Composers Forum throws a party; Judy Blume heads Pen Pals lineup

Courtesy of the American Composers Forum
Composer Aaron Jay Kernis helps a young composer.

Most of us can name a few famous authors, film directors, celebrity chefs or fashion designers. But living composers of new contemporary classical music? Who cares about them?

For 40 years, the American Composers Forum has. Next Thursday it’s holding a party in the Landmark Center Cortile, the soaring open space on the first floor, to celebrate its own anniversary and the composers it serves. There will be live music, drinks and snacks, and a program emceed by public radio host (and composer) Bill McGlaughlin. Concurrently, at least 33 communities across the United States will host their own National Composer Night Out events (like National Night Out, but with music and without fire engines).

Founded in 1975 by University of Minnesota music students Libby Larsen and Stephen Paulus as the Minnesota Composers Forum, later renamed the American Composers Forum, ACF was originally about creating a community and an audience for composers, whose work is by nature solitary. Larsen and Paulus knew that to grow artistically, they needed to hear each other’s music, and they needed other people to hear it. They started putting on concerts.

Today ACF has 1,700 members – composers, performers and educators – in all 50 states and 15 countries. In 2014, it awarded nearly $400,000 in grants to composers and performers of new music. It reached thousands of children through its BandQuest and ChoralQuest programs. Its Faith Partners program put composers in churches and synagogues. Its record label, Innova, one of the nation’s fastest-growing new music labels, released dozens of recordings and continued helping composers adapt to the rapidly changing digital environmental. (Innova’s motto: “Be everywhere.”)

Meanwhile, it launched a concert series, helped create a radio drama, made sure that dance companies had live music to dance to, held composing contests, co-hosted the Composer Conversation Series with the SPCO and MPR and co-sponsored the SPCO’s Liquid Music series. Millions of people were touched by its work: as listening audiences to live music, recordings or public radio programs; as students, composers or performers.

“We do so many things,” ACF president and CEO John Nuechterlein told MinnPost, perhaps the understatement of the week. “The organization is hard to grasp. We don’t sell tickets. We work behind the scenes.”

For starters, here’s what he would like people to know about ACF: “We’re one of the most diverse and innovative organizations in the country, a national organization that creates opportunities for composers to connect with audiences in communities. We’re the link between composers and opportunities that support them. We also help communities think differently and more vividly about what a composer does, who a composer is, and how a composer can serve the culture.”

ACF has “never been all that public,” Nuechterlein said. Next week’s party is a move toward changing that. He hopes that by stepping into the spotlight, ACF will attract more supporters for its work and draw more attention to composers. 

“We believe that our culture needs new voices, that the work of living composers keeps our culture fresh and alive,” Nuechterlein said. And what about the C-word, for classical? “There’s a huge debate about the relevance of classical music today. I like to stand up for the word classical. I think it’s a good word. It doesn’t have to just mean things that are 200 years old. … We have institutions that perform classical music, and lots of it. What we’re trying to do is keep that repertoire fresh and alive.”

The American Composers Forum 40th Anniversary Celebration takes place at the Landmark Center on Thursday, May 14. Doors at 6:30 p.m., program at 7:45 (emceed by Bill McGlaughlin), 8:15 celebration continues. With performances by Orange Mighty Trio, University of Minnesota Brass Quintet, Minnesota Boychoir, VocalEssence and Jelloslave. Free, but registration is strongly encouraged (and the right thing to do). Register here no later than Monday morning, May 11. 


Friends of the Hennepin County Library has announced the 19th season of Pen Pals, the longest-running literary series in the Twin Cities.

Sept. 24-25: Bestselling YA author Judy Blume, a champion of intellectual freedom for young people whose books (including “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret,” “Blubber,” and “Then Again, Maybe I Won’t”) have often been banned, in conversation with rock-star librarian and author Nancy Pearl (“Book Lust”). Oct. 29-30: Two-time Minnesota Book Award winner, National Book Critics Circle finalist, and National Book Award nominee and Macalester professor Marlon James. March 10-11, 2016: Pulitzer Prize winning presidential biographer and journalist Jon Meacham (“American Lion: Andrew Activist in the White House”; “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power”). April 21-22: Activist, award-winning author and “citizen writer” Terry Tempest Williams (“Leap,” “Refuge,” “Red”). May 5-6: Anthony Doerr, winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for “All the Light We Cannot See.”

