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HOBT to sell its longtime home; the joy of hearing the Minnesota Orchestra

ALSO: Launch event for Patrick Nathan’s “Image Control” at Subtext Books; “Sounds for Silents” at the Walker Hillside; and more.

The In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre on Lake Street.
The In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre on Lake Street.
MinnPost file photo by Jim Walsh

In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre (HOBT) will sell the Avalon Theatre on Lake Street, its home since 1988. It will also move out of the storage warehouse it rents to hold thousands of puppets created over the decades.

None of this comes as a surprise. HOBT has been on shaky financial ground for years. In January 2019, the theater announced that it could run out of cash and close permanently as soon as June 2019. There were layoffs and furloughs, and cuts in operations. MayDay 2019 was widely expected to be the last hurrah after 45 years of community celebrations. And that was before the pandemic.

Said a press release sent late last week: “As we rebuild from the impacts of COVID-19 we are right-sizing our organization. It’s time to find a new, smaller home that will allow us to live into our vision of a decentralized MayDay. That includes moving into a new space that is more sustainable and accessible.”

The nonprofit hopes to move into “a storefront in the Phillips or Powderhorn neighborhoods with a small performance space, a classroom for teaching workshops, and a small storage area for the puppet collection we plan to keep.”

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About the puppets it doesn’t plan to keep, “HOBT has been working over the summer with artists to ensure their puppets return home with them. We are also in conversation with museums, both locally and across the country, who will be able to house and steward these beloved and iconic puppets.”

Meanwhile, “a circle of HOBT founders and longtime legacy artists continue their work archiving decades of HOBT’s written and visual materials for storage at the University of Minnesota.”

The decision to sell the Avalon was made by the HOBT Board of Directors in conversation and with the input of HOBT staff and the MayDay Council. According to a report in the Star Tribune, the annual mortgage payments on the theater are $22,000 and maintenance costs are about $71,000.

The joy of hearing the full Minnesota Orchestra live and in person

There’s nothing like the full force of the Minnesota Orchestra, playing in the renowned acoustics of its home on Nicollet Mall. We’ve heard it twice this summer, first in July, when Jon Kimura Parker, the orchestra’s creative partner for summer programming, introduced us all to Florence Price’s achingly lovely “Piano Concerto in One Movement,” and again on Saturday, when conductor Nathalie Stutzmann led Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony, “From the New World.”

As Czech pianist Lukáš Vondráček crescendoed his way into the Rachmaninoff, each chord introduced by a growl from the Steinway’s lowest F, and the orchestra’s strings washed in like a wave, we thought – this is the moment we’ve been waiting for since the pandemic began. The feeling of being surrounded, lifted up and carried away by music. Corny? Maybe a little, but if you’ve never felt it, ask someone who has. They’ll tell you it can be life-changing.

The Minnesota Orchestra takes its bows after Saturday’s concert. The orchestra is still playing to 50% capacity audiences.
MinnPost photo by John Whiting
The Minnesota Orchestra takes its bows after Saturday’s concert. The orchestra is still playing to 50% capacity audiences.
Like deVon Russell Gray, whom we spoke with in September. He clearly remembers the first time he heard the orchestra play in Orchestra Hall.  He was 14 and on a field trip with Minnesota Youth Symphony’s Summer Jazz Orchestra to see a closed rehearsal for Sommerfest. He walked into the hall and heard the orchestra play the opening movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. “As soon as I heard that,” he said, “I shifted my life. After that one experience, I became a classical musician.” That may not be your path, but you might discover something you didn’t know you loved.

We’ve heard the Rachmaninoff maybe a half-dozen times, but never like this. It was an explosion of sound and color. Vondráček was passionate and powerful, but capable of a pianissimo so soft it was barely a murmur. The concerto is a workout for the pianist, who plays nearly every minute. It brought a standing ovation, and deservedly so, even though we Minnesotans are famous for jumping to our feet after performances. The Rachmaninoff was followed almost as quickly as the Steinway could be rolled out of the way – the orchestra is still avoiding intermissions – by a big, gorgeous Dvořák and another standing ovation.

