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Four young Minnesota musicians just wrapped a thrilling couple of weeks touring with the National Youth Orchestra, featuring soloist Gil Shaham. Left to right in a photo shot following a concert at Chicago's Millennium Park: Emma Richman, Anna Humphrey, Shaham, Arjun Ganguly and Liam Smith.
Turns out star violinist Gil Shaham isn't just a phenomenal musician. He's also a real mensch, according to four Minnesota teens who just finished performing eight concerts coast to coast with him. Violinist Emma Richman of Minneapolis, violinist Anna Humphrey of Rogers, violist Arjun Ganguly of St, Cloud and percussionist Liam Smith of Minneapolis were among 120 teens chosen to play with the prestigious National Youth Orchestra, a Carnegie Hall-funded program in its second year that auditions youth all over the country and pays for everything but transportation to New York at the outset and back home at tour's end.
Shaham was "the nicest guy, such a joy to work with," Richman said.
"You never know if you're going to get a diva, but he had this amazing way of making eye contact and smiling at everyone in the orchestra while he was playing," said Ganguly, in his second summer with the NYO. "He seemed like he was enjoying every minute of it."
The orchestra’s program included the premiere of "Radial Play," a special Carnegie commission by composer Samuel Adams, Leonard Bernstein’s "Symphonic Dances" from "West Side Story;" Benjamin Britten’s Violin Concerto with Shaham; and Ravel’s arrangement of Mussorgsky’s "Pictures at an Exhibition." The final concert was performed Monday at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
Sarah Larsson of Minneapolis, Rachel LaViola and Nila Bala (left to right), a.k.a the Nightingale Trio, sang last January behind frozen Minnehaha Falls.
They may hail from three far-flung corners of the country, but the Nightingale Trio, three songbirds specializing in Eastern-European folk music , still make time to unite for several weekend concert tours a year, and are bringing four to the Twin Cities area this weekend.
Sarah Larsson of Minneapolis, Nila Bala of Baltimore and Rachel LaViola of Dallas met when they sang with a Slavic women’s chorus at Yale, where in 2012 they earned degrees in anthropology, law and film respectively.
“We all grew up liking world music in general,” said Larsson, who works with the recently established Somali Artifact and Cultural Museum. “But when I heard women singing Balkan folk for the first time, I was so drawn to it. There’s a lot of dissonance built into the harmonies. It’s like dance, where there’s almost a crackling tension and release, stretching away from your partner and coming together again. It’s very satisfying to sing.”
Last January, the trio, aged between 24 and 27, performed on “A Prairie Home Companion” as well as behind a frozen waterfall at Minnehaha Falls, which you can watch on their website.
They will perform 8 p.m. today at the Verdant Tea Tasting Room (2111 E. Franklin Ave, Minneapolis), 6 p.m. Sat. at the Eat for Equity Festival on Lily Springs Farm (1930 6th Ave., Osceola, Wis.), 10 a.m. Sun. at Wayzata Community Church (125 Wayzata Blvd. E., Wayzata) as part of a worship service, and 2 p.m. Sun. at the art gallery in Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church (511 Groveland Av., Minneapolis). The concerts are free with goodwill donations suggested.
Minnesota Opera’s reputation for developing new work has drawn interest and encouragement from many sources nationally and internationally. The company announced Thursday that it will receive a $750,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support upcoming commissions of “The Manchurian Candidate,” “The Shining” and “Dinner at Eight.”
The gift, which stretches over three years, completes fundraising for the Opera’s $7 million New Works Initiative and launches a new phase.
The gift “sets the stage for the Initiative’s continuation and underscores the national importance of this landmark program for the development of new opera,” Opera President and General Director Kevin Ramach said in a statement.
The initiative was launched in 2008 with the intention of supporting new commissions and revivals of newer work (which in opera can mean anything from the last century) or work seldom performed. Among the world premieres developed through the program are “Silent Night” (Photo above by Tom Wallace) by Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell and “Doubt” by John Patrick Shanley and Douglas Cuomo (below, photo by Tom Wallace).
Puts won the Pulitzer Prize for music for his “Silent Night” score. He and Campbell are working on an adaptation of “The Manchurian Candidate,” which is in development and targeted for a premiere next March.
Campbell will also serve as librettist for “The Shining” with composer Paul Moravec (slated for May 2016) and he will write “Dinner at Eight” with composer William Bolcom (headed for 2017). Both those productions are part of the second phase of the initiative. Additionally, the New Works Initiative incorporates a co-commission of “Cold Mountain” (based on Charles Frazier's Civil War novel) with Santa Fe and Opera Philadelphia, with a score by composer Jennifer Higdon.
“I have loved Sommerfest since I led my first festival concert in 1984, early in my career,” Litton said in a statement. “I admire its spirit of playfulness, its urban setting and adventurous audiences—and the great Minnesota Orchestra musicians with whom I have been fortunate to collaborate.”
Litton’s contract had been set to expire after next month’s festival, July 5-26. This year’s session is the first to be held in the newly renovated Orchestra Hall. Litton will conduct Brahms and Bernstein, serve as piano soloist in Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and lead a semi-staged version of Strauss’ comic opera “Die Fledermaus.”
He will also inaugurate the Target Atrium as a performance venue on July 12 when he will play selections from his first solo piano recording, “A Tribute to Oscar Peterson.”
Litton has been a popular and comfortable fixture at Sommerfest and his continued presence provides stability for the orchestra and for audiences. He’s the longest-serving director for the festival, which was founded in 1980 with Leonard Slatkin. Litton serves as music director of Norway’s Bergen Philharmonic—where he will oversee that orchestra’s 250th anniversary celebrations in 2015—and the Colorado Symphony, as well as conductor laureate of Britain’s Bournemouth Symphony.
Conductor Sarah Hicks has agreed to extend her contract with the Minnesota Orchestra through 2016-17. Hired as principal conductor for pops and presentations in 2009, Hicks will lead the orchestra’s “Live at Orchestra Hall” series.
Hicks joined the orchestra as assistant conductor in 2006 as the first woman to hold a titled conducting post with the Minnesota Orchestra. She succeeded Doc Severinsen in the pops role.
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