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SPCO hires 2 musicians; Cantus announces season

ALSO: 10th Annual Twin Cities Improv Festival at HUGE Theater; “How Love Won” at St. Anthony Main; “Remembering Persia” at the U; and more.

Maureen Nelson
Photo by Jãrgen Frank

The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra has two new permanent members. Violinist Maureen Nelson and violist Sifei Cheng will join the SPCO for its 2016-17 season, which begins Sept. 9 with the return of violinist and artistic partner Patricia Kopatchinskaja.

Both Nelson and Cheng have already played with the orchestra several times, part of an exacting process that ensures the small orchestra adds precisely the right musicians. Artistic Director and Principal Violin Kyu-Young Kim explained the process in a statement: “Besides playing terrific auditions to win the unanimous votes of their respective audition committees,” Nelson and Cheng “played numerous trial weeks spanning a broad range of SPCO repertoire, and we knew the musical chemistry was just right and that their personal qualities would add greatly to the ensemble.”

Further behind the scenes, the SPCO’s job descriptions include language Kim describes as “quite radical for an orchestra.” Candidates should be “collaborative in how they approach their work,” “invested in the evolution of the ensemble” and willing to “actively participate in our efforts to engage the community in the most meaningful ways.”

Pennsylvania native Nelson first came to the orchestra’s attention in 2008-09 during a residency with the SPCO as part of the Grammy-winning Enso String Quartet, a group she helped found at Yale in 1999 and has since led to top prizes at several major competitions. She returned last fall as a guest musician for the 2015-16 season. “I’ve loved and admired the SPCO since I was a kid,” she said, “so I’m beyond thrilled to be part of this incredible group.”

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Cheng has performed as a substitute musician with the SPCO for many years. Born in Taiwan, raised in California, he has been a member of the Minnesota Orchestra since 1995. “The opportunity to now work with more great artists across the river is a chance I can’t pass up,” he said. “Being in a chamber setting will allow me to tackle new repertoire and build upon my chamber music background.”

Courtesy of the SPCO
Sifei Cheng

Adding Nelson and Cheng brings the total number of SPCO musicians to 23. The 191-day lockout of 2012-13 cut the orchestra down to 17; the agreement ratified in April 2013 trimmed its contractual size from 34 to 28. Since then, cellist Julie Albers, bassist Zachary Cohen, violist Hyobi Sim and oboist Barbara Bishop have all joined, and now Nelson and Cheng.

“As we hire the next generation of players for the SPCO, we have been very intentional and specific,” Kim said. That’s for sure, and it seems to be working. We saw some terrific performances in 2015-16, and we’ve heard a lot of talk about how great the SPCO is sounding and how exciting their performances are. 

CORRECTION: Make that 22 SPCO musicians, not 23. Violinist Sunmi Chang, who has been on a leave of absence this season, will not return in the fall. 

Cantus announces 2016-17 season

Fresh off its successful 2015-16 season closer, the annual Pops concert that this year featured the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” album, the men’s vocal ensemble Cantus has let us know what to expect for 2016-17.

While the Pops shows are always enjoyable, Cantus really shines and inspires in its themed shows, like last year’s “Would You Harbor Me?” with its focus on homelessness, and 2014-15’s “The Singing Revolution,” about how songs helped the Baltic states gain their independence in 1989. The next season offers two new programs about those who have fought and sometimes died to protect the rights of others.

Photo by Curtis Johnson

The opener, “No Greater Love Than This” (Oct. 13-23), explores the bonds that have defined those willing to lay down their lives for others, and the emotions shared among loved ones at home and across nations. The concert will include a new commission by Emmy award winner Jeff Beal (“House of Cards”). In “America Will Be!” (March 31-April 9, 2017), the group considers the sacrifices of heroes at home – men and women fighting for equality – and looks toward the potential of the American promise.

Rounding out the season are “Christmas With Cantus” (Dec. 11-22), the next “Covers” (June 2-10) and the previously announced special concert with Chanticleer at Orchestra Hall (Oct. 3).

Season packages are available now. Single tickets go on sale Sept. 6. For Cantus-Chanticleer, go here.

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The picks

Now at HUGE Theater: 10th Annual Twin Cities Improv Festival. Five days of made-up mayhem from national and local acts. The festival began Wednesday and is in full swing through Sunday. Buy day (actually evening) passes or tickets to individual shows. FMI and tickets ($15, passes $55-$70).  

Today (Thursday, June 23) and tomorrow at the U’s Quarter Gallery: “Remembering Persia: Art & Healing.” This is terribly last-minute, for which we apologize, but if you can slip away for an hour or so to see this, try. Niccu Tafarrodi fled Iran with her two children in 1986, during the Islamic Revolution. She has spent the past 25 years creating intricate, elaborate dioramas depicting scenes from her life growing up in Shiraz, Iran. This poignant and fascinating exhibition includes 30 tiny worlds you’ll lean close to see: a marketplace, a mosque, women weaving carpets, a bedroom, street vendors, a banquet, a village by the sea, the ruins of Persepolis, a wedding ceremony where the guests are raining sugar on the bride. Free. Summer gallery hours 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Closes Friday.

Tonight at Magers & Quinn: Max Porter and Marlon James. London-based author Porter reads from his acclaimed debut novel, “Grief Is the Thing with Feathers,” and Jamaica-born, now-based-right-here James reads from his Man Booker Prize winner “A Brief History of Seven Killings.” 7 p.m. Free.

Tonight at the Basilica of St. Mary: Cappella Romana in Concert. What’s happening in the world of Eastern Orthodox church music? Hear for yourself when the Portland, Oregon-based vocal ensemble Cappella Romana touches down in Minneapolis for an evening of music by contemporary Serbian, Finnish, British and American Orthodox composers including a world premiere by Kurt Sander. Directed by the Very Reverend Dr. Ivan Moody, presented by the Rose Ensemble and the International Society for Orthodox Church Music. Here’s the program. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($37-$10; 12 & under free).

Tonight through Sunday at the Orpheum: “The Bridges of Madison County.” First it was a mega-best-selling novel, then a swoony Oscar-nominated movie starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep, and now it’s a Tony-winning musical. Robert James Waller’s tale of Francesca, a married but lonely woman in Iowa, and Robert Kincaid, a National Geographic photographer on assignment, seems like a perfect date night. Evenings and weekend matinees. FMI and tickets ($24-$134). Ends Sunday. 

Courtesy of the Orpheum
Andrew Samonsky and Elizabeth Stanley in “The Bridges of Madison County”

Opens Friday at the Film Society’s St. Anthony Main Theatre: “How Love Won: The Fight for Marriage Equality in MN.” Director Michael McIntee will be here for the 7:20 p.m. Friday and Saturday screenings and take part in a Q&A about Minnesota voters’ historic rejection of the marriage amendment. FMI including show times and tickets ($10/$5 Tuesdays). Ends June 30.

Sunday in Uptown: Uptown Food Truck Festival. Walk and eat, eat and walk, drink beer, sit on curbs, people-watch, listen to live music. What’s not to love? This year’s festival features over 50 food trucks, 10 craft beers (plus ciders and non-alcoholic drinks), music on two stages, games and giveaways. Free to attend, but if you want to drink beer, it’ll cost you $2 for a wristband; sales benefit the Minnesota Internship Center. At Lake and Hennepin. 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. FMI.