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Jonathan Cohen is new SPCO artistic partner; 13 plays at Park Square next season

Photo by Marco Borggreve
Jonathan Cohen

If you go to see Jonathan Cohen with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra anytime in the next two weeks – he’ll perform and/or lead a series of neighborhood concerts in St. Paul, Mahtomedi, Apple Valley, Eden Prairie and Arden Hills starting March 12 (and also will appear at Icehouse in Minneapolis) – you won’t just be witnessing an extraordinary artist. You’ll be getting an early introduction to the SPCO’s newest artistic partner.

Don’t confuse this Jonathan Cohen, the British-born conductor, keyboardist and cellist, with the other Jonathan Cohen, the New Orleans-born clarinetist who performs with the SPCO as a guest musician this season. We did, for a minute.

This Jonathan Cohen joins a stellar group of international artistic partners that currently includes Jeremy Denk, Martin Fröst, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Pekka Kuusisto and Thomas Zehetmair. (Fröst has withdrawn from all engagements through 2015-16 because of an inner-ear disorder but hopes to return next season.) Cohen comes to the SPCO with exciting credentials. He’s equally at home in Baroque operas and classical symphonies as a soloist, an ensemble player and at the podium. He’s artistic director and founder of the UK-based Baroque ensemble Arcangelo, associate conductor of the Paris-based early music group Les Arts Florissants and artistic director of England’s Tetbury Festival. The SPCO is the first major American orchestra to engage him as an artistic leader. Cohen’s tenure begins in the 2016-17 season.

It’s expected that the partnership with Cohen will broaden and deepen the SPCO’s expertise in 17th and 18th century music, something SPCO artistic director and principal violinist Kyu-Young Kim looks forward to. “Jonathan Cohen is uniquely gifted and ideally suited to be the SPCO’s go-to collaborator for Baroque and early classical repertoire,” Kim said in a statement. “He is part of a new wave of interpreters who are equally at home on period instruments as well as modern instruments, and his ability to direct from the keyboard is unmatched.”

The neighborhood concerts will be Cohen’s third engagement with the SPCO. He joined the orchestra for a week of performances in September 2014 with countertenor John Holiday, and in 2013 he led the SPCO in acclaimed performances of Handel’s “Messiah” at the Basilica. (You can listen here.) About his appointment, Cohen said, “I’m thrilled … I feel we share a mutual appreciation and commitment to the chamber music aesthetic, which brings a great joy to our music making together.”

At the neighborhood concerts, Cohen will conduct from the harpsichord on Rameau’s Suite from “Les Boréades,” move to the podium for Mozart’s Symphony No. 23 and go from there to the cello for Schubert’s String Quintet. That’s wildly impressive. FMI and tickets. The March 16 concert at Icehouse is already sold out. 

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For its 2016-17 season, announced Monday, Park Square Theatre will celebrate Mu Performing Arts’ 25th anniversary with its first-ever Rodgers & Hammerstein musical; host three resident theaters — Sandbox, Theatre Pro Rata and Girl Friday Productions; bring back Sandy Cisneros’ “The House on Mango Street,” but only briefly; feature Linda Kelsey in a David Hare drama; dust off and shorten Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and present a slew of regional, area and world premieres including a new Nero Wolfe mystery. From September through July 2017, the theater in the Historic Hamm Building will house 13 plays.  

Starting with the street-level Proscenium Stage: Opening the season Sept. 9 is the area premiere of David Ives’ “The Liar,” adapted from Pierre Corneille’s 17th-century farce “Le Menteur” using modern language. Oct. 21 and 22 (two days only): “The House on Mango Street,” the play that opened the Andy Boss stage in 2014 returns in a new adaptation by Amy Ludwig, re-imagined for the proscenium. Dec. 2-24: “The Soul of Gershwin: The Journey of an American Klezmer,” created and written by Joseph Vass, revisits a popular song-filled 2011 Park Square production that traces the roots of George Gershwin’s musical influences. Jan. 20-Feb. 19, 2017: Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Flower Drum Song.” Randy Reyes directs an Asian-American cast and uses David Henry Hwang’s Tony-nominated text. April 3-30: The area premiere of Madeline George’s “The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence,” a time-jumping tribute and 2014 Pulitzer Prize finalist. May 12-June 4: Gary Gisselman directs a cast led by Linda Kelsey in the regional premiere of David Hare’s “Amy’s View.” June 16-July 30: “Might as Well be Dead: A Nero Wolfe Mystery” is a sure-to-please world premiere commission written by Joseph Goodrich, adapted from the novel by Rex Stout.  

