A weekend-long 90th birthday bash for Doc Severinsen. A salute to Maestro Andrew Litton. The return of pianist André Watts. Dancers from the New York City Ballet. An evening of waltzes, another of chamber music, and mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves in “Salome.” Plus bratwursts on the plaza and free music in the lobby.
Wrapping up his 15-year run as artistic director of the Minnesota Orchestra’s Sommerfest — the longest in the festival’s history — Litton is putting extra shine on “fest.” Beginning Friday, July 21 and continuing for three weekends, seven one-of-a-kind concerts will keep the music coming and the mood light.
Sommerfest 2017 kicks off with two concerts in honor of Doc Severinsen, whose history with the Orchestra spans more than five decades. On July 21, Osmo Vänskä will conduct “Doc’s Classical Playlist: A Severinsen Celebration,” featuring some of Severinsen’s favorite classical works, with Doc as host. On July 22, Sarah Hicks will lead the Orchestra in “Swing On! Doc’s Big Band Birthday Bash,” a night of guest artists and musical surprises, with Doc as guest of honor. We can’t wait to see what he’ll wear.
The rest of the fest is all about Litton, who has announced that this Sommerfest will be his last. The July 28 concert will be a reunion with his friend, pianist André Watts, who will perform MacDowell’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Watts was scheduled to appear at last year’s Sommerfest but had to cancel due to a back injury. Soon after, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and has since undergone treatment. It will be good to see him at the Steinway again.
On July 29, Litton and the orchestra, with William Wolfram at the piano, will play the ultimate Sommerfest program: an evening of Strauss waltzes plus Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 3. Sunday afternoon, July 30, will feature Minnesota Orchestra musicians and Litton at the keys in a concert of classical chamber music and familiar tunes by Nino Rota, Federico Fellini’s composer.
Litton is music director of the New York City Ballet, and on Aug. 4, four dancers from the company will join the Orchestra on stage for Gershwin’s ballet “Who Cares?” choreographed by George Balanchine. Litton’s final Sommerfest show will be the Aug. 15 concert staging of Strauss’ opera “Salome,” something Litton has long wanted to do with the Minnesota Orchestra. The cast of 16 includes Graves as Herodias, soprano Patricia Racette as Salome, tenor Dennis Peterson as Herod and baritone Stephen Powell as John the Baptist.
All summer concerts include a pre-concert Happy Hour on Peavey Plaza and in the Orchestra Hall lobby, with food and drink vendors and free live music by area artists.
Also on the Orchestra’s summer calendar, starting July 3 and leading up to Sommerfest: four free “Symphony for the Cities” concerts in Minneapolis, Plymouth, Winona and Hudson, Wisconsin, led by Roderick Cox; “Star Trek” Live at Orchestra Hall; a casual Inside the Classics look at Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7; and a combination 2017-18 Season Sampler and Fantasy Camp return. In Fantasy Camp, community musicians perform side-by-side with the Minnesota Orchestra.
Advance tickets go on sale March 10 to current and new subscribers. Individual tickets are available starting April 7. FMI.
Last chance ever to see Gary Burton play in the Twin Cities
Jazz musicians, especially the great ones, seldom retire. (See above for Doc Severinsen.) So it came as a shock to many when vibraphonist Gary Burton announced that his March tour would be his last, and once it was over, he would never again play music. No more concerts, no more albums.
At 74, with six heart surgeries behind him and a younger husband beside him (Burton famously came out as gay on NPR in 1994, during an interview with Terry Gross), the multiple Grammy winner and NEA Jazz Master wants to travel for fun instead of gigs, and explore new interests. We wish him all the best, but darn, are we going to miss him.
Burton touched down at the Dakota several times over the years, often with Chick Corea, and always made it worth going out to see him. He raised awareness for his instrument and invented new and better ways to play it. Many jazz guitarists — including Pat Metheny and most recently Julian Lage — got significant career bumps as members of Burton’s band.
