s book by Eric A. Kimmel about an old woman, potato latkes and a knock at the door. Ages 3 and up. Dec. 4–21. FMI and tickets ($17).

“A Very Die Hard Christmas” at Bryant-Lake Bowl. As every “Die Hard” fan knows (and who isn’t a “Die Hard” fan?), the bullet-ridden, body-strewn Bruce Willis action movie begins on Christmas Eve. A holiday parody had to happen. From Dana’s Boys and Mainly Me Productions, this live performance is back for its third straight year at the BLB. Dec. 4-29. FMI and tickets ($15/$13).

2014 British Arrows Awards at the Walker. Why are British TV commercials so much wittier and better than most American commercials? A 28-year Walker tradition continues with multiple screenings of the latest winners of the British Television Advertising Awards. Dec. 5 to Jan. 6. FMI and tickets ($12/$10).

“All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914” at the Pantages. Performed by actors from Theater Latté Da and singers from Cantus, Peter Rothstein’s staging of this remarkable true story – a temporary ceasefire in No Man’s Land during World War I – premiered in 2007 and quickly became a holiday favorite. This is the last year Cantus will take part and the final year for the original staging. It will be back in 2015, but different. Dec. 17 to Dec. 21. FMI and tickets ($28–$39).

Orange Mighty Trio Christmas CD Release Concert at the Cedar. Like any song with good bones, a Christmas carol is ripe for reinterpretation. On their latest recording, Orange Mighty Trio, a chamber group whose reach extends from jazz to pop, folk to blues, puts its own spin on songs we think we know, reducing “Silent Night” to its barest essence, turning “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” into a tango and “Let It Snow” into a silly romp. Zack Kline (violin), Mike Vasich (piano), and Nick Gaudette (bass) will play a one-of-a-kind Christmas concert, and the CD, “Breakin’ Up Christmas,” will be available for you last-minute shoppers. Friday, Dec. 19. Doors at 7 p.m., music at 8. FMI and tickets ($12/$15). All ages. 

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You could almost hear the sighs of relief when the Minnesota Orchestra announced yesterday that Kevin Smith had been appointed its president and CEO, moving out of his interim role into a four-year contract that extends through the orchestra’s 2017–18 season. In the months since stepping into the sticky mess left by a 16-month lockout, Smith has calmed things down considerably, creating a sense of optimism, openness, stability and forward motion. Big donations have come in, the 2014–15 season is up and running, the musicians are sounding terrific and much of the public has largely forgotten that the 111-year-old orchestra once teetered on the brink.

As interim leader, Smith made it known that he was not a candidate for the permanent position. He was here on a month-to-month basis, filling in until the right person was found. The search for a new president was already under way. What changed his mind?

CEO Kevin Smith
Courtesy of the Minnesota Orchestra
CEO Kevin Smith

“It was the board’s idea,” Smith told MinnPost. “They feel that a lot of good things are happening within the organization. We’re building a lot of energy and momentum, trust and communication. Musicians, staff, board and community members are working together, doing good work. [The board’s] thought was – is this the time to make a change? We have big challenges ahead of us, and agreements [contracts] are coming up in the next two to three years. Maybe we should go with what we’ve got.

“They came to me and asked if I would consider staying. We talked about a timeframe, and I thought – wow, this is really a terrific organization. I have enjoyed working here. The people are fantastic and the music is unbelievable … I could be helpful, and they want me to do it and I don’t have anything else in particular. So why not? It’s as simple as that. It’s one of those things, like deciding to have kids, where there’s not a completely rational approach.

“I’m the president through the 2017-18 season, less than four years. That’ll be a good tenure for someone in my situation. There’s a lot we can do in those four years. I hope and expect to enjoy doing it. We’ll see what happens.

“Being asked is a real privilege. And it keeps you on your toes.”

The Picks

Opens tonight (Thursday, Nov. 13) at Intermedia Arts: “Reconciliation.” Written by and featuring Marisa Carr, “Reconciliation” takes place in a dystopian future in which the U.S. government has initiated a “Truth and Reconciliation” process with indigenous peoples. Lack of compliance is a federal crime. Written in part as a response to the 150th anniversary of the U.S.–Dakota War of 1862, Carr’s play explores what it means to talk about reconciliation when wrongs have never been meaningfully addressed. What is gained, and what is lost? This won’t be an evening of light entertainment, but it’s sure to be thought-provoking. Directed by Dipankar Mukherjee. 7:30 p.m. Tonight’s performance is a pay-what-you-can preview.  Tomorrow is opening night. FMI and tickets ($12/$15).

The Weekend

Friday at Raymond Avenue Gallery: First Annual Yunomi Invitational. A yunomi is a handleless, everyday Japanese ceramic teacup. A small bowl, usually taller than wide, with a foot. It’s one of the most basic forms a potter can make, yet the possibilities for creativity are endless. Almost every potter makes them, and viewing several at once is a good way to start seeing and appreciating pottery. This show features yunomis by 25 area potters including Robert Briscoe, Linda Christianson, Dick Cooter, Guillermo Cuellar, Peter Jadoonath, Warren Mackenzie, Mike Norman, Monica Rudquist and Jason Trebs. Artists’ reception 6-8 p.m. Through Dec. 19.

Friday-Sunday at Park Square Theatre: Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” A Shakespeare play at a major theater for three shows only? What’s up with that? Actually, this play isn’t about us. It’s part of Park Square’s school performance series. Each year, thousands of middle- and high-school students see plays at Park Square; those numbers are expected to grow with the opening of the new Andy Boss stage. These are the only public performances, student matinees run through Dec. 19. Directed by Jef Hall-Flavin. 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. FMI and tickets ($38/$58).

Sunday at MacPhail: Bakken Trio. The chamber ensemble opens its 2014-15 season with music by Haydn (String Quartet “The Bird”), Stravinsky (Duo Concertante), Bach (Cello Suite #4) and John Adams (“John’s Book of Alleged Dances”). Adams called his piece “Alleged Dances” because the steps had yet to be invented. Bakken accepted the challenge, applied for and received a grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, and engaged Carl Flink and his Black Label Movement to choreograph the whole thing – 10 dances Bakken’s artistic director, Mina Fisher, calls “so exhilarating and jiggly you have to move.” When they discovered it wouldn’t all fit on MacPhail’s stage in Antonello Hall, they adapted some of the dances and saved the rest for later. The entire work will be performed at the Cowles Center in March. This concert sold out days ago, but more chairs are being added. 4 p.m. If you want tickets ($25), act now. Go online or call 612-374-3175.

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