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Comings and goings at the Ordway, Minnesota Orchestra, ACC and Mia

Photo by Liz Garza Williams
Starting in September, Akiko Fujimoto will be the Minnesota Orchestra’s new assistant conductor.

After nearly a dozen years at the Ordway, James Rocco, VP of programming and producing artistic director, will leave at the end of the year to embark on a freelance career. His last day will be Dec. 22.

His long list of productions at the Ordway includes the Ivey winners “Love, Janis” and “Cabaret,” plus the critical and audience favorites “The Rocky Horror Show,” “The Sound of Music,” “Yankee Doodle,” “Grey Gardens,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Damn Yankees,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Pirates of Penzance,” “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” and the “Broadway Songbook” series. He also presented many touring productions. Prior to joining the Ordway in 2005, Rocco was producing artistic director of Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma and interim AD at Stage One, a theater dedicated to new musical development. 

He’ll finish his stay at the Ordway by directing “Jesus Christ Superstar,” partnering with Al Justiniano of Teatro del Pueblo on the Lin-Manuel Miranda musical “In the Heights” and producing the holiday musical “Annie.” This week, Rocco and Ordway President and CEO Jamie Grant will attend the Broadway League conference in New York City to begin planning Ordway’s 2018-19 Musical Theater series.

“I’m proud of our accomplishments and excited to get back to pursuing my own artistic life,” Rocco said in a statement. “I’ve been at the Ordway longer than any other theater over the course of my career. … I know that musical theater has a future at the Ordway. That’s been my goal since the day I arrived.”

A national search for Rocco’s replacement, led by Grant, will begin shortly.

Akiko Fujimoto signs on with Minnesota Orchestra; Roderick Cox re-ups

Starting in September, the Minnesota Orchestra will have a new assistant conductor. Akiko Fujimoto, associate conductor of the San Antonio Symphony since 2012, will be the second woman in the orchestra’s history to join its artistic conducting roster. The first was Sarah Hicks, now principal conductor of Live at Orchestra Hall, previously principal conductor of pops and presentations and, before then, assistant conductor.

Born in Japan, Fujimoto moved to the U.S. at age 14, studied music and psychology at Stanford, and earned master's degrees in orchestral and choral conducting from Boston University and the Eastman School. Before arriving in Texas, she served as the conducting associate for the Virginia Symphony Orchestra. She has guest conducted several orchestras and has extensive experience working with young musicians. At the San Antonio Symphony, she leads their classical, pops, education, baroque, community and patriotic concerts as well as ballet.

“Before my audition, I had never set foot in Minneapolis,” Fujimoto said in a statement. “I knew the Minnesota Orchestra only by its excellent reputation and through its recordings of Sibelius’ symphonies.” Hearing the orchestra play Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 before the audition semifinals calmed her nerves. “All I could think was, ‘I can’t wait to make music with this fabulous orchestra.’ ”

Roderick Cox, who was named the orchestra’s associate conductor in September 2016 after one year as assistant conductor, has signed on for an additional season as associate conductor. His debut subscription performances in January won critical and audience praise. He’s currently leading the Orchestra’s tour of Willmar, Bemidji and Grand Rapids.

Chris Amundsen retires from the ACC

Chris Amundsen, the American Craft Council’s executive director since May 2010, has resigned. His last day will be Aug. 4. A former COO of the Greater Twin Cities United Way – someone who came from outside the craft field – Amundsen achieved a lot during his time with the national nonprofit.

Hired immediately after the decision to move the ACC from New York City to Minneapolis, he guided the organization through the transition, hired an all-new staff, helped the ACC achieve financial stability, rebranded it, and authored and executed its first five-year strategic plan. He revitalized the programs for the annual ACC shows (held in St. Paul, Baltimore, Atlanta and San Francisco), made “American Craft” magazine more accessible to a broad audience and started a new biannual scholarly journal called “American Craft Inquiry” (the first issue came out in late April). He relaunched the ACC’s national conference program, initiated important work for the field around diversity and inclusion, and made the organization itself more relevant to its members and the craft community at large. Often during the past few years (and just last weekend), we’ve heard artists praise the ACC and how it has changed for the better under Amundsen’s leadership.

Amundsen is leaving the organization “in a good position for a new leader,” former ACC board chair Barbara Waldman said in a statement. Current Chair Stuart Kestenbaum added, “Working closely with board and staff, he has built a great organization.” The board will appoint a committee to begin the search for a new ED.

