Six picks for SPCO’s 2015-16 season; MN Orchestra names Roderick Cox assistant conductor

Photo by Mats Bäcker
Acclaimed Swedish clarinetist and SPCO artistic partner Martin Fröst will premiere his “Genesis” project in November.

Talk about a rebound. With a brand-new, $42-million concert hall designed and built especially for them, three brilliant new artistic partners and the announcement this week of a jam-packed and intriguing 2015-16 season, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra is looking (and sounding) very good. All this, less than two years since the end of a 191-day lockout that cut musicians’ salaries and the SPCO’s size.

Two years is a short time in the world of classical music, musicians’ contracts and guest artists’ travel schedules. But when the SPCO comes on stage at the Ordway Concert Hall and starts to play, it feels like ages ago. It feels like a new era, the start of something big. And because this is the SPCO, you have several ways to get in on it and several places to go.

You can take the traditional route, with a season package, and pick your concerts all at once and know where your seats will be. You can buy a ridiculously inexpensive $5 monthly membership and attend as many concerts as you like. (This remains the most head-scratchingly amazing bargain around.) You can see the SPCO in the new Concert Hall and 11 other venues throughout the Twin Cities, from Apple Valley to Arden Hills, Stillwater to Wayzata. Even with its splendid new home in St. Paul, the SPCO remains committed to performing in the suburbs and city neighborhoods.

In 2015-16, the SPCO will give 107 performances of 35 different concert programs — including world premieres, contemporary music and core pieces from the classical repertoire. Several artists will make their debuts (including flutist and MacArthur Fellow Claire Chase) and many favorites will return (violinist Pekka Kuusisto, conductor Scott Yoo and pianist Jonathan Biss among others). You can peruse the whole season online and start making plans. Meanwhile, here are our top six picks for the new season – a too-short list for sure, but all so enticing.

The season opens Thursday, Sept. 10, with a free performance at Mears Park of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” with SPCO artistic partner (and MacArthur fellow) Jeremy Denk on piano. The concert moves to the Ordway Concert Hall on Saturday and Sunday, where you’ll need a ticket, but anyone can come on Thursday.

On Nov. 11-12, acclaimed Swedish clarinetist and SPCO artistic partner Martin Fröst will premiere his “Genesis” project, with works by Hildegard von Bingen, Telemann, Schumann, Brahms, Bartók and Piazzolla, along with transcriptions and original compositions by three Swedish composers including his brother, Göran. Fröst will be soloist, conductor, host and jester, leading the audience through an exploration of the secular and sacred roots of classical music. (Also in November, Fröst will tour Asia with the SPCO, performing in Taipei, Singapore and Jakarta.)

Three concerts in Nov. 27-29 signal the start of a five-year project with pianist Jonathan Biss. Five composers have been commissioned by the SPCO and a group of other orchestras to write new piano concertos for Biss inspired by Beethoven’s five piano concertos. For the kickoff program, Biss and the SPCO will perform a new work by Timo Andres, whose inspiration was Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2, then follow up with the original Beethoven. We can’t wait to hear this. Biss, who has collaborated with the SPCO for almost a decade, came up with the idea for what’s now being called “Beethoven/5,” and the SPCO leaped at the chance to do it. It should be fabulous to watch it unfold.

On April 15-16, the SPCO will be joined by quartet-lab – a group of soloists including Moldavan violinist and SPCO artistic partner Patricia Kopatchinskaya, Dutch violinist Isabelle van Keulen, Finnish violist Lilli Maijala and Dutch cellist Pieter Wispelwey – for a program of music by Biber, Crumb, Beethoven (arranged by quartet-lab) and Enescu. The Guardian described quartet-lab as creating “a framework within which anything was possible, permissible, and comprehensible.” Sounds thrilling.

On April 22-24, SPCO violinists Ruggero Allifranchini and Kyu-Young Kim will lead and solo in Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” nicely paired with Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.” These are just a few of many programs to be led by SPCO musicians as the orchestra continues its transformation to a primarily unconducted ensemble.

For his final month as SPCO artistic partner, pianist and conductor Christian Zacharias will lead and play eight concerts between April 29 and May 14. We’re leaning toward his closing performances on May 13 and 14 in the Concert Hall, when he’ll play Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 – the only Chopin of the SPCO’s new season.

