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Minnesota Orchestra's 2017-18 lineup includes Tchaikovsky Marathon, films with live music

Photo by Courtney Perry
Osmo Vänskä conducting the Minnesota Orchestra

A Tchaikovsky Marathon; solo performances by Erin Keefe, Adam Kuenzel, Anthony Ross and the low brass section; six conductors making their Minnesota Orchestra debuts; multiple world premieres; concerts in honor of Finland, MPR’s 50th birthday, Leonard Bernstein, and the Reformation; a new Mahler recording; five live movie concerts; a new holiday show by Theater Latté Da’s Peter Rothstein; a parade of soloists; and the return of the New Standards are among the highlights of Minnesota Orchestra’s 2017-18 season.

By the numbers, the season announcement – the musical equivalent of a thousand-foot laker arriving in the Twin Ports – includes 93 performances of 56 different programs, spread out over 10 months from September through July 2018. There are 23 weeks of classical subscription concerts, guided and often conducted by Music Director Osmo Vänskä. And because humans – and today’s major orchestras – don’t live by classical bread alone, the options also include pop, film music, jazz, indie rock, and an evening of movie music accompanied by acrobats and aerialists.

Sarah Hicks, principal conductor of Live at Orchestra Hall, returns to lead 11 programs including four of the live movie concerts. These events – where the orchestra performs the complete score to a film shown in HD on a big screen – have been tremendously popular with audiences nationwide. This year’s films include “La La Land” (Sept. 30-Oct. 1), “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (Oct. 27-28), Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” (Nov. 25-26, both matinees), and “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” (Dec. 15-17 in the Convention Center). In February 2018, “West Side Story” will be conducted by David Newman in a special subscription concert performance.

You can view the entire 2017-18 calendar online. Meanwhile, here are 10 events that caught our eye and why.

Sept. 14-16: The season opener. Vänskä conducts Stravinsky’s “Firebird” Suite and the U.S. premiere of a new violin concerto performed by James Ehnes in concerts dedicated to the memory of Stanislaw Skrowaczewski.

Nov. 11: Minnesota Public Radio 50th Anniversary Celebration. A concert of milestone moments from the orchestra’s broadcast history with MPR. Brian Newhouse will host from the stage. Bet we’ll hear some of the music from the Cuba tour.

Nov. 18: Leslie Odom Jr. with the Minnesota Orchestra. For his performance as Aaron Burr in “Hamilton,” Odom won the 2016 Best Actor Tony. He’ll sing jazz standards, Broadway hits and other songs TBA.

Dec. 21: A Minnesota Orchestra Christmas: Home for the Holidays. Let’s see what Peter Rothstein – creator of the holiday hit “All Is Calm” – comes up with for the orchestra. Kevin Kling will contribute new stories.

Jan. 6 and 12: Tchaikovsky Marathon: Symphonies No. 2 and 5. Part of the monthlong Tchaikovsky Marathon that begins on New Year’s Eve, this is a rare chance to hear two Tchaikovsky symphonies on the same program. In between, principal cello Anthony Ross will give a solo performance of Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme – the icing on the cake, except it’s in the middle.

Feb. 23: At the Piano. For his fourth season of Jazz in the Target Atrium concerts, Jeremy Walker will focus on the instruments in the ensemble. On this night, four Twin Cities pianists will take turns at the Steinway: Walker, Chris Lomheim, Bryan Nichols and Javier Santiago.

March 15-17: Vänskä Conducts Mahler’s Titan Symphony. After concertmaster Erin Keefe performs Kurt Weill’s Violin Concerto, the orchestra will play Mahler’s First. Recording sessions with the Swedish label BIS will follow.

April 20-21: Cameron Carpenter Plays Rachmaninoff. A night of music by Mussorgsky, Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich will include a performance of Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini on Carpenter’s International Touring Organ. Young Finnish conductor Klaus Mäkelä makes his Minnesota Orchestra debut.

May 5: Nightcap: Eeyore Has a Birthday. After playing Copland and Bernstein in the big room under Vänskä’s baton, three Minnesota Orchestra string players and two pianists will present a Schubert-inspired sonata and a musical-storytelling performance of a tale by A.A. Milne.

June 14-16: The season finale. Vänskä conducts Mahler’s Fourth and the world premiere of James Stephenson’s Low Brass Concerto.

