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Minnesota Opera's president resigns

Posted by: Graydon Royce Updated: November 21, 2014 - 4:40 PM
Nina Archabal, who became interim president at Minnesota Opera on Thursday.

Minnesota Opera, which has become a national leader in generating new work, appears to be less than stable at the executive level. President and General Director Kevin Ramach has resigned after about two and one-half years in the role.

Ramach himself had succeeded Allan Naplan, who quit in March, 2012 after only one year in the job. According to a news release, Nina Archabal – the former director of the Minnesota Historical Society – took over on Thursday as interim general director.

The fact that the Opera is appointing an interim director on short notice indicates that Ramach’s decision was not long planned. When longtime president Kevin Smith announced plans to retire in May, 2010, he stayed on and Naplan’s hiring was announced six months later. Naplan took over the following March and surprisingly quit the next year. Ramach was appointed interim president and general director and then named permanently to the post in July of 2012.  

The Opera has had a tight budget the past few years and announced a deficit for the last fiscal year.  At that time, Ramach said the company had cut costs when it was clear that revenue was not matching expenses, even though ticket revenue was at an all-time high with the best season-subscription numbers in 14 years.

Fundraising, marketing and communications departments were streamlined. In the past year, two key players in those roles – marketing director Lani Willis and communications director Daniel Zillman – left the Opera for other positions. Several other people in key positions have also left the company. Ramach had also indicated in the report of the deficit that the company would be hiring a consultant  to examine productivity.

The company has launched prominent world premieres in recent years. “Silent Night,” “Doubt,” and the upcoming “The Manchurian Candidate” are three new works the Opera has commissioned.

Ramach, 54, joined Minnesota Opera in 1988 and left 11 years later for Kentucky Opera. He returned to the Twin Cities in 2006 and served as production director for six years before he succeeded Naplan. Friday’s news release quoted him as saying he wanted to “return to my creative interests.” He will not stay with the company.

The news release also did not indicate when the Opera board will conduct a search for a permanent leader. It is unlikely that Archabal, 74, will be a candidate long term. She had been with the Minnesota Historical Society for more than 30 years before retiring as director in 2010. She is president of the Schubert Club board.

Opera board chairman Jim Johnson said late Friday that he does not feel the Opera has a problem in the administration. "I think we have everything under control," Johnson said.

40 brides for 40 brothers

Posted by: Kristin Tillotson Updated: November 19, 2014 - 2:52 PM

Minneapolis composer Jake Runestad had a blast writing the music for a bloody mini-opera. 

“Daughters of the Bloody Duke” sounds more like the title of a Vincent Price camp horror flick than a new opera. And that’s fine with its Minneapolis-based composer, Jake Runestad.“There’s not a lot of comedic opera being written now, and I like making people laugh,” he said. Loosely based on a Greek tragedy, the 20-minute work (with libretto by David Johnston) receives its world premiere Friday from the Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center in D.C. along with two other short operas. The synopsis: A duke with 40 daughters is marrying them all off to the 40 sons of a ruler from a neighboring land. On the wedding night, he instructs the daughters to all kill their husbands so he can overpower his rival. “Throughout you hear screams and shouts offstage as they fall, like, ’14!’ and ‘23!,’” Runestad said. “One daughter, Margot, falls in love with her husband and questions whether she should listen to Dad or follow her heart.” Side characters include grandma’s ghost and a drunken sister who keeps stumbling into Margot's room asking if she's killed her hubby yet.

Martin Frost weighs in on SPCO collaboration

Posted by: Kristin Tillotson Updated: November 12, 2014 - 6:11 PM

Martin Frost, star clarinetist, will work with the SPCO on tours, recording and some concerts here at home through the 2018-19 season.

When Martin FrÖst performed a weekend of concerts with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra in October, audiences were so excited they looked as if they might turn cartwheels in the aisle. This week, the SPCO announced that FrÖst will be the next in a line of impressive artistic partners, with plans for recording, international tours, new commissioned works and involvement with the star clarinetist's current passion, his" Genesis Project," which will trace the development of classical music from its earliest folk and religious roots to modern compositions.

FrÖst, 43, also recently signed a contract with Sony Classical, and hopes to record with the SPCO as both soloist and conductor on that label during his partnership. He said he's branching out beyond just performing now because "I didn't want to look back on my life and say, oh, I did [Mozart's] Clarinet Concerto 900 times. I'd like to be able to say I was brave enough to try new things, to open new doors for classical music."

FrÖst waxed enthusiastic about his upcoming collaborations with the orchestra (to last through the 2018-19 season). He described the chamber orchestra’s members as musicians who “don’t just sit there. They sit on the edge of their chairs. They're very flexible to work with and can play some extremely hard stuff. They are offering a wonderful musical home for me, a perfect pairing to try new things.” One of those new things, he hopes, will be performances of his original conceptual work “Dollhouse,” which combines music, dance and special lighting effects, with musicians taking cues from his choreographed movement onstage. The work premiered in Stockholm in 2013 and was performed last month in Gothenburg, Sweden.

"I call it 'conductography,' " he said."It's about liberation, in both physical and symbolic form.". Okay, SPCO -- prepare to be liberated.

Orchestra adds Paulus song to weekend concerts

Posted by: Graydon Royce Updated: November 5, 2014 - 3:46 PM

The Minnesota Orchestra will perform a short piece by composer Stephen Paulus at all three weekend concerts. Paulus, who died Oct. 19, was a former composer in residence at the orchestra. He enjoyed a long relationship with the organization. In 2011, the orchestra opened its season with "Timepiece," a jazz-inspired work by Paulus and his son, Greg.

The orchestra will play "Veil of Tears," which is a selection from the large work "To Be Certain of the Dawn." Commissioned by the Basilica of St. Mary's, this Holocaust Oratorio was recorded by the Minnesota Orchestra, the Minnesota Chorale and the Minnesota Boychoir in 2008.

"Veil of Tears" is a short, instrumental piece. Described as a tribute to Paulus, the composition will open the concerts this weekend at Orchestra Hall.

At right, Paulus reviewed the score of "To Be Certain of the Dawn" with music director Osmo Vanska in 2008. Photo by Sharolyn Hagen.

Women composers nearly absent in orchestra programs

Posted by: Claude Peck Updated: October 28, 2014 - 2:39 PM

Women composers remain almost entirely unrepresented in the concert programs of major U.S. orchestras, including the Minnesota Orchestra.

That is among findings of a new study by a writer attached to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Ricky O'Bannon pooled the 2014-15 classical concert seasons of 21 orchestras and looked at ages of composers, whether composers were living or dead, and the countries of origin of composers being played.

Female composers represent 1.8 percent of the works performed. When looking at works by living composers, those by women increases to 14.8 percent. The current season at Minnesota Orchestra includes one work by a woman composer in its regular subscription season (Polina Nazaykinskaya's "Winter Bells," Nov. 13-15 ). Two women composers will be played in the Jan. 16 Future Classics program.

The BSO study determined that the average date of all compositions performed is 1886, and that 9.5 percent of all music performed was composed since 2000. American composers made up less than 11 percent of pieces performed. Additional details are illustrated below. 

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