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Minnesota Orchestra will offer in-person concerts in June; Maria Schneider wins two more Grammys

ALSO: Club Book presents Claire Lombardo: “The Most Fun We Ever Had”; “Before Vaccines: Art and the Plague in Italy” at Mia; and more.

Music Director Osmo Vänskä, center, leading the Minnesota Orchestra during their New Year's Eve Concert.
Music Director Osmo Vänskä, center, leading the Minnesota Orchestra during their New Year's Eve concert.
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If you’re wondering when you’ll be able to return to Orchestra Hall to hear the Minnesota Orchestra led by Osmo Vänska, how does Friday, June 11, sound?

The orchestra will conclude its 2020-21 classical season with two concerts in June that will offer limited seating in the hall. The July and August summer calendar will add performances to accommodate more in-person audience members.

The 2020-21 classical season the orchestra delivered was not the one it announced on April 17, 2020. Back then, there was still hope the pandemic would soon be over, and September 24-26, the season opening weekend, seemed so far away. Now it seems so far in the past. Meanwhile, the orchestra has given us nine months of performances designed for at-home viewing and listening.

“We have been waiting for this moment for a long time,” Vänskä said in a statement, “and it means a lot that we will be able to conclude the Classical season by welcoming audiences back to Orchestra Hall. … Those June performances will be very emotional.”

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We can’t imagine any live-and-in-person performance that won’t be very emotional. Returning to venues that closed more than a year ago will stir up some feelings. Bring Kleenex everywhere you go, and a mask.

All of the orchestra’s Friday-night concerts between April and August 2021, including those in the summer season featuring Jon Kimura Parker, will continue to be televised live on TPT’s MN channel, broadcast live on classical MPR and streamed live at the orchestra’s website for free. So if you’re not yet ready to go back into a concert hall, no problem.

From April 2 through June 25, the orchestra will perform seven Friday-night concerts, offered every other week. Vänskä will conduct four of the programs; Sarah Hicks, Marc Albrecht and Fabien Gabel will lead the others. For the first concert, “A Musical Passport,” Rick Steves will be a special guest.

All concerts through June will feature works by composers of color, a practice the orchestra began in August during a truncated series of outdoor chamber music performances on Peavey Plaza. The season finale on June 25 will include the world premiere of an overture by Vänskä.

When Orchestra Hall reopens to audiences, safety measures will be in place. Concerts will be shorter than before, with no intermissions. Entries and departures will be staggered; no more traffic jams at the escalators. Masking and physical distancing will be required.

The summer season in July and August will feature pairs of concerts offered every other week inside Orchestra Hall. Friday night performances will be presented for TV, radio, streaming and in-person audiences, Saturday nights for in-person audiences only. Parker, who was appointed the orchestra’s first-ever creative partner for summer programming in 2019, was set to make his debut in summer 2020, but COVID-19 said no. He will play a featured role this summer, with details to be announced in May.

Streaming concerts and broadcasts will remain free. Live-and-in-person concerts will be ticketed. Subscribers will have the first chance at tickets. They will go on sale to the general public on May 18.

SPCO signs contract with pay raise

Fifteen months before their current contract was set to expire, the musicians of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra have signed a two-year contract extension that will take them through June 2024. With an emphasis on solidarity, ratification was unanimous among the musicians, the SPCO Board of Directors and the board of the American Federation of Musicians Local 30-73.

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The contract includes a 2% pay increase in the fiscal year 2022, the final year of the current contract, which will stay in place for two more years. All other terms and conditions of the current contract remain unchanged.

SPCO Managing Director and President Jon Limbacher said in a statement, “This extension agreement reflects the fact that the SPCO musicians, management and board are unified and 100 percent focused on getting to the other side of this crisis in a strong position.”

Photo by Chelsea Tischler
Fifteen months before their current contract was set to expire, the musicians of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra have signed a two-year contract extension that will take them through June 2024.
The SPCO’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30. For its most recent fiscal year, which ended just months into the pandemic, the orchestra had a budget surplus of $74,000 on operating expenses of $9.7 million. In 2017, the orchestra’s board created a “Rainy Day Fund” to guard against future economic downturns; surpluses ever since have been added to that fund, which stood at $762,000 at the end of FY 2020.

The orchestra’s goals at the start of the pandemic were to maintain financial health and sustainability; maintain employment and compensation for staff and musicians; and keep sharing music with the community. When a fall 2020 series of six livestreamed concerts was interrupted by safety concerns, some concerts were replaced with rebroadcasts.

