Music festival honors composer/conductor René Clausen

Courtesy of Concordia College
René Clausen conducting the Concordia Choir.

Some people acknowledge a favorite teacher with an apple, a note or a “World’s Greatest Teacher” mug. Not good enough for Matthew Culloton, founding artistic director and conductor of the 44-voice professional choir The Singers. Starting tonight, he’s giving his teacher René Clausen a three-day music festival in his honor.

A world-renowned, Grammy-winning composer and conductor, Clausen is a professor of choral conducting at Concordia College in Moorhead, artistic director of the award-winning Concordia Christmas Concerts and conductor of the Concordia Choir. “Dr. Clausen was my teacher at Concordia College, and probably the reason I didn’t go through with my political science major,” Culloton said. “I got the bug in a bad way for choral music.” So did Culloton’s twin, Michael, who works with Clausen as a member of Concordia’s choral music faculty.

As a composer, Clausen “always reminds us as choral musicians that the voice is directly between the heart and the brain,” Culloton said. “His music touches either your imagination or your heart. It’s a human experience. … What makes him a rare composer is not only his ability to touch us all quickly and meaningfully, but he’s writing great church music, and music for professional groups like the King’s Singers and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. He has succeeded in almost any area: young choirs, college choirs, community and pro choirs. He can light kids up about choral music. The ability to write quality music at all of those levels has become rare.”

For Culloton, the René Clausen Festival is “an opportunity to say thank you while I still can. I always liked watching the Kennedy Center Honors and thought – I can do this for somebody.”

The festival is not the same concert three times, but three distinctly different events. Tonight (Thursday, Feb. 19) at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi, six area high school choirs — from Andover, Anoka, Buffalo, Moundsview, Minneapolis and Woodbury — will present a collaborative evening of Clausen’s choral music. Each choir will perform individually, The Singers will perform a short set, and Clausen will lead the massed choir of 400 voices in a few of his most popular works. 7 p.m., $15 at the door.

On Friday, First Lutheran Church in Columbia Heights will host a community sing led by Clausen. Culloton has selected five pieces “with good back stories that capture a nice swath of his composition style, all pretty accessible.” Audience members will be seated by voice part. Preregistration has ended, but you can try walking up (or call The Singers’ office at 651-917-1948). 7:30 p.m. Bring $15 to help pay for the music.

Saturday night’s concert at House of Hope Presbyterian in St. Paul is Clausen’s “Kennedy Center Honors” night: a program of music spanning his career, performed by The Singers led by Culloton. The first half will be sacred music, the second half secular, with texts by William Blake, Shakespeare and Walt Whitman. “I joked with Rene that I might have picked things he has forgotten writing,” Culloton said. “He’ll have to sit there and grin and bear it.” Here’s Clausen conducting the Concordia Choir in his own “Prayer,” among the featured selections. 7:30 p.m. Tickets here ($33/$22/$5).

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The list of semifinalists for the 2015 James Beard Awards includes a lot of names known and loved by Twin Cities foodies: Spoon and Stable (semifinalist for Best New Restaurant), La Belle Vie (Outstanding Restaurant), Restaurant Alma (Outstanding Service), Kim Bartmann of Barbette, Bryant-Lake Bowl, Red Stag, etc. (Outstanding Restaurateur), John Kraus of Patisserie 46 and Steve Horton of Rustica (new category: Outstanding Baker), Eric Seed of importer Haus Alpenz in Edina (Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Professional).

We have nine semifinalists in the Best Chef: Midwest category: the Bachelor Farmer’s Paul Berglund, Heyday’s Jim Christianson, Piccolo’s Doug Flicker, Travail’s Mike Brown, Bob Gerken and James Winberg, Salty Tart’s Michelle Gayer, Meritage’s Russell Klein and Heartland’s Lenny Russo. The finalists (the Beard Awards calls them “nominees”) will be announced March 24, the winners on May 4. Make those reservations now.

