Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The alluring music of the Walker’s 2011-12 Performing Arts Season

Vijay Iyer by Prashant Bhargava
Reading the press release for a new arts season is like paging through the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book. With the Northrop Jazz Series on hiatus and the Southern Theater in turmoil (a look at the Southern’s calendar reveals a dismal list of performances canceled or postponed, and where’s that transparency we were promised?), the spotlight shines even more brightly on the Walker's 2011–12 Performing Arts Season.

Which does not disappoint.

Notably, six new commissions. As our elected officials continue to kneecap the arts and look for more ways to raid or eliminate arts funding, commissioning organizations are more important than ever. 

Thanks to Duke Performances in North Carolina for commissioning The Bad Plus to reinvent Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring for jazz trio (we heard it here at the Loring earlier this month), to Carnegie Hall for commissioning Brad Mehldau’s work for jazz quintet and chamber orchestra,  Highway Rider (which had its premiere at the Walker last November), and to the University of Wisconsin, River Falls, for commissioning Kelly Rossum’s score to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (heard at MacPhail last October).

Closer to home, props to the Minnesota Orchestra for commissioning new works by Irvin Mayfield and Evan Christopher; to the Cedar for its 416 Club Commissions series; to the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra for commissioning a new piece by jazz composer and big-band leader Maria Schneider, Carlos Drummond de Andrade Stories, which premiered here in 2008 with Dawn Upshaw and earlier this month wowed New Yorkers at Carnegie Hall.

The Walker's new commissions include works for theater and dance. The new season is heavy on dance. No surprise; the Twin Cities are dance-happy. (There is no hiatus for the Northrop Dance Series, and the calendar for the inaugural year of the not-yet-open Cowles Center features nearly 100 performances by 17 Twin Cities dance troupes.) I’m thrilled that the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company will return to the Walker in February (Thursday–Sunday, Feb. 16–19). Merce Cunningham fans, don't go anywhere in late October and early November, when a 10-day celebration of Cunningham will include dance works, talks, workshops, performances, and exhibitions drawn from the Walker's recent acquisition of his sets, props, costumes, and documents.

But enough about dance; let's talk about the music. What I look forward to most: Vijay IyerOne of the most fascinating young pianists in jazz today, he’s coming for a two-day mini-fest in March featuring his trio (Marcus Gilmore on drums, Stephan Crump on bass), his quintet, his global chamber music trio Tirtha, and his duo with Paris-based hip-hop artist/poet Mike Ladd. He’ll also play several of his solo works. 

I wish the Walker had made room for two more Iyer collaborators: saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa and pianist Craig Taborn. Still, be there or be stupid sorry. Thursday and Friday, March 1 and 2.

I’m interested in hearing Staff Benda Bilili, a 12-member group of street musicians performing as part of another mini-festival, “Despair Be Damned: New Music and Dance from the Congo,” on Tuesday, September 27.  And the 802 Tour on Thursday–Friday, March 21–22, with Nico Muhly, Sam Amidon, Doveman, and Nadia Sirota, all of whom performed at the Southern earlier this year.

On Saturday, April 14. Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 come to town. Seun is the son of Fela Kuti and, according to the BBC, more like Fela than Femi is. Egypt 80 is his father’s old band. That sounds like a no-brainer. I hadn’t heard of Seun Kuti until last week, when I met DJ Logic after his performance at Orchestra Hall with the Christian McBride Situation. I asked him what he’s listening to, and he said Seun Kuti and Brian Eno.

Friday, May 5, brings Tortoise (“Chicago’s indie legends") and something called the Minneapolis Jazz All Stars. The 312 meets the 612. (Wish I’d thought of that, but I borrowed it from the press release.) Dub dance, ambient, and minimalism plus jazz. I suspect the All-Stars will be put together for this occasion. Lucky for the Walker, there are plenty of area musicians to choose from.


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