In May 2015, the Minnesota Orchestra was the first U.S. orchestra to play Cuba since 1999. This summer, it will be the first professional U.S. orchestra ever to tour South Africa. Soon after Sommerfest – which this year will honor Nelson Mandela on the centenary of his birth, as part of a worldwide celebration – the orchestra will leave for South Africa and concerts in Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria, Soweto and Johannesburg.
The seeds for the South Africa tour were planted before the Cuba tour, which together led to a major shift in the orchestra’s strategic plan.
In 2014, Music Director Osmo Vänskä conducted the young musicians of the South African National Youth Orchestra on SANYO’s 50th anniversary. For Vänskä, this was an unforgettable experience. “I knew then that I wanted to return to South Africa with the Minnesota Orchestra,” he said in a statement.
In Cuba the following year, Minnesota Orchestra students played a side-by-side rehearsal with a Cuban youth symphony and took part in musical exchanges with students. “For the Minnesota Orchestra musicians,” Scott Chamberlain wrote for MinnPost, “these interactions … provided the tour’s most powerful, gratifying moments.”
Orchestra spokesperson Gwen Pappas said in conversation, “That was the moment when organizationally we decided – we’ll continue to do tours along these lines. Not just to great European countries and music halls, but other countries and communities where there’s a passionate interest in music. For the musicians, Cuba was transformational.” As was South Africa for Vänskä. “Osmo came forward and said – maybe our next location should be South Africa.”
A new strategic plan, adopted in 2016, identified musical diplomacy through touring and residencies as a defining part of the Minnesota Orchestra’s character and an important means of fulfilling its mission of “enriching, inspiring and serving” its community. Learning that 2018 would be a Mandela anniversary year “helped draw everything in focus,” Pappas said. “It increased the resonance of the tour and gave us a way to bring the celebration back to Minneapolis-St. Paul.” We’ll hear the tour music first, during Sommerfest, which will run from July 13 to Aug. 1.
The South Africa tour will bring together South African and American artists in concerts, musical exchanges, residencies and side-by-side rehearsals with student groups. The concert programs will feature South African, American and European music including a world premiere by South African composer Bongani Ndodana-Breen, commissioned by Classical Movements (the concert tour company) and written in tribute to Mandela.
Members of the Minnesota Chorale will join the tour in Soweto and Johannesburg. Minnesota Orchestra Associate Conductor Roderick Cox – who was in South Africa just last August, conducting the relaunch of the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra – will return with the orchestra as cover conductor and take part in educational activities. More details will emerge as Sommerfest and the tour draw nearer.
Tonight (Thursday, Jan. 18) at the Weisman: Native Artist Talk Series: Andrea Carlson. An artist of Anishinaabe descent based in Chicago and St. Paul, Carlson makes art with much to say about museums, collections, cultural consumption and misrepresentation. Her complex, layered works use hyper-realistic images, landscape and abstract forms to tell stories. A 2008 McKnight Fellow and current Joan Mitchell Foundation Fellow, Carlson earned her BA at the University of Minnesota and her MFA at MCAD. She has had solo shows at the Bockley Gallery, Mia, the National Museum of the American Indian in New York and the Plains Art Museum in Fargo. 6:30 p.m. Free.
Friday at MCAD: Opening reception for “From Frame to Film: Contemporary International Animation.” Animation only looks seamless. Featuring work by filmmakers from Slovenia, Belgium, Israel, Australia, Canada and the U.S. using a wide range of techniques, this show lets you into the storytelling process and shows why an animated film can take years to complete. In the Concourse Gallery. Reception from 6-8 p.m. Closes March 4.
Friday at Moon Palace Books: Rain Taxi Tribute to Denis Johnson. Charles Baxter, Venus de Mars, Lynette Reini-Grandell, Jim Roll, and Har Mar Superstar will be at the bookstore on Minnehaha Avenue to celebrate the life and writings of Johnson, who died on May 24, 2017. Johnson is best known for “Jesus’ Son” (1992) and “Tree of Smoke” (2007), winner of the National Book Award. His final book of stories, “The Largesse of the Sea Maiden,” came out on Tuesday. 7 p.m. Free, with reception to follow.
Opens in previews Friday at the Park Square: “Cardboard Piano.” A hit at the 2016 Humana Festival of New American Plays, Korean playwright Hansol Yung’s drama explores love, violence, forgiveness, trauma and redemption. In a township in Northern Uganda, two smitten teenagers – a local girl (Kiara Jackson) and the daughter of an American missionary (Adeline Phelps) – hold a secret wedding ceremony in a church. Their brief moment of happiness is interrupted by the arrival of an injured child soldier who has run away from the Lord’s Resistance Army. Signe V. Harriday directs. With Ansa Akyea (who plays two roles) and Michael Jemison. On the Andy Boss stage. 7:30 p.m. Previews through Jan. 25; opening night Jan. 26; closes Feb. 18. FMI and tickets ($20-60).
Friday through Sunday at the Cowles: Minnesota Dance Theatre: “Carmina Burana.” Way to heat up January, MDT! Carl Orff’s scenic cantata, based on 24 poems by lusty, hard-drinking medieval monks, has been called the most often performed choral work of the 21st century. It’s also a thrilling ballet. Choreographed by Loyce Houlton, reimagined by Lise Houlton and Dominique Serrand (The Moving Company, Jeune Lune), with vocalists Bradley Greenwald, Linh Kauffman and Justin Madel, the Minnesota Chorale and live music, it’s over the top. 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. FMI and tickets ($26-45). Sunday.
Sunday at Studio Z: Rimon Artist Salon: “Turn It and Turn It Again: Text as Power in Judaism and Slam Poetry.” Performance poet Talia Young gives us a taste of a poetry slam and talks with Rabbi Emma Kippley-Ogman about how spoken word has become a force for social change and the role of social media in advancing activism. Just another smart event from Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council. 2 p.m. FMI and tickets ($12/6).