He put together a series of stellar quartets, made 70 albums as a leader and several more as a sideman, and delivered quality, creativity, imagination and integrity over and over again in the studio and in virtuoso live performances.
Plus he just seems like such a nice guy. When we spoke with him in 2013 for the Star Tribune, Burton was so willing to answer questions and generous with his time that we finally had to ask him, “Don’t you have to catch a plane? Have you finished packing?”
All this is a roundabout way to say that missing Burton when he plays his final dates at the Dakota would be dumb. He’s out with Japanese pianist Makoto Ozone, with whom he has enjoyed a long collaboration that began in 1981. They’re here next Wednesday night, March 15, for two sets, at 7 and 9 p.m. FMI and tickets ($20-40).
Tonight (Friday, March 10) at Bockley Gallery: Opening reception for the interdisciplinary arts collective Postcommodity. In 2015, Raven Chacon, Cristóbal Martínez and Kade L. Twist created a land-art installation of big yellow balloons, each 10 feet in diameter, tethered to float 50 feet above the ground. Called “Repellent Fence,” it stretched a mile on either side of the U.S.-Mexico border, stitching the two nations and their peoples together. A new exhibition at Bockley is based on the installation, and since everybody’s talking about border walls these days, it’s very timely. 6-8 p.m. See the show, then attend the artists’ talk at the Walker on Saturday at 6 p.m. Both are free. The Bockley show closes April 15.
Opens tonight at the Chanhassen: “Grease.” The Chan’s top-selling show is back, with more emphasis on the characters and the simplicity of the times: high school life in the 1950s. Artistic director Michael Brindisi is staging it like the original 1970s Broadway production and adding songs from the 1978 film. Aleks Knezevich, Caroline Innerbichler, Evan Tyler and Ruthanne Heyward lead the cast of teens; Michelle Barber, Tony Vierling and Keith Rice are the responsible adults. 8p.m. FMI and tickets ($65-$89 dinner and show). Opening night is sold out. Through October 28.
Opens Saturday at the Ordway: “Dinner at Eight.” This is the world premiere of a Minnesota Opera New Works Initiative production. Pulitzer Prize and Grammy winner William Bolcom wrote the music, Mark Campbell the words for the opera based on the 1932 play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber. We saw a preview Thursday night, and it’s not fair to review previews, so we won’t. But we will say that Bolcom’s score gave us something we don’t always get from new operas: melodies and songs. His orchestrations deftly describe the rising panic in the opera’s characters: socialites, climbers, tycoons, aging actors and other members of New York society for whom the Depression noose is tightening. Campbell, whose Minnesota Opera credits to date include “Silent Night,” “The Manchurian Candidate,” “The Shining” and “Memory Boy,” wrote just the right words, and the right number of words. His libretti are feats of clarity, economy and fullness. Alexander Dodge’s sets wrap the stage in the city of New York; Victoria Tzykun’s costumes are dazzling. The cast of 16 is perfection. We love Brenda Harris in anything and thought Mary Dunleavy, Susannah Biller, Adriana Zabala and Richard Troxell were especially strong. Writer Michael Anthony spoke with Bolcom and Campbell; take a look. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($23-$200). Ends Sunday, March 19.
Saturday at Studio Z: Davu Seru’s No Territory Band. Drummer Seru is a restlessly inventive, seriously talented musician and composer whose star is rising. A large part of his heart is in this band, which includes Nathan Hanson and Scott Fultz on saxophones, Pat O’Keefe on clarinets, Noah Ophoven-Baldwin on cornet and Levi Schwartzberg on vibes. Seru was recently named Studio Z’s first Composer-in-Residence, a position from which he’ll create new work for the new music group Zeitgeist and other musicians, develop an ensemble of culturally diverse performers and curate special events. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($10 advance/$15 door; 12 and under free). Come early for a pre-concert masterclass at 6 p.m., get the $10 advance price. Kids 12 and under free.