The SPCO recently announced a new series of five concerts to be streamed live from the Ordway Concert Hall stage starting March 20 – this coming Saturday. The growing online Concert Library continues to be a go-to for SPCO fans and music lovers, with complete concerts and selections available anytime to anyone for free.

Maria Schneider wins two more Grammys and a prestigious award from France

Maria Schneider
Photo by Briene Lermitte
Maria Schneider
Born in Windom, Minnesota, composer, arranger and bandleader Maria Schneider studied music theory and composition at the University of Minnesota before moving to New York City in 1985. She hasn’t lived in Minnesota since, but she returns as often as she can to visit family and friends, and much of her music is deeply rooted here.

She was scheduled to perform with her stellar Maria Schneider Orchestra on April 21, 2020, at the Hopkins Center for the Arts, but that concert was canceled by COVID. The last time we saw her in Minnesota was Feb. 16, 2017, at the O’Shaughnessy, where she played with the house lights on. She knew that many of her family and friends were in the audience, and she wanted to see them. “There’s nothing like playing for the home crowd,” she said near the start of the concert.

On that February date, which featured “The Thompson Fields,” she performed a new piece that had been commissioned by the Library of Congress. By way of introduction, she spoke briefly of digital rights, Big Data, and Stephen Hawking’s belief that artificial intelligence would one day surpass human intelligence. The music was unlike anything we had ever heard from her – dark and ominous, a cry of anger and alarm. At the end, she said, “Just forget you heard that!” She wasn’t sure if she should call it “Data Lords” or “Lords of Data.”

On Sunday, “Data Lords,” Schneider’s latest album on the fan-funded label ArtistShare, won the Grammy for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album. One of the songs, “Sputnik,” won for Best Instrumental Composition. The two Grammys upped Schneider’s total (so far) to seven, putting her on par with fellow Minnesota artists Prince and Bob Dylan.

Earlier this month, Schneider won a major French award, Le Grand Prix de l’Académie du Jazz, also for “Data Lords.” In 2018, she was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, the United States’ highest honor in jazz.

A Grammy tradition, the “In Memoriam” segment remembered artists lost during the past year. Several names were not mentioned. One was Frank Kimbrough, who died in December at age 64. Kimbrough was the pianist with the Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra since 1993. On all of her recordings, it’s his piano you hear.

The picks

V is for virtual, L is for live and in person.

“Amundsen: The Greatest Expedition”
“Amundsen: The Greatest Expedition”
V Streaming on demand at MSP Film’s Virtual Cinema: “Amundsen: The Greatest Expedition.” An unknown man from a then-impoverished country, Norway’s Roald Amundsen was the first researcher to reach both the North and South Poles. Award-winning Norwegian director Espen Sandberg (“Kon-Tiki,” “Pirates of the Caribbean”) tells his story. We think this is a film Minnesotans will want to see, even though we have our own polar explorers, Ann Bancroft and Will Steger. FMI and tickets ($12/9).

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V Livestreaming Thursday, March 18, 12 noon: Minneapolis Institute of Art: “Before Vaccines: Art and the Plague in Italy.” How have artists of the past responded to plagues of their times? For example, the Black Death of 1347-51? Rachel McGarry, Mia’s associate curator of prints and drawings, will take us through some of the art created by artists, architects and writers during and after major historic outbreaks in the 14th, 16th and 17th centuries. Free with RSVP. Call 612-870-6323 or register here.

V Livestreaming Thursday, March 18, 6:30 p.m.: Club Book: Claire Lombardo: “The Most Fun We Ever Had.” An immediate New York Times best-seller, named one of the best books of summer 2019 by the Chicago Tribune and others, Claire Lombardo’s debut novel will be out in paperback on April 6, making it easier to bring to the beach at Bde Maka Ska. A time-jumping story of four sisters over five decades, “The Most Fun We Ever Had” has been praised as “a tender and satisfyingly positive take on family.” The book is currently being adapted for HBO. Hosted by Washington County Library. Free. Go here on Thursday to join the virtual author event; no registration required.

V Livestreaming Saturday, March 20, 8 p.m.: The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra: “Lamentations.” Principal Cello Julie Albers will take the spotlight in Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson’s “Lamentations: Black/Folk Song Suite” for solo cello; five SPCO musicians will play Mozart’s String Quintet in G minor; and Hanna Hyunjung Kim (piano), James Ferree (horn) and Eunice Kim (violin) will perform Brahms’ Horn Trio in E-flat, all streamed live from the Ordway Concert Hall stage. Free at the SPCO’s concert library. The concert will be rebroadcast on Thursday, March 25, at 7 p.m.