The Schubert Club’s announcement of its 139th season reads like it’s from the Before Times. There’s no mention of COVID-19 or streaming. The only nod to the pandemic is in the subscription information, which notes that “Single ticket availability will depend on capacity restrictions and guidelines from the State of Minnesota.”
Other than that, it’s all about the music.
Schubert Club is a presenting organization for classical music. (It also has a museum and a robust education and scholarship program.) It doesn’t have its own orchestra. Instead, it offers several well-established, tastefully curated series each season: its flagship International Artist recital series, the Music in the Park chamber music series, the more intimate and informal Schubert Club Mix, the string ensemble Accordo and the weekday lunchtime Courtroom Concerts.
Some series made it through the pandemic reasonably intact. The original plan was to bring International Artist and Music in the Park series artists here and record them in the Schubert Club’s usual venues, the Ordway and the Saint Anthony Park United Church of Christ. As COVID spread, travel became more difficult and restrictions more stringent. Some concerts were recorded elsewhere; some were canceled or postponed.
But everything that could be recorded was recorded and made available on demand. Remarkably, all five concerts in the 2020-21 International Artist Season were presented – not in the original order, but all took place and all were free.
With 2021-22, Schubert Club is ready to go live and in person. In the words of Barry Kempton, the Schubert Club’s artistic and executive director, “What we’re offering next season is a full series of International Artist Series and Music in the Park Series. Later in the summer, we’ll announce the Schubert Club Mix and Accordo.
“We believe we can do it, and we will be back with concerts with people in person. The one question that’s still outstanding is whether we’ll have full venues or whether we will still need to have reduced capacity. But that’s not a reason not to put our subscription packages on sale as we would normally. So that’s what we’re doing.
“We’ve had a lot of very nice response from the audience about the streamed concerts. But it’s not the same experience as being in a venue with an artist and enjoying a concert with other people. It was important for us to try to move back there as soon as we felt it would be safe.”
We open Schubert Club season announcements with a sense of anticipation, wanting to know right away what the year will bring. Some of you surely feel the same, so here’s a quick look at the two series announced today.
International Artist Series
Nov. 2 and 3: Augustin Hadelich, violin; Orion Weiss, piano
Jan. 3, 2022: Víkingur Ólafsson, piano (the Featured Artist for the 2021-22 season, Ólafsson will also give a concert in the Mix series)
Jan. 7: Gerald Finley, bass-baritone, and Julius Drake, piano
March 8 and 9: Isata Kanneh-Mason, piano
April 21 and 22: Anthony McGill, clarinet, and pianist TBA
Music in the Park Series
Nov. 21: Dover Quartet with Davóne Tines, baritone
Jan. 23, 2022: Susie Park, violin, and Benjamin Hochman, piano
Feb. 27: Imani Winds
March 20: Pavel Haas Quartet
April 24: Catalyst Quartet
May 8: Marina Piccinini, flute, and Clarice & Sergio Assad
Kempton has been working from his office in the Landmark Center for two weeks. “I like it here,” he said when we spoke by phone on Tuesday. He won’t bring the staff back until fall, before the new season. Until then, “People have the option to choose what’s comfortable for them.”
We had questions.
MinnPost: Víkingur Ólafsson! It’s exciting to see his name on the International Artist Series.
Barry Kempton: Everything he turns his hands to comes to life. It’s spectacular. We’ve heard him play Bach, Philip Glass, French repertoire. I heard him do a recital of all Beethoven a year and a half ago in Europe. Everything he does is just extraordinary.
MP: Some arts organizations are taking a hybrid approach – live performances with streaming options. Did you consider that for the new season?
BK: We are going to stream some concerts. We’re going to have a virtual series of selected concerts from different series. We’ll announce that later.
We’re aware that some people won’t feel comfortable coming back into the concert venue, and we don’t want to exclude them. There are people who aren’t able to come to the venue, whether it’s because they live further afield or they’re not comfortable driving in evenings to concerts. This is an opportunity for us to be able to offer a series remotely, virtually, so they can be part of it as well. But that series will be behind a modest paywall. We’re not going to continue offering concerts totally free and accessible in the way that we have done last year.
