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SPCO reports a strong 2017-18; ‘Home for the Holidays’ at Orchestra Hall

ALSO: “Teen Idol: The Bobby Vee Story” at the History Theatre; SPCO to perform Bach’s “Brandenburg” Concertos; and more.

Nearly 115,000 people attended 148 SPCO concerts in 24 different venues throughout the metro during the 2017-18 season.
Photo by Chelsea Tischler

A second year of all-time record high attendance, a third year of all-time record high individual giving, an increase in young audience attendance, a Grammy win and more money for its Rainy Day Fund added up to a strong 2017-18 for the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the organization announced at its annual meeting Wednesday.

The SPCO’s 23rd balanced budget in 25 years had an operating surplus of $152,696. Last year’s surplus eliminated the deficit the organization had carried since 2012, a result of the Great Recession, and allowed it to create a Rainy Day Fund for the future. This year’s surplus has been added to that fund, which now stands at $465,550, nearly halfway toward the $1 million goal.

Nearly 115,000 people attended 148 SPCO concerts in 24 different venues throughout the metro. More than 14,000 concertgoers were children, students or young adults. More than 135,000 people visited the SPCO’s free and extensive online concert library, which includes streaming audio of original works from live performances; audio and video of complete concerts; podcasts and interviews; a Liquid Music playlist; and live streams when available. (Next up: a live stream of Handel’s “Messiah” from the Basilica of St. Mary on Sunday, Dec. 23, at 2 p.m.)

The orchestra premiered several new works, including one that featured an app allowing artistic partner Martin Fröst to control sound with gestures. It won a Grammy in January for its recording of Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” with Patricia Kopatchinskaja. Its Liquid Music series premiered new works by a wide range of composers and gave the world premiere of a collaboration by Bon Iver and St. Paul dance troupe TU Dance that took fire, selling out four performances at the Palace Theatre and wowing audiences at the Hollywood Bowl and Seattle’s Paramount Theatre. It’s set to play the Kennedy Center in March.

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Lao Assistance Center wins $50K Joyce Award

Minnesota is home to one of the largest Lao populations outside of Southeast Asia. In 2020, the Lao community will mark its 45th anniversary of migrating to the state. On Wednesday, the Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota won a $50,000 grant from the Joyce Foundation to present an exhibition designed to raise awareness, build appreciation and spark conversation.

The center will commission award-winning Lao-American poet Bryan Thao Worra to produce “Laomagination: 45,” an interactive, interdisciplinary show that will share stories of Lao people migrating and living in Minnesota for generations. Thao Worra is the author of several poetry collections including “Demonstra,” “Winter Ink” and “The Tuk-Tuk Diaries: Our Dinner with Cluster Bombs.” In 2010, he organized the “Legacies of War: Refugee Nation” exhibit and art festival at Intermedia Arts.

Bryan Thao Worra
Courtesy of the Lao Assistance Center
The Lao Assistance Center will commission award-winning Lao-American poet Bryan Thao Worra to produce “Laomagination: 45,” an interactive, interdisciplinary show.
During “Laomagination: 45,” which will open in the spring of 2020, Thao Worra and other Lao artists will present 30 new visual artworks and 15 performances – hence the 45 in its name.

The Joyce Awards support collaborations between artists of color and arts and cultural organizations throughout the Great Lakes region. Four more winners were named in Milwaukee, Chicago and Cleveland.

The picks

Tonight (Thursday, Dec. 13) at the Ordway Concert Hall: An Evening with Jarrelle Barton: Guzheng Performer Extraordinaire. Barton is a young African-American man who fell in love with an ancient Chinese instrument when he was 13 years old. He first heard the guzheng – the 21-string Chinese zither – on a recording at a public library in Cleveland, where he lived with his grandmother. He talked her into buying him one, then taught himself how to play it. Because all the instructions were in Mandarin, he taught himself Mandarin. (We are not making this up.) Then he talked his grandmother into moving to Minnesota, where he could study with a teacher. Barton will play a concert at the Ordway Concert Hall with guest musicians Micah Fitch, Jim Reilly and Joey Schad. Photographer and McKnight Distinguished Artist Wing Young Huie is a fan and a sponsor of this event. 7:30 p.m. FMI. Free and open to the public; $20 suggested donation.

Tyler Michaels channels Bobby Vee
Photo by Rick Spaulding
Tyler Michaels channels Bobby Vee in a play-with-music about his life and musical journey.
Tonight through Sunday at the History Theatre: “Teen Idol: The Bobby Vee Story.” Bobby Velline was just 15 when he sang in public for the first time on the day Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper died in a plane crash. Tyler Michaels channels Vee in a play-with-music about his life and musical journey, with other members of the ensemble cast appearing as Del Shannon, the Shirelles and Little Anthony. George Maurer did the musical arrangements; Ron Peluso directs. Just five more performances (and not a lot of tickets) remain before this show closes on Sunday. FMI, times and tickets ($45-62; also senior, student, and under 30 pricing).

Tonight, Saturday and Sunday: Bach’s “Brandenburg” Concertos. Bach didn’t write the Brandenburgs for the holidays – in fact, they were a job application – but performing them in December has become an SPCO holiday tradition. They’re just so uplifting, so (mostly) happy and distracting you’ll forget all about your to-do list. In some years, the SPCO has played five of the six concertos. This year’s program promises the whole thing, only not in the original order: Nos. 2, 6 and 4 in the first half, 3, 5 and 1 in the second. The concerts will be led by and feature SPCO musicians. 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Temple Israel, 8 p.m. Saturday at the Ordway Concert Hall, 2 p.m. Sunday at Benson Great Hall. FMI and tickets (start at $11; $5 for ages 6-17).

Friday and Sunday at Orchestra Hall: Home for the Holidays with the Minnesota Orchestra. The orchestra’s newest holiday show debuted last year, and how can you go wrong with something conceived and directed by Peter Rothstein, written by Kevin Kling and featuring that band? Part concert, part theater, based on Kling’s stories and memories, it stars Christina Baldwin, Robert Berdahl, Thomasina Petrus and young, hugely talented Alejandro Vega. Robert Elhai is composer and arranger; ComMUSICation is the choir; Nancy Carlson created original artwork. Sarah Hicks conducts. 8 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Sunday (coffee concert). Also 11 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 20. FMI and tickets ($30-70).

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Saturday at the Minnesota Museum of American Art: Conversation: (Un)Natural Landscapes. One of the works on display in the M’s new gallery and inaugural show, “100 Years and Counting,” is a haunting wintery Minnesota landscape by Vietnamese American artist Teo Nguyen, who lives in Minneapolis. Nguyen, Duluth-based artist David Bowen – whose hypnotic multimedia installation “Wave Line” is in the window gallery facing Robert Street – and poet G.E. Patterson will talk about their work in the context of the American landscape, real and imagined. 2 p.m. Free. The M is open Saturday from 11-5 p.m. and it’s free, so arrive early or stay after and explore this wonderful new addition to our cultural scene.

Tuesday at the FAIR School Downtown: Music Without Borders. In a time of politicization, polarization and staking out differences, music is something most of us can agree on. Five of the finest musicians we know – and we don’t say that lightly – will be joined by high school students from the FAIR School for a concert celebrating the oneness of humanity. Does that sound corny? It won’t be. With Douglas Ewart on didgeridoo, flutes, and other instruments; Bobb Fantauzzo on Native American-Style flutes; Mankwe Ndosi on vocals; Davu Seru on percussion; and Anthony Cox on bass/cello. The students will play self-made hand drums. 10 South 10th St., Minneapolis. 7 p.m. $10 suggested cash donation at the door. Registration requested.