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“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.
Digital projections by Yael Braha animated the rear wall at Orchestra Hall during a latenight concert by the Minnesota Orchestra conducted by Courtney Lewis. Photo by Claude Peck
If Minnesota Orchestra wants to attract younger audience members, it would be smart to plan more concerts like the one held at Orchestra Hall on Saturday night.
The crowd for the free 10 p.m. show -- a tie-in event of Northern Spark's all-night rain-and-art fest -- nearly filled the main level of the hall, and the concertgoers appeared a good three or four decades younger, overall, than the audience for most classical concerts by the orchestra.
Longtime subscribers heard a show at 7 p.m. featuring the Mahler 5 and a Kevin Puts symphony, his number 4. (That show is reviewed here.) The Puts alone was repeated at 10 p.m. in a 30-minute concert that also included a sophisticated ive digital projection on the hall's back wall by artist and filmaker Yael Braha and Bryant Place.
The just-turned-30 conductor was Courtney Lewis, who is leaving Minnesota for posts in New York City and Jacksonville, Fla.
The full orchestra performed the Puts symphony, and they still wore their black outfits and tuxedos from the earlier concert. But the mood was much more relaxed than usual, with people taking cellphone photographs and late arrivers filing in. Neither of these "distractions" was any kind of major distraction.
A few people commented afterward that the music was cinematic enough that they did not need the added projections, but most people said they loved the combination. Braha used the familiar tumbling-dice back wall to good effect, with projections that seemed to spiderweb between them and to outline them and "fill" the cubes with dots and orbs in a state of color and motion. Only occasionally did the rear wall become a flat screen for larger, overall moving images, including one that resembled wind-whipped prairie grasses seen from a great height.
The fact that Braha was doing it "live" was demonstrated when the system crashed briefly and had to be rebooted. Lewis tried to hush the applauding crowd and sought the thumbs up from the back of the hall to restart the music.
Puts is a contemporary composer unafraid of writing lush pages for the string section, or of giving a piece some tutti crescendos. His full-throated, brass-heavy ending brought multiple standing ovations from the young crowd. A nervous looking Braha took several bows alongside Lewis and the musicians.
The night was far from over at 10:30 p.m., as bands were programmed into the off-lobby room until 3 a.m.
Four Minnesota composers will get $25,000 each as winners of this year's McKnight Composition Fellowships. The fellowships are administered by St. Paul-based American Composers Forum. They were selected from 63 applicants. The judges for this year's selections were composers Amir ElSaffar (New York, N.Y.), Stacy Garrop (Chicago, Ill.) and Daniel Trueman (Princeton, N.J.) The 2014 winners are:
Alex Freeman, who teaches at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. and has written and recorded chamber, choral and piano works.
Jocelyn Hagen, of Minneapolis, who was a longtime composer-in-residence for The Singers, and is now composer-in-residence at North Dakota State University in Fargo.
Michelle Kinney, of Golden Valley, a cellist and composer who is Musician in Residence at the University of Minnesota's Dance Program and a member of the quartet Jelloslave.
George Maurer, of Minneapolis, a composer and jazz pianist whose work has been performed by orchestras, ballet troupes, jazz ensembles and musical-theater producers.
Another McKnight program awards $15,000 each to two artists from outside Minnesota to spend two months or more in the state working on projects. Robin Eschner of Forestville, Calif., will produce a song cycle related to the the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon in northern Minnesota, and Pamela Z of San Francisco will compose a work focusing on Minnesota "farm-to-table" movement as it goes from farms to farmer's markets and restaurants.
The McKnight Foundation, founded in 1953, contributes about $1.7 million each year to individual artists via fellowships and other programs. American Composers Forum, founded in 1973 as Minnesota Composers Forum, has a worldwide membership of 1,700 artists, organizations and community members.
Violinist and conductor Thomas Zehetmair, an SPCO Artistic Partner, has withdrawn from three weeks of concerts marking the centenary of composer Benjamin Britten. Photo courtesy of SPCO.
The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra has been scrambling this week after news that conductor Thomas Zehetmair was suffering from "exhaustion and fatigue." Zehetmair is under doctor's orders to withdraw from all travel and performing commitments until he recovers, said Stephen Sokolouski of the SPCO.
Zehetmair was scheduled to lead concerts over the next three weekends to celebrate the centenary of British composer Benjamin Britten.
The Britten festival begins Thursday at Temple Israel in Minneapolis, and will go on, but with changes to the program and players, as follows:
Britten: String Quartet No. 2 (Steven Copes, Kyu-Young Kim, Maiya Papach, James Wilson)
Britten: Lachrymae (Maiya Papach, viola and director)
Haydn: Symphony No. 101, "Clock"
The new program, to be played Saturday at the St. Paul UCC and Sunday afternoon in Arden Hills, will be led by SPCO musicians. " Although it’s unfortunate that Thomas can’t be with us, we’re excited that our musicians are once again taking the lead on this weekend’s concerts, as the concerts that they have led this year have been some of the best of the season," said Sokolouski.
Britten's chamber opera "The Turn of the Screw" remains on the program for weekend two, (May 23-24, at Ordway Center) with Jayce Ogren stepping in to replace Zehetmair as conductor.
The third weekend (May 29-30) has been changed, and includes no music of Britten. Instead, the SPCO will perform Stravinsky (Danses concertantes), Haydn (Cello Concerto No. 2, with Julie Albers, cellist) and Brahms (String Quintet No. 2), with SPCO musicians leading the orchestra.
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