The whole night was thrilling. The orchestra sounded great. Having survived the first year of the pandemic – and built an even bigger audience with a series of livestreamed “This Is Minnesota Orchestra” concert performances produced by TPT, which are still available to watch on the orchestra’s own video channel (and on TPT, which continues to broadcast them) – it has one more summer concert remaining on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 27 and 28, before beginning its fall season with superstar guest Joshua Bell on Sept. 23.

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A few restricted view tickets are still available for the August performances, some up in Balcony C at the rear of the hall, which longtime devotees swear has better sound than anywhere. Prices start at $25 for public rush, $20 if you’re under 40. FMI and tickets.

The picks

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

V Tonight (Tuesday, Aug. 17), 7 p.m., Subtext Books: Launch event for Patrick Nathan’s “Image Control” in conversation with Chris Stedman. Nathan’s latest, “Image Control: Art, Fascism, and the Right to Resist,” is a work of scholarly nonfiction that asks, “Who gets to police how we see ourselves and others? Who gets to control the media we consume? Can we intervene or at least mitigate the influence of constant content?” And “If fascism spreads through imagery, can’t anti-fascism do the same?” Kirkus Reviews called it “an unexpectedly entertaining scholarly warning about fascism’s spread through imagery.” Foreword Reviews called it “whip-smart … brain candy.” Stedman is a Minneapolis-based writer, speaker and Augsburg professor who has written for publications from the Atlantic to Vice. Free with registration.

“Sounds for Silents” includes shorts from the Walker’s Ruben/Bentson Moving Image Collection.
Courtesy of the Walker Art Center
“Sounds for Silents” includes shorts from the Walker’s Ruben/Bentson Moving Image Collection.
L Thursday, Aug. 19, 7 p.m. on the Walker Hillside: “Sounds for Silents.” Last year’s “Sounds for Silents” was virtual. This year’s moves back outdoors for an evening of music and film on the big screen. The films are all shorts from the Walker’s Ruben/Bentson Moving Image Collection; the newly commissioned scores are by Minneapolis-based artist/producer FPA, who will perform them live. 7 p.m. DJ Yonci Jameson and food trucks; 8:30 p.m. screening and performance. Free. FMI and trailer.

L Thursday, Aug. 19, 7 p.m. at Crooners: An Evening with Café Accordion Orchestra. Musettes, swing, ballads, cha chas, rumbas and cumbias by the five-piece ensemble led by accordionist Dan Newton. They’ll be celebrating the 25th anniversary of their first full-length recording, “Dancing on the Moon,” with special guest vocalist Diane Jarvi. This has always been a good-time band. Doors at 5:45. Outdoors in the Belvedere, the big white tent with full dinner and cocktail service. FMI and tickets ($30).

Save the dates

After canceling a March 29, 2020, mini-jazz festival in Minneapolis and last summer’s main event in St. Paul, the Twin Cities Jazz Festival will return to Mears Park on Sept. 17-18. Traditionally held in June, the festival was nudged a few months to get further away from COVID, or so everyone thought at the time. For now, Jazz Fest will go on as planned, like the Minnesota State Fair, until or unless we hear otherwise.

Kenny Barron
Photo by Philippe Levy-Stab
Kenny Barron
The 2021 festival won’t be as big or as spread-out as past fests, but it will have terrific headliners and a solid lineup of local talent on two stages, Mears Park and 5th St. Friday night’s headliners are internet jazz star Emmet Cohen, who has been livestreaming weekly performances from his Harlem apartment, with fast-rising alto saxophonist Patrick Bartley, and Kenny Barron, the revered and elegant NEA Jazz Master. Saturday’s headliners are NEA Jazz Master Delfeayo Marsalis and our own Moore by Four. Local artists scheduled to appear include the Twin Cities Seven, Jack Brass Band and Salsa del Soul.

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The festival is free, and if you prefer to watch at home, you can do that instead.