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Rosy reports from SPCO and Guthrie Theater

MinnPost photo by John Whiting
Left to right: Bruce Coppock; his wife, Lucia May; Eric Nilsson; and Dobson West

After last week’s reports from the Minnesota Orchestra and Walker Art Center, there’s more good news from prominent Twin Cities arts organizations.

At its annual meeting late Tuesday afternoon, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra announced its 20th balanced budget in 22 years, an operating surplus, an all-time high in net ticket revenue and growth in both net assets and giving.

The rosy financials are framed by the March opening of the award-winning Ordway Concert Hall, purpose-built for the SPCO, and the surprising (to some of us, at least) October announcement that President and Managing Director Bruce Coppock would retire in January. Leadership going forward will be shared by Jon Limbacher, who already knows the SPCO well (he was vice president and chief operating officer from 2000-2012), and Kyu-Young Kim, the SPCO’s first artistic director and the first orchestra member ever appointed artistic director of a major American orchestra.

The SPCO reported a surplus of $17,155 on a budget of $10,338,460. Earned income contributed 21 percent to the budget, the endowment 17 percent (sticking to the SPCO’s policy of taking no more than a 5 percent draw) and support 61 percent.

The SPCO’s audience, which has grown by more than 40 percent over the last 10 years, continued to expand, along with its community programming. Four new musicians were hired, bringing the orchestra’s ranks nearer its contractual full complement of 28 musicians. Four brilliant and acclaimed new artistic partners signed on as the orchestra continued its transformation to a primarily unconducted ensemble led by its own musicians. The appointments of American pianist and MacArthur fellow Jeremy Denk, Swedish clarinetist Martin Fröst, Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto and fiery Moldavan violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja have added crackling energy to the mix.

The musicians love their new concert hall, designed by HGA architect (and now CEO) Tim Carl. So do the audiences. All of the orchestra’s performances there, starting with opening weekend, have sold out. (If you buy a ticket to a concert and can’t go for whatever reason, turn it back so they can sell it again, which they will.) Ticket prices remain stunningly low. You can still become a member for $5 a month and attend as many concerts as you want.

MinnPost photo by John Whiting
Bruce Coppock gets a group hug from SPCO musicians

During the two-hour meeting – which included remarks by Governing Members Chair Eric Nilsson, Board Chair Dobson West, outgoing President and Managing Director Bruce Coppock, ArtsJournal Editor Douglas McLennan and Kim – no one said or even breathed the word “lockout,” despite the fact that the SPCO’s 191-day labor dispute ended not that long ago (April 30, 2013).

The past wasn’t off the table – there was mention of the “rocky road of the past few years” – but the focus was on an earlier time, when the SPCO was developing its strategic plan (“a plan that still stands, with very minor revisions, as the North Star for the SPCO,” Coppock said), and on the future. Giving us a glimpse into his thinking, and his dreams, Kim drew a verbal picture of how he hoped the SPCO would look 10 years from now, and the types of programs they might play.

Many sincere thanks and words of praise were directed at Coppock, whose last official day is Dec. 23. During a reception in the Ordway’s Marzitelli foyer, he was given something he’s sure to use: a lifetime pass to all SPCO concerts.

***

On Monday at its annual meeting, the Guthrie Theater announced an operating surplus on its FY 2014-15 budget, an uptick in attendance, an increase in revenue from performances, and a big jump in donations, all in a year when longtime leader Joe Dowling stepped down and Joseph Haj stepped in as artistic director.

The $24,171 surplus was achieved on a budget of $29 million (up $3.2 million from 2013-14). Attendance grew by 6 percent as 378,538 people came to shows on Big Blue’s three stages, boosting performance revenue by 11 percent. (24 percent of tickets were provided free or at reduced cost to students, teachers and other community members.) Support for Dowling’s final season and a tribute gala in his honor nudged contributions up 23 percent over the previous year.

Haj said in a statement, “The fact that we are [financially] sound is a credit to Joe, to our Board, to our staff, to nearly 20,000 season ticket holders, and to the thousands of donors who continue to demonstrate their generosity and support for the Guthrie.”

The Guthrie is hopping at the moment, with its annual juggernaut “A Christmas Carol” on the Wurtele thrust stage, “The Cocoanuts” on the McGuire proscenium stage and a new musical, “The Great Work,” about to open in the Dowling Studio.