A Chagall pays a visit to Mia

Remember waaay back in 2015, during the Minneapolis Institute’s 100th birthday year, before MIA became Mia, when the museum had three precious visitors? Vermeer’s “Woman Reading a Letter” in January, Raphael’s “The Madonna of the Pinks” in May and van Gogh’s “Irises” in August. All were part of a “Masterpiece in Focus” program that brought famous paintings to Minneapolis, where we could see them for free, up close and without crowds.

This is like that. Starting Sunday, May 21, Marc Chagall’s “Double Portrait with a Wine Glass” will be on display at Mia in a one-work exhibition called “Matrimonial Bliss.” It’s on loan exclusively to Mia from the Centre Pompidou in Paris and this will be its first visit to the Cities.

The painting is Chagall’s own wedding portrait, celebrating his marriage to Bella Rosenfeld in 1914 during World War I, after mutual “love at first sight.” Despite the times, it’s full of joy and playfulness. Theirs would be a long marriage, and she would be his muse.

Look for “Double Portrait” in the Cargill gallery, across the lobby from the museum shop. It will be there through July 30.

The picks

Photo by Matt Taylor-Gross
Amy Thielen

Tonight (Thursday, May 18) Tattersall Distilling: Amy Thielen presents “Give a Girl a Knife.” Thielen, author of “The New Midwestern Table,” former host of “Heartland Table” on the Food Network, and two-time James Beard Award-winning writer, worked for celebrated New York City chefs before moving back home to the Midwest. She’ll do a reading, chat with her friend Ann Kim (Young Joni, Pizzeria Lola) and sign books. 7 p.m. Free. Note: Space is limited. Arrive early if you want a seat. The cocktail room opens at 4 p.m.

Tonight at the Ordway: “Broadway Songbook: Hollywood and Broadway.” James Rocco hosts a show he wrote with Jeffrey P. Scott about the years-long dance between Tinseltown and the Great White Way, when each has looked to the other for inspiration and source material. Hollywood has turned musicals into movies, and Broadway has turned movies into musicals. This will be a night of songs – from “An American in Paris,” “The Color Purple,” “Legally Blonde,” “42nd Street,” “The Jazz Singer,” “Grease,” “The Little Mermaid” and more – and the stories behind them. The cast includes Rocco, Dieter Bierbrauer, Yolande Bruce, Kersten Rodau and Erin Schwab. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($37). Through May 21.

Friday at the Showplace Icon in the West End: 2017 EDU Film Festival. See work by our next generation of filmmakers in Minnesota’s only schoolwide, statewide high school film festival. The 2017 program includes more than 80 short films made by Minnesota high school students; a Minnesota Women in Film and TV networking panel; films by digital video students from the Institute of Production and Recording; a screening of EDU alum Dakota Laden’s first feature film; and a finalist showcase. Doors at 9 a.m.; screenings start at 10 a.m. Free and open to the public. FMI.

Friday through Sunday at the Cowles: “Mixtape.” What is hip-hop? Juxtaposing a variety of styles, seven dance artists will approach this question from different perspectives and demonstrate hip hop’s importance within and across cultures and communities. Musical transitions by Minneapolis producer and composer BIONIK will connect the pieces and styles, which will include breaking, house, rocking, urban, street and more. With J-Sun, the Sage Award-winning identical twin sisters Al Taw’am, Hmong American artist Magnolia Yang Sao Yia, Herb Johnson III, Ozzy Dris, and Darrius Strong, founder of STRONGmovement. 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. FMI and tickets ($22-25).

Saturday at Icehouse: Mike Michel: “On the Mend” CD Release. In 2013, award-winning guitarist, songwriter, and music educator Mike Michel – a professional musician all his life – developed severe tinnitus and hyperacusis, which creates loud ringing in his ears and extreme sensitivity to sound.  He regularly hears tones in his ears registering 70 decibels – as loud as a vacuum cleaner, or a freeway 50 feet from the pavement edge. He thought his career was over. Over the past two years, working with a team of medical and homeopathic professionals, he has worked a management program that includes cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation and mindfulness strategies. He started writing music again, picked up his guitar and made “On the Mend,” his first studio album in 7 years. It’s melodic, honest, and inspiring, full of catchy songs and grooves. This all-ages concert will be a safe space and a celebration. Michel will sing and play with a full band, and comedian James Rone will open. 3 p.m. FMI and tickets ($8 advance, $10 at the door). 

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