Gautier Capuçon & Yuja Wang Live at the Ordway

The musical duo partnership of Gautier Capuçon and Yuja Wang is one to anticipate with real excitement. Gautier Capuçon is a true 21st century ambassador for the cello. Born in Chambéry, France in 1981, he performs each season with many of the world’s foremost conductors and instrumentalists.

Joining him for this pair of recitals is the charismatic pianist Yuja Wang, the 2017 Musical America Artist of the Year. After she made her Schubert Club International Artist Series debut in 2011, the Star Tribune stated “Wang… is no mere ‘virtuoso’ — a word cheapened by overuse. Hers is demonic, more-than-human pianism, of the sort that gets you thinking about Faustian bargains.” Yuja’s way of making music connects with a strikingly broad demographic.

For their Ordway Concert Hall performances, this exceptional duo will present two different programs on April 3 and April 4, from 10:30am–noon.

Please join us one hour prior to the performance for a pre-concert talk led by David Evan Thomas.

Gautier Capuçon & Yuja Wang Live at the Ordway

The musical duo partnership of Gautier Capuçon and Yuja Wang is one to anticipate with real excitement. Gautier Capuçon is a true 21st century ambassador for the cello. Born in Chambéry, France in 1981, he performs each season with many of the world’s foremost conductors and instrumentalists.

Joining him for this pair of recitals is the charismatic pianist Yuja Wang, the 2017 Musical America Artist of the Year. After she made her Schubert Club International Artist Series debut in 2011, the Star Tribune stated “Wang… is no mere ‘virtuoso’ — a word cheapened by overuse. Hers is demonic, more-than-human pianism, of the sort that gets you thinking about Faustian bargains.” Yuja’s way of making music connects with a strikingly broad demographic.

For their Ordway Concert Hall performances, this exceptional duo will present two different programs on April 3 and April 4, from 10:30am–noon.

Please join us one hour prior to the performance for a pre-concert talk led by David Evan Thomas.

Hill House Chamber Players

The Hill House Chamber Players, musicians from the Minnesota Orchestra and University of Minnesota faculty, perform in the intimate space of the art gallery of the historic James J Hill House on Summit Ave in Saint Paul. The Hill House Chamber Players are Julie Ayer, violin; Tanya Remenikova, cello; Thomas Turner, viola; and Mary Jo Gothmann, piano.

Admission includes an optional 6:45pm pre-concert conversation with musicians and music blogger Emily Hogstad, intermission refreshments, and a post-performance tour of the magnificent Gilded Age mansion, home to one of St. Paul’s most famous families.

Tickets are $23 for general public and $12 for students. Learn more at schubert.org.

Hill House Chamber Players

The Hill House Chamber Players, musicians from the Minnesota Orchestra and University of Minnesota faculty, perform in the intimate space of the art gallery of the historic James J Hill House on Summit Ave in Saint Paul. The Hill House Chamber Players are Julie Ayer, violin; Tanya Remenikova, cello; Thomas Turner, viola; and Mary Jo Gothmann, piano.

Admission includes an optional 6:45pm pre-concert conversation with musicians and music blogger Emily Hogstad, intermission refreshments, and a post-performance tour of the magnificent Gilded Age mansion, home to one of St. Paul’s most famous families.

Tickets are $23 for general public and $12 for students. Learn more at schubert.org.

Classical Conditioning: Attracting new blood to the world’s oldest performing arts

The Minnesota Opera’s Project Opera gets kids grades 4-12 involved in opera productions. This image is from a Project Opera performance of “Memory Boy”. // Photo by Sigrid Redpath

Should you dress up to go to the opera? Unlike some other companies, Minnesota Opera hasn’t taken a position on the question. They haven’t felt they need to, said Minnesota Opera president and general director Ryan Taylor.

Some traditional operagoers, Taylor said, feel they need to clearly state, “This is a substantial piece of art, and it requires respect, and respect means that you dress a certain way.” Those messages are primarily directed at younger operagoers, but Taylor thinks that’s unnecessary.

“Some of the best-dressed audiences that you will ever see at the opera are student audiences,” Taylor said. “They get excited that they’re doing something they know is extraordinary.” The bottom line, in Minnesota, is “making sure that the environment is one that’s inclusive and comfortable for people to come in whatever way they find appropriate.”

