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‘Music for Mandela’ to air on TPT; Dee Dee Bridgewater at the Dakota

ALSO: Coen Brothers film fest; protest music at the Ordway; Cherríe Moraga at Hook & Ladder; and more.

Minnesota Orchestra
The first concert by a major American orchestra at Cape Town City Hall.
Star Tribune/Leila Navidi

Got plans for Sunday evening? You can stay home and travel to South Africa with the Minnesota Orchestra. Premiering that night on TPT, a new hour-long film follows in the footsteps of the orchestra musicians, members of the Minnesota Chorale, staff, press, donors and others — over 300 Minnesotans in all — who made the journey, sharing music and culture in five South African cities. This was the first time any major orchestra from anywhere had ever toured in South Africa.

In 2014, music director Osmo Vänskä conducted a youth orchestra in Cape Town. He thought at the time about someday bringing his orchestra — our orchestra — to them. In 2015, the Minnesota Orchestra went to Cuba, the first professional U.S. orchestra to play there since 1999. So maybe anything was possible. The year 2018 would be the centennial of Nelson Mandela’s birth. What better time to visit South Africa?

Working with Classical Movements, a Virginia-based concert tour company for orchestras and choirs, the orchestra planned an ambitious trip that began in Cape Town, then hit Durban, Pretoria and Soweto before ending in Johannesburg. On the way, they stopped by the BBC Proms and played a concert there. That’s not part of the film.

There was no shortage of media coverage. The Star Tribune sent arts and culture reporter Jenna Ross and photojournalist Leila Navidi. MPR sent arts reporter Euan Kerr, Classical MPR’s Brian Newhouse and rapper Dessa. (Minnesota Chorale member Scott Chamberlain wrote for MinnPost.) Ashleigh Rowe, TPT’s managing director for arts and culture, brought a small team and a grand plan to somehow capture the look and feel and significance of the whole thing. “Music for Mandela: Minnesota Orchestra in South Africa” is the result.

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At a capacity-crowd preview at TPT last week, Rowe called making the film “one of the highlights of my career.” It’s a fine film, big-hearted, filled with music, emotion, and human encounters large and small. Pieced together from pro TPT footage and people’s cell phone videos, it is “not a polished performance piece,” Rowe explained, almost apologetically.

But that’s a good thing. “Music for Mandela” has a spontaneous, shoulder-to-shoulder intimacy you might not get in a more polished film. We’re inside the orchestra, inside the singing, dancing crowds who came to hear them, and up close for one-on-one moments with lasting power — like an orchestra violinist letting a child hold and play her precious violin. It’s a film about discovery, diplomacy, and musicians who are increasingly willing to step off the stage and into people’s lives.

Sarah Grimes, First Violin, with child at Eurecon Primary School in Elsie’s Rive Township.
Photo by Travis Anderson
Sarah Grimes, First Violin, with child at Eurecon Primary School in Elsie’s Rive Township.
Sunday’s broadcast of “Music for Mandela” will also launch season 10 of Minnesota Original, TPT’s award-winning arts and culture series. This season’s series will be seven episodes, debuting on Sundays at 10 p.m. through June 30 (skipping a couple of Sundays in June). Here’s the broadcast schedule.

Funded by Legacy dollars, MNO is now a vast archive of hundreds of films featuring thousands of Minnesota artists from diverse cultural backgrounds, working in all disciplines, practices and genres. It’s a free resource that keeps getting better, more story-centered and accessible. The first nine seasons are online and searchable by artist.

In 2018, MNO moved to a digital-first model. Many of the segments that will be broadcast over the next several Sundays are already available to view at the TPT Originals website, along with scads of other content on the arts, history, public affairs and more.

The picks

Tonight (Wednesday, May 1) at MCAD: Ken Vandermark and Nate Wooley. A super-rare concert in an unusual location. Saxophonist Vandermark and trumpeter Wooley are touring behind “Deeply Discounted II/Sequences of Snow,” their third recording together. They’ll play selections from their recordings and a new set of music composed using the “exquisite corpse” method, a drawing game invented by the Surrealists. Vandermark and Wooley are legendary composers and improvisers; this will definitely be “out there,” musically speaking, but we know there are people in the cities who like that kind of music, because we keep running into them. 8 p.m. in the MCAD Auditorium 150 at 2501 Stevens Ave. in Minneapolis. Artist talk tomorrow (Thursday) at noon. Both free and open to the public.

Starts Thursday at the Trylon and the Heights: “The Coen Brothers: The Men Who Weren’t There.” A festival of nine films by the brothers from St. Louis Park starts with “Fargo” and ends with “A Serious Man.” We’re madly in love with the comedies — especially the Homeric “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” with loony George Clooney (“I’m a Dapper Dan man!”) but aren’t all Coen Brothers films comedies, in one way or another? Some will screen at the Trylon, others at the Heights, some just once, others multiple times. FMI including trailers, locations, times and tickets ($8/10). P.S. If you’re curious, here’s how the Guardian rated all 18 of the Coen Bros. films as directors, from “Blood Simple” to “The Ballad of Buster Spruggs.”

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Thursday at the Hook & Ladder: Cherríe Moraga. Poet, playwright, essayist, memoirist, activist and faculty member at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Cherríe Moraga is a leading light of Xicana literature, which emerged from the Chicana feminist movement. Her latest, “Native Country of the Heart,” combines her mother’s immigrant story with her own awakening to her gender-queer body and lesbian identity. Moraga will be in conversation with writer, activist and U of M teacher Alexis Pauline Gumbs. Sponsored by Rain Taxi. 7 p.m. Free.

Thursday in the Ordway Concert Hall: Ordway Cabaret: “Rise Up!” An evening of Broadway songs about passion, protest, and revolutionary moments in time. The artists: the Twin Cities’ own Aimee K. Bryant, David Carey, Dierdre Cochran, Brianna Graham, John Jamison, Hope Nordquist and Max Wojtanowicz. The songs: from “Hair,” “The Color Purple,” “Hamilton” and more. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($37). Use promo code FIVEOFFCAB, save $5.

Dee Dee Bridgewater
Courtesy of the artist
Dee Dee Bridgewater will bring her Memphis project to the Dakota for one of the last times she’ll perform it.
Saturday at the Dakota: Dee Dee Bridgewater: A Tribute to Stax and Memphis Blues Soul and R&B Classics. On Tuesday, she sang in Melbourne as part of the International Jazz Day concert streamed live around the world. On Saturday, she’ll bring her Memphis project to the Dakota for one of the last times she’ll perform it. Bridgewater is an artist who conceives ambitious projects, then brings them to full life (some of us will remember “Red Earth,” in which she explored her own African and Malian ancestry). She’ll soon move on from exploring Memphis, the city where she was born, to something else. Digging into blues and soul songs by B.B. King, Booker T. and Otis Redding, Al Green and Bobby (Blue) Bland, she delivers like no one else. Bridgewater is one of the greatest singers alive today, and we should see her when we have the chance. 7 and 9:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($30-65).