The picks

Jennifer Willoughby

Thursday at Mia: Celebration of 2015 Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry. Law firms aren’t known for funding poetry, so let’s hear it for our own Lindquist & Vennum, who took the road less traveled. Working in tandem with Milkweed Editions, the Minneapolis firm established the annual Lindquist & Vennum Poetry Prize, which includes a $10,000 cash award and publication of a book by Milkweed. It’s one of the nation’s largest, most significant poetry prizes, and it’s only for poets living in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin. Which is not to say the poems must be regional. They just have to be good. This year’s winner is Minneapolis-based poet Jennifer Willoughby, who will read from, talk about and sign her new book, “Beautiful Zero,” at Mia. Poet Dana Levin, who served as judge for the 2015 prize and will also be there, calls it “a very alive first collection” with a “sense of affection and straight talk.” Minnesota poet Jim Moore says, “These poems get under your skin and stay there.” We found the book a lot like walking into a room filled with paintings that pulse with color. In the Pillsbury Auditorium. 7 p.m. Free. A reception follows.

Photo by David Katzenstein
A scene from the development of “The Abraham Play” 

Thursday at Bedlam Lowertown: Opening night for “The Abraham Play.” Take the Abraham narrative in the book of Genesis, study it, come up with questions, interview hundreds of people to get their personal stories and responses to it, then write and perform a play about what you’ve learned. This has been actor and playwright Jon Adam Ross’ project for the past year: conversations, teach-ins, arts workshops and study with members of the Twin Cities Jewish community, followed by a play with modern interpretations and a local bent.  Box office receipts benefit local Jewish arts organizations. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($12). Through Dec. 20. “The Abraham Play” starts and ends at the Bedlam, with three performances in between (Dec. 14, 15 and 16) at Architectural Antiques in Minneapolis.

Holiday fare

Now at Norway House: “Gingerbread Wonderland: Pepperkake Twin Cities.” The Foshay Tower, the Stone Arch Bridge, the Minnesota State Capitol and more Twin Cities landmarks and houses, in gingerbread (pepperkake). Created by professional bakers and gingerbread fans in the time-honored Norwegian holiday tradition. Gallery hours Tuesdays – Saturdays 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., Sundays 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., closed Mondays. Admission $6 adults, $5 students and seniors, 12 and under free. Ends Jan. 15.

Thursday through Sunday at Union Depot: North Pole Express. Board at the Depot for a one-mile ride in refurbished vintage train cars pulled by a working steam locomotive. Stop at the North Pole (the east end of Union Depot property), pick up Santa, then ride back again as the jolly old elf walks through the train, greeting the children and handing out goodies. Disembark and head inside the Depot for cocoa, treats and kids’ activities. FMI and tickets (adults $21.95, children $17.95, 3 and under free).

Three totally different Nutcrackers:

Tonight at Interact Center: “Edgar Allan Poe’s Nutcracker (the un-ballet).” Poe’s characters meet Tchaikovsky’s music in a high-energy show featuring nearly 50 performing artists with and without disabilities. Created by the company, directed by Scotty Reynolds and Taous Claire Khazem, accompanied by banjo, accordion, fiddle and more. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($20). Note: Tonight’s performance is ASL. Ends Dec. 19.

Thursday at a movie palace near you: “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker.” It’s been called “the Nutcracker of all Nutcrackers.” The New York City Ballet performs Balanchine’s classic at Lincoln Center with all 90 company dancers, more than 60 young student dancers and the 62-piece New York City Ballet Orchestra. Go here, click “Buy Tickets” and enter your ZIP. 7 p.m. $18.

Courtesy of James Sewell Ballet
 “Nutcracker (not so) Suite.”

Saturday at the Cowles: “Nutcracker (not so) Suite.” There was a time when Myron Johnson’s irreverent retro romp – created in 1993 for his dance company, Ballet of the Dolls – was must-see holiday entertainment for the cool crowd. Happy days are here again. Johnson worked with the James Sewell Ballet (Johnson was Sewell’s dance teacher) to bring it to the Cowles stage in an even more twisted version, with new sets, new choreography and new music. FMI and tickets ($25-$45). Ends Dec. 20. 

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Comments (1)

A Season of Thanks

While celebrating the recovery success of local arts organizations, please let us also remember and celebrate those who created the artistry, especially those no longer doing so.

I particularly think of SPCO and its legacy musicians, those who brought the orchestra to excellence, particularly those I no longer see behind their stands.

May they all be remembered in our minds and ears, and thanked, as well.