Jon Limbacher wasn’t around when the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra announced the inaugural Liquid Music season in 2012. But he has been to every program since becoming the SPCO’s president and managing director in January of this year. “If we didn’t already have Liquid Music, we would be creating Liquid Music,” he said in conversation Sunday. “It’s central to what we want to do going forward. It expands the idea of chamber music. It’s allowing us to reach a larger audience and do many things we want to do. I’m thrilled that we have it.”
So are a lot of people. Curated by Kate Nordstrum, Liquid Music isn’t a concert series in the usual sense. It’s not about artists touring with their latest albums or greatest hits. It’s about making new work, collaborating, exploring, risk-taking and surprise. For audiences – and sometimes for Nordstrum and the artists – it’s the concert equivalent of bungee-jumping.
Today the SPCO announced Liquid Music’s fifth season. To Nordstrum, this feels like a milestone. “For the first few years, we were figuring out how [Liquid Music] would work and if it made sense,” she said. “We’re past that, but we’re still refining it. It’s never going to be prebaked. That’s impossible by its very nature. But we know it’s working well, what it’s all about and how it fits at the SPCO.”
Starting Sept. 30, the eight concerts of 2016-17 (Nordstrum calls them “projects”) include many new works; world, national and regional premieres; new collaborations among artists; new presenting partners and new venues. No two events will be remotely alike. Several will feature SPCO musicians and one will involve Pekka Kuusisto, the Finnish violinist and new SPCO artistic partner known for his utter disregard for musical borders.
We asked Nordstrum to take us through the season and share some of her thoughts.
Sept. 30 at the Walker’s McGuire Theater, co-presented with the Walker: Colin Stetson: “Sorrow.” The Montreal-based saxophonist reimagines Henryk Górecki’s iconic Symphony No. 3, one of the saddest classical works ever written. “This is not a premiere, and he’s made a recording,” Nordstrum says. “In that sense, it’s a rarity on the season, but too perfect for Liquid Music to pass up.” Bring Kleenex.
Nov. 18 at the Fitzgerald, co-presented with the Current: Poliça & s t a r g a z e: “Music for the Long Emergency.” A world premiere, and the culmination of Liquid Music’s first virtual residency: a yearlong, transatlantic pairing of the Minneapolis-based synth-pop band with the Berlin-based renegade classical ensemble. Nordstrum heard some of the music for the first time during a public work-in-progress talk at the Fitz last month. “It’s coming together beautifully. Ryan Olson [of Poliça] is layering stuff on top of music being sent by s t a r g a z e, building this incredible collaborative piece.”
Dec. 8 at the Ordway Concert Hall, co-presented with the Walker: David Lang: “darker.” Nordstrum is “humbled and thrilled” to be working with the Pulitzer Prize-winning, Grammy-winning, Oscar-nominated composer. His concert piece “darker” is scored for 12 strings, so this will feature SPCO musicians and also a “liquid light show” by visual artist Suzanne Bocanegra. “The string players need to be incredibly strong, and he’s excited about working with the SPCO.”
Feb. 15, 2017 at the Amsterdam: Ambrose Akinmusire. One of today’s hottest, smartest, most daring and acclaimed young jazz trumpeters has been co-commissioned by Liquid Music and New York’s Ecstatic Music Festival to create a new chamber work, with a collaborator not yet named. All we know at the moment is this will be “a jazz-tinged project, likely with a spoken word/rap component.” And a world premiere.
March 11 at the Ted Mann: Sarah Kirkland Snider: “Unremembered.” The U.S. premiere of Snider’s song cycle inspired by Nathaniel Bellows’ wistful, melancholy poems. With vocalists Shara Nova (My Brightest Diamond), Padma Newsome (Clogs), DM Stith (Asthmatic Kitty) and musicians of the SPCO. “I love Sarah! I’m a huge fan of her writing. There ‘s an electronic component to this project, and a visual component.”
April 5 at Aria, co-presented with the Walker and Schubert Club Mix: Roomful of Teeth with Special Guest Nick Zammuto. For their first Twin Cities appearance, the terrifically exciting Grammy-winning vocal octet will perform group member Caroline Shaw’s Pulitzer-winning “Partita for 8 Voices.” To make things even more interesting, Liquid Music, the Walker and the Schubert Club have co-commissioned a new work by Zammuto, a former member of the experimental duo The Books. We’ll hear the world premiere. “This will be a huge hit. It’s amazing [Roomful of Teeth] has not been here before, given our vocal and choral community.”
May 9 in the Turnblad Mansion at the American Swedish Institute, co-presented with the American Swedish Institute: “Where Words End”: Bedroom Community and Friends. In May, the SPCO will present a three-week Nordic music festival, led by Pekka Kuusisto, on themes of immigration and cultural identity. Liquid Music’s contribution will be a concert on the grounds of the Turnblad Mansion with artists from the Icelandic collective/record label Bedroom Community (Daniel Bjarnason, Sam Amidon and Valgeir Sigurdsson), vocalist Mariam Wallentin and Kuusisto. The program is still in the works, but “we have a page-long list of songs that would make sense for these artists. Now it’s more of a whittling thing – carving a beautiful arc of music.”
May 18-20 at the Walker’s McGuire Theater, co-presented with the Walker and the Current: Tunde Adebimpe: “A Warm Weather Ghost.” The world premiere of a new project by the lead singer of TV on the Radio. This one is a year away, and so far Nordstrum and Adebimpe are talking a blend of narrative, stories, artwork, and songs. “We’ll be pulling together all of these different sides of his artistic world. It’s definitely a heart-soaring situation for me.”
And one more thing: Liquid Music has named flutist and composer Nathalie Joachim its artist in virtual residence for 2016-17. She’ll be exploring Haitian song and the role of women in Haitian music culture for a project we’ll see in 2017 called “Fanm d’Haiti.”
Like every Liquid Music season, this one has what Nordstrum calls “a lot of content.” Loose translation: an almost unimaginable quantity of ideas, people, possibilities, and moving parts, converging for single events everyone trusts will turn out well. “On one side, the learning curve is steep,” Nordstrum said. “On the other, it’s so simple. This series exists to explore new music ideas all year long. You can just get on board with that and go with it.”
Many people do. Most Liquid Music concerts sell out. Subscription packages ($160 for all eight concerts) and tickets to individual events ($20-$30, depending on the event) are on sale now.