On the lower-level Andy Boss Thrust Stage: Starting Sept. 23, Joel Sass directs the area premiere of William Eno’s “The Realistic Joneses,” a comedy about two suburban couples with identical homes and last names. Oct. 28-Nov. 20: Warren C. Bowles directs Lorraine Hansberry’s great American classic “A Raisin in the Sun.” Jan. 12-28, 2017: Sandbox Theatre presents the world premiere of “Big Money,” based on the life of Michael Larson, who cracked the code of a 1980s game show. March 17-April 9: Jef Hall-Flavin’s 90-minute adaptation of “Macbeth” is a world premiere commission.  May 25-June 11: Theatre Pro Rata presents the regional premiere of Bridget Carpenter’s play “Up: The Man in the Flying Chair,” based on the real-life story of a California truck driver who attached 45 weather balloons to his lawn chair and soared 16,000 feet into the sky. June 29-July 23: Girl Friday Productions takes on Robert E. Sherwood’s dramatic comedy “Idiot’s Delight,” winner of the 1936 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, with its signature large-ensemble cast.

Park Square’s’ motto is “theatre for you. (yes you.)” Once again, they mean it. Season tickets are on sale now.

The picks

Tonight (Tuesday, March 8) at the Walker: Brian Roettinger. The L.A.-based, Grammy-nominated graphic designer/artist and Rolling Stone’s 2009 Album Designer of the Year talks about his career and process, his record label, and his work in curating, publishing and editing. Part of the Walker’s Insights 2016 Design Lecture Series, now in its 30th year. 7 p.m. in the Cinema. FMI and tickets ($24/$18).

Wednesday at the American Craft Council: Let’s Talk Books with Coffee House Press and Graywolf Press. Coffee House managing director Caroline Casey and Graywolf associate publisher Katie Dublinski share the joys and, we hope, a few juicy stories about the craft of publishing in Minnesota. Doors at 6:30 p.m., conversation at 7. In the library on the second floor of the Grain Belt Brewhouse in Nordeast. A social hour follows. Free. P.S. This year’s ACC St. Paul show takes place April 8-10 at RiverCentre.

Tuba Skinny

Wednesday at the Parkway: Tuba Skinny. Formed in 2009 in New Orleans, now with six albums under their belts, the 9-member band Tuba Skinny draws from a gumbo of musical influences – spirituals, Depression-era blues, ragtime, trad jazz – and are known and loved for their live performances. Twin Cities-based accordionist and bandleader Patrick Harison (Patty and the Buttons) considers them “some of the finest interpreters of early jazz and blues in the world today!” OK, so Harison is helping to promote the concert, but he’s not someone who says that kind of thing lightly. There will be room to dance. Doors at 7 p.m., show at 8. Tickets here or at the door ($12).

Friday at Orchestra Hall: Inside the Classics: “And Bach Begat …” Along with siring 20 children and changing music forever, Johann Sebastian Bach inspired countless composers who came after, including Beethoven, Mozart, Britten, Bartók and Arvo Pärt, to name a few. This casual concert has two parts. In the first half, conductor Sarah Hicks and Minnesota Orchestra violist Sam Bergman talk about Bach and the music of his successors, with excerpts performed by the orchestra. The second half features complete performances of Bach’s “Brandenburg” Concerto No. 1 and Beethoven’s “Grosse Fugue.” 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($29 adults/$12 children 6 and up).

Photo by Josh Kohanek
Sam Bergman and Sarah Hicks

Monday (March 14) at the Amsterdam: Policy and a Pint: Where’s the Party? Because we’d love to hear two insiders explain what the heck is happening with America’s main political parties in this crazy election season. Todd Rapp represents the DFL, Chas Anderson the GOP; MPR’s Steve Seel hosts. Doors at 5:30 p.m., program at 6. FMI and tickets ($10/$5 students with student ID).

Hot tix

As part of a 27-stop North American tour that launches in April, “Making a Murderer” defense attorneys Dean Strang and Jerry Buting will touch down at Northrop on June 2 for “A Conversation on Justice” about the Steve Avery case, its broader implications and our criminal justice system in general. There will be a Q&A. FMI and tickets ($39.50-$95).

Critics are falling all over each other to praise Bonnie Raitt’s new album, “Dig in Deep,” but there’s nothing like a live performance, so we’re happy to hear that Raitt has joined the State Fair concert line-up. In fact, she’ll be the Fair’s grand finale, closing down the Grandstand on Labor Day night. Tickets ($46/$36) go on sale at 10 a.m. Friday, March 25. FMI

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Jim Million on 03/08/2016 - 09:33 am.

    Jonathan Cohen

    “Cohen will broaden and deepen the SPCO’s expertise in 17th and 18th century music…”

    Yay! Rah-Rah! SPCO!!

  2. Submitted by Joel Fischer on 03/08/2016 - 11:10 am.

    Having had the pleasure to sing under his direction…

    I applaud the SPCO on making Jonathan Cohen an artistic partner.

    Rah-Rah, indeed!

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