A visit from Pulitzer-winning composer John Harbison; the return of Northrop’s mighty organ

Photo by Katrin Talbot
On Friday and Saturday, John Harbison will be at Northrop for the world premiere of his organ concerto “What Do We Make of Bach? for Orchestra and Obbligato Organ.”

American composer John Harbison has won the Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur Fellowship. He’s written music for most of the nation’s great musical institutions, including the Minnesota Orchestra, which named Harbison its Season Composer for 2018-19.

This is Harbison’s 80th birthday year, and he’s spending much of this week with us here in Minneapolis. You’ll have several chances to hear his music and even see him in person. Perhaps Gov. Dayton will pick a day and proclaim it John Harbison Day.

Harbison is in residence at the University of Minnesota. On Friday afternoon, Oct. 12, he’ll be at Lloyd Ultan Recital Hall (in Ferguson Hall) for a guest master class and conversation starting at 4:30. School of Music students will play his “Trio Sonata,” “Saxophone Sonata” and “Violin Duo (Reflection).” Free and open to the public. FMI.

On Friday and Saturday, Harbison will be at Northrop for the world premiere of his organ concerto “What Do We Make of Bach? for Orchestra and Obbligato Organ.” Osmo Vänskä will lead the Minnesota Orchestra in the first public hearings of the Northrop’s restored, historic, majestic and rare Aeolian-Skinner organ, built in the 1930s. After 18 months and $3 million – and many years of silence – the mighty instrument (with nearly 7,000 pipes, from the size of a pencil to 32 feet tall) is ready for its big comeback. Organ virtuoso Paul Jacobs will be the featured soloist. The concert will also include music by Bach and Saint Saëns. 8 p.m. both nights. FMI and tickets ($102-12). Limited availability; if you don’t have luck through Northrop (612-624-2345), try the Minnesota Orchestra (612-371-5656), and vice versa. Pre-signed copies of Harbison’s newly published memoir (also titled “What Do We Make of Bach?”) will be available for purchase.

Northrop organ
Copyright University of Minnesota
From 2-4 p.m., Northrop will host an Organist’s Open House, where organists of any skill level can try their hands (and feet) on the instrument.
(Organ enthusiasts: On Saturday morning at 10:30, Michael Barone of “Pipedreams” and U of M organist Dean Billmeyer will present “An Intimate Introduction to the Northrop Organ.” The purpose of this demonstration event: to strut the organ’s stuff. Several local soloists will play excerpts from works by Grieg, Elgar, Saint-Saëns and other composers. FMI. Later that day, from 2 to 4 p.m., Northrop will host an Organist’s Open House, where organists of any skill level can try their hands (and feet) on the instrument. First-come, first-served. FMI. Both events are free and open to the public. The exhibit “Northrop’s Historic Pipe Organ: A Resounding Success” is on display in the Northrop Gallery through December 2018. FMI.)

Harbison is also a jazz pianist and arranger. On Sunday, Harbison himself will play jazz piano as the Chamber Music Society of Minnesota launches its 2018-19 season with “Happy Birthday, John Harbison!” The concert will feature a composition from each decade of Harbison’s life, some Bach, a jazz combo and, says CMSM, “a surprise premiere.” Participating artists will include Adam Kuenzel, Gabriel Campos Zamora, Ariana Kim, Young-Nam Kim, Anthony Ross, Anthony Cox and Fred Harris. Altogether stellar. 4 p.m. at Hamline’s Sundin Music Hall. FMI and tickets ($25-15).

The picks

Tonight (Wednesday, Oct. 10) at Coffman Union Theater: Adam Gopnik reading. The longtime staff writer for the New Yorker and author of several nonfiction books will read from his latest, “At the Strangers’ Gate: Arrivals in New York.” 300 Washington Ave. SE. 7 p.m. Free and open to the public.

Tonight at TU Dance Center: TU Dance Company Showing. See what TU has in store for its 15th anniversary performance season. The company founded by Toni Pierce-Sands and Uri Sands vaulted to national prominence following three sold-out performances with Bon Iver in last year’s Liquid Music series, which led to a sold-out performance at the Hollywood Bowl in August and a date at the Kennedy Center next March. The showing will feature excerpts from the fall concert program at the Ordway, which takes place Oct. 27. Doors at 5 p.m., showing at 5:30. 2121 University Ave. W., St. Paul. Free, with advance reservations required. Call 651-282-3115 or reserve online.

Tonight at Crooners: Russell Malone Quartet. The parade of national and international artists to the jazz club in Fridley continues. Guitarist Russell Malone, an eloquent master of his instrument, has played with everyone from B.B. King to Aretha Franklin and Ornette Coleman. He’ll bring his own quartet to the intimate Dunsmore room: New York-based Rick Germanson on piano (he was a great favorite at the old Artists’ Quarter in St. Paul), Luke Sellick on bass and Willie Jones III on drums.  7 and 9 p.m. FMI and tickets ($25-35).

Thursday at the Trylon: François Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows” with special guest Justin Pierre (Motion City Soundtrack). Honestly, we don’t know what Truffaut and Pierre are doing on the same evening, but it sounds like fun, it’s at the Trylon, and Sound Unseen came up with it, so our advice is to roll with it. Truffaut’s absolutely seminal film – his first feature, and the story of his own childhood – will screen in 35mm. Pierre, whose debut solo album “In the Drink” comes out Friday, will give a short acoustic performance. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($10 advance, $12 door).

Joey Alexander
Photo by Jimmy Katz
With several albums and three Grammy nominations, Joey Alexander’s the real deal, prodigiously gifted, musically mature, passionate, committed and charming as heck.
Thursday at the Dakota: Joey Alexander Trio. Sometime in 2003, a lightning bolt hit a baby in Bali, which made him grow up to be a jazz musician. That’s the only explanation we can think of for the remarkable ascent of Joey Alexander. (OK, his parents had a collection of jazz albums.) By age 6 he had taught himself to play piano by listening to Thelonious Monk, among others. At 8 he played for Herbie Hancock, who was visiting Jakarta for UNESCO. At 11, Joey and his family moved to New York City so he could pursue a music career. Joey made his U.S. debut with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra led by Wynton Marsalis. Now 15, with several albums and three Grammy nominations, he’s the real deal, prodigiously gifted, musically mature, passionate, committed and charming as heck. 7 and 9 p.m. FMI and tickets ($35-50).

Saturday: Cassette Store Day. Remember cassettes? One of the most awkward, impractical ways to deliver music ever? The slippery plastic cases? The J-cards? The winding-them-tight-with-a-pencil thing? And yet, so easy and cheap. Before digital, cassettes were how you got your music out there, and your radio shows. Cassettes are back, or back enough there’s now an actual Cassette Week leading up to Cassette Store Day. Here’s a list of North American CSD releases and participating record stores, including Down in the Valley (Golden Valley) and Dead Media Records (Minneapolis). FMI.

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