Subscriptions (starting at $160) go on sale next Monday, May 11. Order by phone at 612-543-8122 or download a mail-order form. Individual tickets ($40/$50) go on sale Aug. 10.

Picks for the weekend and a bit beyond

Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society
A Hmong story cloth

Now at the James J. Hill House: “Paj Ntaub: Hmong Textiles from the Permanent Collection.” Sixty colorful, elaborately detailed works of Hmong textile art created by Hmong women who settled in St. Paul include story cloths, wall hangings, coin purses and clothing. Free with Hill House tour ($9-$6, free for members), $2 gallery-only admission. Through Nov. 29.

Opens today (Friday, May 8) at the St. Anthony Main Theatre: “The Dinkytown Uprising.” In 1970, the Vietnam War was escalating, people were protesting, and a different kind of demonstration took place in Dinkytown: a continuous 40-day, 40-night occupation to preserve the beloved neighborhood and prevent the construction of a Red Barn hamburger joint. Set to music by Bob Dylan and Willie Murphy, Al Milgrom’s documentary captures the mood of the 1970s. Screenings start at 1:20 p.m. FMI and tickets ($6/$8.50). Ends May 14.

Tonight at the Lab Theater: Opening night for Tennessee Williams’ “One Arm.” Ollie, a young farm boy, joins the Navy and becomes a boxing champion. When he loses his arm in a car accident, he turns to hustling to survive. Moisés Kaufman’s adaptation of an unproduced screenplay by Williams, a hit at last year’s Fringe, is the inaugural production of New Epic Theater. Joseph Stodola directs. Witih Torsten Johnson and H. Adam Harris. 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($25). Ends May 17. Strong language and adult content.

Saturday at the Walker: Victoire / Noveller / Glasser. The third season was the charm for the SPCO’s inventive, unpredictable, boundaries-averse Liquid Music series. Every concert in 2014-15 sold out, probably including this one (on Thursday, only standing-room tickets remained). Victoire is a five-member, all-women classical chamber ensemble founded by pianist and composer Missy Mazzoli, whose latest album, “Vespers for a New Dark Age,” lives somewhere between technology and humanity. Noveller (Sarah Lipstate) is a composer/electric guitarist whose looped, layered, plucked and bowed guitar is part dream, part storm. Glasser (Cameron Mesirow) is a synthpop singer. They’ll each perform a solo set, then meet up for a collaborative finale. FMI and tickets ($22/$18). Call to ask about turnbacks (612-375-7600).

Photo by Jonathan Turner

Saturday at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds: St. Paul Craftstravaganza. The 10th annual one-day market for handmade goods of all kinds. In the Eco Experience Building. 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Free admission. Free workshops and activities throughout the day.

Saturday at 5101 44th Ave. S. in Minneapolis: 2015 Twin Cities Bungalow Club Home Tour. This is a small tour, only five homes, all vintage, all owner-occupied, none with a thousand gables or a five-car garage or a basketball court. Just oak woodwork, fireplaces, vintage light fixtures and lots of charm. Pick up a tour map at the starting point and go from there. 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. FMI. Bungalow Club members free, everyone else $5.

Monday at the Loft: Asian Americans: How We Talk (and Dance and Sing) About Ourselves. Writer David Mura leads a conversation on the arts and race with three nationally prominent Asian American artists: poet and spoken word artist Bao Phi, community organizer Linda Her, and dancer/choreographer Ananya Chaterjea. 7 p.m. FMI. Free.

Monday at Icehouse: Tim Berne’s Snakeoil. This show is a huge deal for jazz fans. Alto saxophonist and composer Berne is touring nationally with his band and their latest ECM release, “You’ve Been Watching Me,” a big, loud, intricately rhythmic, lyrical, swinging ride. If this doesn’t fill the house, we should all stop complaining that there isn’t enough jazz in the Twin Cities (actually, there’s a lot, but that’s another story). With Oscar Noriega, Matt Mitchell and Ches Smith. 9:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($20). 

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