Subscription packages go on sale Monday, April 3. Individual tickets are available to the general public starting July 28, 2017. FMI.

The picks

Tonight (Friday, March 17) through Sunday in the Tek Box at the Cowles: Eclectic Edge Ensemble: “EEE First JazzView.” An evening of jazz dance by local and international artists includes a new work by Kyle Weiler inspired by “Bye Bye Birdie” and Cynthia Gutierrez-Garner’s “All Together Now,” based on demonstrations of solidarity against oppression and violence, past and present, worldwide. 7:30 p.m. tonight and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. FMI and tickets ($17 advance, $20 door).

Photo by Scott Pakudaitis
Meghan Kreidler, Sandra Struthers and Song Kim (foreground) as Harry Chin in “ The Paper Dreams of Harry Chin.”

Opens Saturday at the History Theatre: “The Paper Dreams of Harry Chin” and “Gateway to History” photography exhibition. In 1939, Harry Chin came to the U.S. through a loophole in the Chinese Exclusion Act, America’s first major law restricting immigration. Chin was a “paper son,” here with fraudulent documents. Playwright Jessica Huang spent years interviewing Harry’s daughter, Sheila, to learn her father’s story, how it affected their family, and what happens when a group of people is made illegal. Commissioned by the History Theatre, photographer Wing Young Huie’s two-part “Gateway to History” exhibition includes mural-sized photos of paper sons and their descendants on the outside walls of the theater building, and an installation in the lobby featuring photos and stories. Mei Ann Teo directs the play. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($30-40; discounts for seniors, under 30, students and children). Closes April 9.

Saturday at SPNN (St. Paul Neighborhood Network): My Refuge Is Humanity: Music and Poetry Celebrating Immigrants and Refugees in Minnesota. Bringing people together in support of our diverse communities is the goal of this family-friendly concert and community event. Presented by the Twin Cities Anti-Hate Directive, it will feature performances by poet Roy Guzmán; singer, songwriter and poet Lula Saleh; Fringe favorites Bollywood Dance Scene; the Somali Museum of Minnesota Dance Troupe; a community choir led by Ahmed Anzaldúa; and African drumming by Marcus Kar and friends. At Vandalia Tower, 550 Vandalia St., St. Paul. Doors at 6, program at 6:30. FMI and tickets ($5).

Courtesy of the artist
Zacc Harris

Saturday at University Baptist Church: Zacc Harris: “American Reverie.” Tinting classic songs we love – “Shenandoah” and “The Tennessee Waltz,” tunes by Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and the Ronettes - with modern jazz, guitarist Zacc Harris (Atlantis Quartet) evokes an America both immediate and gone by. With bassist Matt Peterson and drummer Lars-Erik Larson, Harris has recorded a CD that will be released this spring. For Harris, it’s a reaction to big media and what he calls “the poisonous atmosphere that is modern America.” If you’ve seen him play with Atlantis Quartet, his trio, or anyone else, you know this will be serious and interesting. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($15/10).

Monday at Bryant Lake Bowl: The Theater of Public Policy: “Up the Amazon Without a Paddle.” Remember when Amazon was just an online bookstore? (If you don’t, that’s how it started, way back in 1994.) Today it’s an online almost-everything store and the Great Disruptor. T2P2’s guest is Olivia LaVecchia, a research associate for the Institute for Local Self Reliance and coauthor of a report on Amazon’s effects on local communities and businesses. They’ll ask her some questions, riff on her answers with improvisational comedy, then wrap things up with questions from the audience. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($12/15).

Tuesday at Westminster Town Hall Forum: Frank Bruni: “Media in the Age of Misinformation.” Bruni joined the New York Times in 1995 and became an op-ed columnist in 2013. He’s been a working journalist since graduating from Columbia with a journalism degree, meaning he’s been an enemy of the people all his professional life. He should have interesting things to say on this topic. At Westminster Presbyterian. Music by Cantus at 11:30, forum at noon. Free and open to all. If you can’t be there, you can listen or watch online later.

Hot tix

On sale starting at noon today (Friday, March 17): Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ at the State Theatre. The two blues giants and multiple Grammy winners have made an album together of covers and originals, “TajMo,” due out May 5. (Stream a track on Spotify.) They’ll be here Sept. 6 with a full band. FMI and tickets (start at $48.50). Buy in person at the State Theatre box office, save on fees.

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