MP: Did streaming grow your national and international audience?
BK: Depending on the program, yes. One thing we made a conscious decision about was not to require people to register. We just put things out without any barriers and made our programs as accessible as we could. The downside of that, of course, is that we don’t have much data to tell us anything about the people who were watching. But through Facebook Live and YouTube comments, we know that people were watching some of the concerts nationally and internationally.
Beatrice Rana and her sister Ludovica put their concert out on their social media and a lot of Europeans watched that program. Lawrence Brownlee did the same; he has a lot of fans in Europe and Latin America who watched him. So from that perspective, we spread the music worldwide, which was a nice thing to have done.
[When we asked for specifics, the Schubert Club provided us with some numbers. The streaming concerts and programs drew almost 44,000 views. Lawrence Brownlee, the first International Artist Series concert, was the most watched, with 21,100 views. Nearly a third of the people who watched the Rana sisters were in Italy. Viewers from Japan and Singapore tuned in for Midori.]
MP: What has been uppermost in your mind while programming the new season?
BK: If you’re talking about the International Artist Series, it’s all about excitement and balance. Those are probably the two things that I try and bear in mind. We want people to be excited about the names they see on the list of artists. And we want to have a mix of instruments and voice, a mix of gender, a mix of race, and a mix of established and rising stars. Making a decision about one artist always has an impact on the other people that we’re thinking about.
I have a very knowledgeable artistic committee. We do spend time looking at lists of artists we would like to invite. But as we nail down one person, it has an impact on all the other people that we’re considering.
MP: Did not being able to travel affect your programming?
BK: It was a slightly different process. Víkingur was already lined up because I’d gone to see him in the fall of 2019. Augustin Hadelich came here five years ago and I’m really excited to have him back. When we heard Isata Kanneh-Mason in that amazing duo with her brother Sheku [in Dec. 2019, as part of the 2019-20 International Artist Series], we got a little glimpse of what she might offer as a piano soloist. And then she brought out that Clara Schumann CD, which is stunning. We’re thrilled that she could come back.
Looking forward to next year, it will be a different process. There will be less in-person influence. A lot of it will be based on knowledge of artists and recordings and seeing what’s going on in the world. And who’s traveling and who’s available.
MP: Can you tell us a bit about Music in the Park?
BK: Three of the six concerts are artists or ensembles who were going to come in 2020-21. I’m pleased that we’re able to honor those commitments. And then I am really excited about the Pavel Haas quartet, who are very well established in Europe but not so much in this country. I’m thrilled that they will be here.
Our friends the Dover Quartet have been here before and did a fabulous program three or four years ago. They’re coming with a relatively young baritone, Davóne Tines, who I think will just be fabulous. And I’m a big fan of Clarice and Sergio Assad. Everything they do seems so spontaneous. They’re so inventive as musicians. Bringing Marina Piccinini, the flutist, is a really intriguing project.
MP: Can you give us an update on the Danish String Quartet’s performance of Beethoven’s complete string quartets, originally scheduled for May 2020? Your website says this series has been rescheduled for November 5-11, 2021.
BK: We will be sending out more information in the summer. But we’re determined to make it happen in November. The quartet is on for it. They’re fabulous in their commitment. This is our third attempt at dates, and they found dates to make it work.
MP: Six concerts over seven days means a concert almost every night.
BK: I think they get Monday night off, but it’s going to be intense. A lot of people commented, when we first announced the series, that they wanted to be in for an experience. If you commit to going six nights out of seven, to be fully immersed in everything Beethoven wrote for string quartet within a week, that’s pretty much the most impactful experience you could have.
MP: Is there anything else you want to tell us about 2021-22?
BK: I just am excited that we’re planning in-person concerts. We know there will be some issues around it for some people, but one of the things so many people love about coming to a Schubert Club concert is that sense of community. And listening together, being in a room together. That’s an important part of the live concert experience. And that’s what we want to get back to.
Subscriptions to the International Artist Series ($105-280) and Music in the Park Series ($144) go on sale today (Wednesday, May 26) at 10 a.m. Student subscriptions are available to both. Call 651-292-3268. Single tickets will go on sale later this year.