We could easily list dozens more … like Claire Chase’s one-night-only concert on Halloween, featuring Sciarrino’s “Cutting the Circle of Sounds” for 104 flutists: four soloists positioned around the audience, 100 more flutists moving among them. (We wondered about that 104 and asked the SPCO to confirm. It’s true. There will be 104 real live human flutists in the Concert Hall.) Then there’s Scott Yoo’s Bela Bartók program, “Notable Encounter,” with commentary and musical examples. Mozart’s “Jupiter” symphony and Copland’s “Appalachian Spring.” The beloved “Brandenburgs” for the holidays. Denk playing Bach. (We’re waiting patiently for his “Goldbergs.” Next season, maybe?) And the fiery season closer with Kopatchinskaja and flamenco dancer Fuensanta Fresneda Galera, called “La Moneta.”

Season tickets and concert memberships are available now. Single tickets go on sale in August.

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Courtesy of the Minnesota Orchestra
Roderick Cox

The Minnesota Orchestra has named a new assistant conductor. Born in Macon, Georgia, 27-year-old Roderick Cox is a conducting fellow at the Chicago Sinfonietta and recently completed a two-year tenure as assistant conductor of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra.

You can see him at work this week at Orchestra Hall, leading the Minnesota Orchestra and the Grammy-winning Okee Dokee Brothers. This summer, find him at the Lake Harriet Bandshell, the Hilde Performance Center in Plymouth, and other outdoor venues conducting Sommerfest’s free Symphony for the Cities concerts.

Cox assumes the position formerly held by Courtney Lewis, who joined the orchestra in 2009 as assistant conductor, moved to associate conductor, and departed last summer to become music director of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra.

The picks

Tonight at Republic 7 Corners: Must Talk TV: “Game of Thrones.” Before streaming and binge-watching, everyone watched the same episode of the same TV show at the same time, then talked about it the next day. Now that technology has robbed us of this pleasure, Jeff Kamin of Books & Bars has restored it to us with this series of live, interactive audience discussions. Be ready to discuss seasons 1-4 and the premiere of season 5. Social time 6 p.m., discussion 7-8:30 p.m. FMI. Free, but register here.

Tonight at Westminster Presbyterian Church: Carl Bernstein. The Westminster Town Hall Forum presents the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who, along with Bob Woodward, broke the Watergate story for the Washington Post. That was a long time ago, so host Gary Eichten will probably ask him about his more recent writings on the inner workings of government, politics, the economy and the current media landscape. 1200 Marquette Ave., Minneapolis. 7 p.m. Free.

Tonight at the Dakota: Bettye Lavette. She had a Top 10 R&B hit at 16, then largely faded from view for 40 years. Her 2003 comeback CD, “A Woman Like Me,” earned a W.C. Handy Award. She’s been on a fast train ever since. A great favorite at the Dakota – she credits owner Lowell Pickett with kickstarting her career – she’s here with her latest, “Worthy.” A soul singer of passion and conviction, she sings with her whole heart and body, as if she has nothing to lose. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($45).

Now at the Walker: “International Pop.” Many of us are familiar with New York Pop Art and London Pop Art (think Andy Warhol and Richard Hamilton). Organized by the Walker, which produced the catalog, this show takes the global view, chronicling the emergence of Pop Art around the world from the 1950s through the early 1970s in 140 works from four countries and a dedicated film/video program. Through Aug. 29.

© Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington
Roy Lichtenstein, “Look Mickey,” 1961. Oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Dorothy and Roy Lichtenstein, Gift of the Artist, in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art.

Now at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts: “100+: A Photograph for Every Year at MIA.” It must have been a formidable task to choose 100 images – one for each year from 1915 on – from the MIA’s collection of 12,000 by more than 800 artists. Curator David Little was up to the challenge and has created the kind of show 100-year anniversaries are made for. Look for works by Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Richard Avedon, Diane Arbus and Alec Soth. Share your favorite photos from any year of your life (post to Twitter or Instagram using #tbtMIA, or to the MIA’s Facebook page), then watch for them to pop up on a rotating screen at the gallery entrance. Through Oct. 11. Free.

Plan ahead

Tickets are on sale now to Skylark Opera’s 2015 festival (June 12-21). This year’s fest features two Twin Cities premieres. Stephen Sondheim’s “Putting It Together,” titled after a song in his “Sunday in the Park With George,” is a musical review that includes songs from many of Sondheim’s musicals, which is always a good thing. Puccini’s “La Rondine” (The Swallow) is a love story with a fascinating heroine and gorgeous music. It has been presented at the Metropolitan Opera several times but never here. Skylark was founded in 1980 as Opera St. Paul, renamed North Star Opera in 1986 and Skylark in 2006. Its family-friendly productions include opera, operetta and musical theater. Performances are at Concordia’s E.M. Pearson Theatre. “Putting It Together” and “La Rondine” will run in repertory from Friday, June 12, through Sunday, June 21. FMI and tickets ($45; season tickets available).

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