Understanding young audiences is key to engaging them, say Taylor and his colleagues—but, they add, connecting their art form with new audiences doesn’t just mean catering to millennials. Only a small fraction of all Americans attend opera in any given year, so there’s room for growth across all demographics.

Minnesota Opera has recently been acclaimed for its New Works Initiative—responsible for new operas like the Pulitzer-winning “Silent Night” (2011) and last year’s blockbuster “The Shining,” which Minnesota Opera’s audience engagement manager Kristin Matejcek said filled almost half its single-show seats with people who were new to opera. Those operas share seasons with longtime favorites like Puccini’s “La Bohème” and lesser-known classics such as Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale.”

Noting the success of “The Shining,” Taylor said that conventional ideas about how new audiences approach opera are too simplistic. When he hears the statement, “Opera has an image problem,” it typically means that “someone who loves the art form has run into someone who doesn’t know anything about it, whose image is from a Bugs Bunny cartoon or a pasta commercial. Our job is not to convince everyone, but to take stepwise motion and change as many minds as we can in a given season.”

“The Shining” at the Minnesota Opera // Photo by Ken Howard

Every classical music organization peppers its programming with new works and other shows that might attract attention outside their typical audiences. The Minnesota Orchestra, like many symphony orchestras, has had huge success with live performances of the scores to accompany movies like “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra has a Liquid Music series that sees the organization collaborating with the likes of Devendra Banhart and Poliça.

To sustain their organizations, though, these companies need to build relationships. “If you just do ‘Bohème,’ if you just do ‘Aida,’” explained Minnesota Opera chief marketing officer Darby Lunceford, “it doesn’t bring anybody closer to the art form. You really have to have it balanced, to understand how to keep people in the fold and get them into the habit of coming.”

Related post – Classical renegades: The genre-bending experimentation of Liquid Music

Of course, you’re more likely to invest your time in classical music if you understand how it works—and especially if you’ve personally participated. That’s why Minnesota Opera has education programs like Project Opera, which produces an entire kids-only opera every year. At the other end of the spectrum, the Voices of Opera program welcomes singers over age 55 to learn and perform operatic choruses. Both programs may lead to live performances at full professional productions.

“We’ve got access points,” said Taylor, “anywhere from five years old until you are no longer on the earth. I don’t know that there’s any other opera company out there who can boast a learning curve that’s designed for anyone at any age.”

“La Bohème” at the Minnesota Opera // Photo by Dan Norman

Okay, but we’re not all going to be opera singers—even at the amateur chorus level. How do you get young adults, or anyone, to take a break from all the big-buzz TV shows and come out to hear live classical music?

“It’s real easy to sit on the sofa,” acknowledged Lunceford. “It’s always interesting when someone says, ‘Opera is too long’ […] yet you sat and binge-watched ‘Downton Abbey’ for 12 hours.”

Like many organizations—from the Minnesota Orchestra to the Minnesota Zoo—Minnesota Opera has a program specially tailored for young adults. The opera’s program, called Tempo, provides discounted tickets as well as exclusive parties and chances to meet musicians. Unlike some comparable programs, Tempo comes with an annual membership fee ($50). “We’re saying to that generation,” explained Lunceford, “membership is important.”

Even with the membership fee, Tempo tickets are a bargain—but while economic accessibility helps, opera staff understand that price isn’t the make-or-break factor it used to be.

Increasingly, attracting audiences to performing arts events means helping them envision the full experience of an evening out. “This company has always been really high-quality” when it comes to what’s on stage, said Lunceford, “but everything around it matters now—from parking to walking into the theater to who you’re going with and where you go have dinner.”

Concertgoers at a Minnesota Opera Tempo performance // Photo by Corinne Standish

To that end, the opera partners with local restaurants to offer special pre-show meals. “Taste of Opera is an all-inclusive day or night out,” explained Matejcek. At the meal, “a classical radio host will do a panel discussion with people from our creative team. The restaurants market to their people, so that brings in new audiences.”

Diversity is a special challenge for any classical music organization: There’s no getting around the fact that most of the repertoire was written by dead white guys. “We’re working on a newer engagement model about community consensus-building in the arts,” said Lunceford. “How [do we become] less of an organization that produces and pushes out to the community, but actually goes to the community, talks with the community, and understands where we intersect?”

One consistent interest of new audiences today, staffers say, is to have the artistic process opened up: to feel like they’re understanding, even participating in, the excitement of opera.