The MIA and the MOA have announced a new partnership. On Friday, a pop-up Viennese waltz performance at the Mall let shoppers know about “The Habsburgs.” Plans include a strong presence by the Minneapolis Institute at the opening of the new Mall of America Grand Front Entrance, digital art installations, and artist-designed, limited edition T-shirts. We’d like to see those T-shirts, please.

Applications are now closed for the 2015 Minnesota Fringe Festival, which takes place July 30-Aug. 9. This year’s applications set a new record: 477 groups applied for a spot in the festival. (Last year drew 476 applicants, but still.) As always, the lineup will be chosen by random lottery. Come to the Phoenix Theater (the former Brave New Workshop on Hennepin) Monday, Feb. 23 to learn who’s in and who’s not. Doors at 6 p.m., lottery at 7. Free and open to the public.

Want to be an extra in the 2015 Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival trailer? Sure you do. The trailer will play before all 250 films that screen in the Festival and will also be distributed online. The shoot takes place next Wednesday, Feb. 24, at the St. Anthony Main Theatre starting at 8:30 a.m. Plan on two hours. Food and beverages will be provided. Apply here.

The picks

Tonight at Minneapolis Central Library: Talk of the Stacks: Boris Fishman. The Russian-born journalist and author reads from his debut novel, “A Replacement Life,” named one of the New York Times’ 100 Notable Books for 2014. 7 p.m. Free.

Tonight and Friday at St. Peter’s United Church of Christ in Stillwater: 2015 Oscar Nominated Short Films. The animated shorts show at 3:30 and 5:15 p.m. both days, the live action shorts at 7 and 9:30. Thursday is pay-what-you-can, Friday is $8 adults, $3 students (over age 5). To RSVP and save a seat, call 651-439-7374. Presented by Stillwater Film & Theatre. (Closer to the Cities, you can see the animated shorts at the Lagoon through next Monday. FMI.)

Starts tonight at the St. Anthony Main Theatre in Minneapolis: Sixth Minnesota Cuban Film Festival. Six Thursdays from now through March 26. Documentaries, dramas, comedies and the winner of Best Film at the 2014 Havana Film Festival. Films are in Spanish with English subtitles, and most are accompanied by a short feature. Discussions follow the films. FMI. Showtimes, trailers and tickets ($8.50).

The weekend

Friday at the Turf Club in St. Paul: Midway Murals Project Launch Party. A winner in the first round of the Knight Arts Challenge St. Paul, artist Jonathan Oppenheimer will use his $25,000 matching grant to transform immigrant-owned businesses along Snelling Ave. in his Hamline Midway neighborhood. Twin Cities public artists Lori Greene, Eric Mattheis, Greta McLain and Yuya Negishi will work with business owners to create four murals on the theme of starting anew. The launch party kicks off months of community engagement. Silent auction and DJ. Family-friendly. 4-7 p.m. FMI.

Saturday at Studio Z in St. Paul: 2nd Annual Winter Jazz Fest. Six hours of music by six modern jazz ensembles, all with albums out or coming on Shifting Paradigm Records. 3 p.m.: Adam Meckler Orchestra. 4 p.m.: Endeavors. 5 p.m.: Nichols/Bates/Bates. 6 p.m.: Atlantis Quartet. 7 p.m.: Lars Larson’s Mancrush. 8 p.m.: Graydon Peterson Quartet. $15 online or at the door, or spend $40 on albums between now and Saturday and get in free.

Plan ahead

Tuesday, March 10 in the library at the History Center: View the Fitzgerald “Gems” of the Minnesota Historical Society Archives. The MNHS has several original and inscribed pieces that belonged to F. Scott Fitzgerald, his wife, Zelda, and their daughter, Scottie. See them close-up and learn more about Fitzgerald from curator Patrick Coleman. Limited to 15. Reservations required. Email stu@fitzgeraldinsaintpaul.org or call 651-253-3231. Free for members of Fitzgerald in Saint Paul, $10 nonmembers.

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