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The SPCO suspends livestreamed concerts; ‘Magical Black History Trees’ at MAAHMG

ALSO: Minnesota author Jonathan Slaght in the national spotlight; Foot in the Door 5 at Mia; a conversation with Charles Baxter; and more.

As of Tuesday, the rest of the SPCO’s 2020-21 season has been canceled.
Courtesy of the SPCO
The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra last week suspended livestreamed performances “for the time being.”
The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra has shown great flexibility and resilience during the pandemic, and a willingness to change its programming as circumstances change. On the day before Thanksgiving, it announced the rest of its fall 2020 season — version 4.0.

The most recent version, announced in late August, included six livestreams from the Ordway Concert Hall stage, with no in-person audience, and four encore rebroadcasts of previous performances. Last Wednesday, the SPCO suspended livestreamed performances “for the time being in order to protect the health of our musicians, staff and crew.”

An email sent Wednesday morning by SPCO Managing Director and President Jon Limbacher and Artistic Director and Principal Violin Kyu-Young Kim spelled it out:

This decision is based on two simple facts. First, COVID-19 is rampaging in our community. The positivity rate is currently at 15 percent and growing. Second, the primary means for reducing transmission risk around our livestreamed performances in this more dangerous environment is to increase the amount of testing beyond what we are already doing. However, because of increased testing demand in our community and longer turnaround times for test results, we are not able to manage risk with more testing at this time. As a result, we have concluded that the risk of continuing our livestreamed performances is just too high.

Earlier that month, a livestream scheduled for Nov. 14 was replaced by an encore broadcast when someone involved with the livestream tested positive for the virus. No further details were given.

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The livestream planned for Thanksgiving weekend, “Sounds from Home,” was replaced. One more livestream was scheduled for this fall, “Bach, Frank and Mozart” on Dec. 12 and 13 (a rebroadcast of the live performance). It has been canceled. Encore broadcasts are scheduled for Dec. 5 and 6 (“250 Years of Beethoven,” with Alexandra Nepomnyashchaya and Richard Egarr, fortepiano, and Thomas Zehetmair, conductor), Dec. 19 and 20 (Handel’s “Messiah”), and Dec. 31 (New Year’s Eve).

Local author in the spotlight

Minneapolis-based author Jonathan Slaght is having the kind of year most debut authors of nonfiction books can only dream of, when they dream big.

Slaght’s “Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl” was published in the U.S. by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (and simultaneously in the U.K. by Penguin) in Aug. 2020. It was preceded by stellar reviews on both sides of the pond, most notably from Helen Macdonald, award-winning author of “Hawk,” who proclaimed it “a refreshingly old-school, tautly strung adventure.”

Reviews since (and there are many) have been glowing and specific on what makes Slaght’s book a standout: its focus on the real-life rigors of fieldwork, its insights into science and conservation, its glimpses of life in a far-off and untamed part of Russia, and the author’s considerable storytelling skills. Never has bad vodka sounded so interesting.

In September, “Owls” appeared on the National Book Awards longlist. Slaght, a wildlife biologist, wasn’t sure what that meant and had to look it up. “Owls” has been named a New York Times Notable Book of 2020, one of Smithsonian Magazine’s 10 Best Science Books of 2020 and, most recently, the Best Nature Book of the Year by the Times of London.

“Owls” will be translated into German, Spanish, French and Korean, with other languages certain to follow. At the moment, the book is sold out everywhere, though the third printing should be arriving in bookstores this week.

Slaght recorded the audiobook (it has a lot of Russian names) and has been busy doing events and talks for organizations and bookstores. There’s one coming up on Sunday, Dec. 13, at 1 p.m. presented by the International Owl Center. (If you don’t see a link on their website, check back later. In case you’re wondering, the International Owl Center is located in Houston, Minnesota.)

The picks

On now: Virtual exhibitions. Museums and galleries across the state are closed per Gov. Walz’s latest COVID restrictions, but you can visit many virtually. Like these:

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At the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery (MAAHMG), Christmas trees have legs – or at least one does. For her “Magical Black History Trees” exhibition, artist Alicia Smiley has topped six trees with mannequins instead of stars, then decorated each with clothing and ornaments illustrating a Black history and culture theme: the Harlem Renaissance, the 1978 film “The Wiz,” the Black Power movement, Jumping the Broom and more. A video walks you through the show and tells you about each tree.

Panel with calligraphy, second half of 20th century, unknown artist, Morocco
Courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Art
Panel with calligraphy, second half of 20th century, unknown artist, Morocco.
At Mia, “Foot in the Door 5,” an open exhibition for Minnesota artists that takes place every 10 years, should keep you busy for a while. It includes more than 2,000 works, all viewable online. Short videos about specific artists are being released throughout the run. More new exhibitions have opened during the pandemic, including “Khatt Islāmi: Sacred Scripts from Islamic Africa,” co-curated by Amallina Mohamed, curator at the Somali Museum of Minnesota, and Mia’s Jan-Lodewijk Grootaers. Arabic calligraphy is considered the highest form of art in Islam.

LeLand Gantt
Courtesy of the Ordway
LeLand Gantt
Available now from the Ordway: Free virtual screening of LeLand Gantt’s “Rhapsody in Black.” The Ordway partnered with nearly a dozen other theaters around the country to co-commission this one-man show about actor and writer Gantt’s personal journey to understand and transcend racism in America. Written and performed by Gantt, developed at New York City’s Actors Studio by Estelle Parsons, it’s free to stream on demand through Dec. 6. On Dec. 5 at 7 p.m., E.G. Bailey will moderate a live Q&A with Gantt. Your reservation includes access to both the film and the Q&A. FMI including trailer and link to reservation.

Thursday (Dec. 3) from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs: A Conversation with Minnesota Writer Charles Baxter. Local author Baxter is making the rounds with his new novel, “The Sun Collective,” set against the backdrop of the Twin Cities. If you haven’t yet caught one of his virtual appearances, this would be a good one to make time for. He’ll read from his book and discuss it with U of M professor and novelist Julie Schumacher, whose “Dear Committee Member” won the Thurber Prize for humor writing – the first time it was ever won by a woman. 12 noon. Free, but registration is required.

Opens Friday (Dec. 4) at Highpoint Center for Printmaking: Prints on Ice. An exhibition of prints by 25 local printmakers currently making work at Highpoint. Methods include lithography, relief, intaglio, screenprinting, monotype and polymer photogravure. On view virtually until otherwise announced. If you’re shopping for gifts or your own collection, note the 20% opening week discount for all co-op member prints featured in the show. FMI. Ends Jan. 2.