“There was this facade of, ‘We’ll put on the show, and you come see it,’” said Lunceford about the old-school approach to opera. “That’s not how people act now. They want to see everything. They want to get connected to the singers. They want that access that used to be saved for board members, but now you have to open it up.”

Several years, ago, the opera started opening selected dress rehearsals to bloggers—who are invited not just to write about their experience after the fact, but to have their phones out and share updates as the show unfolds.

“One of our main social media preview night people,” observed Matejcek, “will come and tweet about the opera, and then she leaves that and goes to First Avenue to see a show. The people that follow her are watching her go from opera to a show at First Avenue, and they’re like, ‘Oh, if she likes that, might I?’”


This article was produced as a part of a collaboration between The Growler Magazine and The Current, Minnesota’s non-commercial, member-supported radio station playing the best authentic, new music alongside the music that inspired it. Find this article and more great music content at thecurrent.org.

VocalEssence’s ReMix mentorship program gives young songwriters a chance to shine

VocalEssence ReMix-Philip Brunelle and Emily FeldWEB

Emily Feld (right) a mentee from last year’s inaugural VocalEssence ReMix program // Photo by Bruce Silcox

“Some people see classical music as a dying art,” says G. Phillip Shoultz III, associate conductor of VocalEssence, a Minneapolis-based choral non-profit founded in 1969.

That, however, is a misstatement.

“It’s an ever-evolving art,” he explains. “What’s classical music now is different. It’s changing and shifting from what we’ve known it to be before.” And it’s from that new starting point that VocalEssence’s ReMix mentorship program sets its tone, pairing young songwriters with professional mentors.

The mission of ReMix is to give composers an opportunity to reach a new audience, to work with pros, and to better their work. But it’s also about invigorating the local music scene. “It’s a survival for our art form to create new art,” Shoultz summarizes.

VocalEssence ReMix-Emily Feld and Carol Barnett

Emily Feld with her ReMix mentor Carol Barnett // Photo by Bruce Silcox

The program is currently in its second year and taking applicants. Chosen participants will compose two works, which will then be performed to industry insiders. The focus of ReMix is to bolster a choral tradition no matter what a person’s musical background. Choral music, hip hop, country, or something else: everyone is welcome to apply.

“To find myself in a room with all these people I’ve heard on the radio or [who’s piece] I’ve sung in choir,” says Emily Feld, a mentee from last year’s inaugural program, “It’s all these worlds colliding that I was not expecting.”

For Feld, the experience has opened new opportunities and given her a boost of confidence in her own work. She earned a Bachelor of Music in piano performance from Concordia College in Moorhead last year, and moved to the Twin Cities after graduation. She was accepted into ReMix about the same time. Although Feld dabbled in composition, her musical focus had been split between piano and choir since roughly the age of five. She says she didn’t think of herself as a composer.

“I had only taken one composition class, which really skimmed the surface,” she says of her college experience. In ReMix, she was paired with Carol Barnett, who has been active in local choral music since 1970. She was composer-in-residence with the Dale Warland Singers from 1992 to 2001 and is a charter member of the American Composers Forum. Sharing forty years of knowledge, Barnett and Feld bounced ideas off one another regularly—“more than once per month, but less than once per week,” says Barnett.

While both Feld and Barnett describe their styles as mainstream, each brought a distinct voice to the process. The mentor’s role, Barnett says, is to guide rather than correct. “Having reached a certain venerable age, I have quite a bit of aural experience, listening to different stuff,” she says modestly. Throughout the program, the mentor-mentee relationship works at its own pace, while workshops and rehearsals take place with the larger organization at scheduled intervals.

Between ReMix’s mentoring team of Libby Larsen, Carol Barnett, J. David Moore, and Timothy Takach, and the program’s open application process for songwriters of all styles, VocalEssence wants to see where choral music can go. “It’s exciting to see what young composers come up with,” says Shoultz. “We had some really inventive compositions [in 2015]. Things we wouldn’t have expected, techniques and strategies that you don’t often ask choirs to do.”

Particularly notable pieces, he says, included an extended male falsetto piece in one work and the use of an Ezra Pound poem in another. It’s through promotion of such modern choral arrangements that VocalEssence is emphasizing that choral music is open to everyone.

To apply, entrants should submit a musical score, musical recording, or video recording to the ReMix program by July 1, 2016.