Local Current Blog

With Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra relationship ending, what’s next for Liquid Music?

Channy Leaneagh of Poliça performs with s t a r g a z e at the Fitzgerald Theater on Nov. 18, 2016. (Nate Ryan/MPR)

On May 22, the Walker Art Center announced its 2019/20 Performing Arts Season lineup, which includes two co-presented performances with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music, a genre-bending series of collaborations between musicians and artists. As is the norm with any Liquid Music project, these performances will marry artistic and intellectual practices from a diverse range of artists — including the world premiere of a 12-song suite from composer Ted Hearne, and the midwest premiere of a dance and musical collaboration between choreographer Kate Wallich and Perfume Genius.

On May 9, however, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) announced that this season of Liquid Music (which includes a third world premiere, of work by Minneapolis-based Bharatanatyam dancer/choreographer Ashwini Ramaswamy) would be its last run with the series due to corporate funding losses. The orchestra cut Liquid Music loose along with its curator and founder Kate Nordstrum, who served as the SPCO’s director of special projects.

“[Partnering with the orchestra] was an opportunity to establish, grow, and stabilize the series,” Nordstrum said in an interview. “To establish a platform for experimental music in a place as stable and established as the SPCO was a gift for Liquid Music. This first chapter having started out at an orchestra really is special.”

Though the departure from the SPCO initiates a transitional period for the series, Nordstrum emphasizes that this is not the end of Liquid Music. She’s in a period of brainstorming regarding where the program may land in the future, or perhaps even cultivate a life independent of any one space. “Right now, I’m very open to different ideas. I think we have some time and can rest on our laurels for a few months as we consider the different options.”

Since its inaugural season (2012-13), Liquid Music has served as connective force for up-and-coming as well as internationally renown acts to collaborate and experiment with different themes and art forms outside of an album cycle or other related work. Through Liquid Music, Justin Vernon teamed up with a dance company for the first time; and even Philip Glass reached new territory composing for a percussion ensemble along with Blood Orange’s Devonté Hynes. Past seasons of Liquid Music have included work from Helado Negro, Devendra Banhart, Sufjan Stevens, My Brightest Diamond, and many others. Over the course of seven seasons, it has world premiered 33 original works, made possible 28 Minnesota debuts, commissioned 30 new works, and fostered 12 projects that later became albums.

“For a member of the orchestra, Liquid Music was an opportunity to flex a creative muscle that they didn’t get to flex,” Nordstrum explained. “With artists like Poliça or Bon Iver, it was an opportunity for them to think about what they would like to do that they could use a platform and the connection to another artist or art form for that they didn’t necessarily have as a band.”

Through a partnership with Liquid Music, “Artists can trace an important project in their lives back to the Twin Cities,” Nordstrum said. “I think that is really important for our institution and for our arts scene.”

Throughout Liquid Music’s partnership with the SPCO the orchestra gave the series freedom to develop projects with minimal constraints. “We were always looking at the project and what that called for, what the artists involved needed, and then making calls with regard to the development of that project,” Nordstrum said. Around the country, other orchestras were taking note. “I can’t tell you the number of inquiries I’ve had from different orchestras [that are] curious about the model we’ve established,” she added.

Because of this fluidity, Liquid Music is more apt to build partnerships with different kinds of artistic organizations. “I think there’s opportunity for Liquid Music to have presence in a variety of different cities including the Twin Cities,” Nordstrum said, who has been seeking input from other artistic stakeholders in the Twin Cities and elsewhere. “It’s exciting to think about expanding our perspective a little bit.”

Over the course of its seven-year run with the SPCO, Liquid Music evolved from being mainly a platform for introducing new work to the Twin Cities, to becoming an instigator of new work. In this next phase, Nordstrum is looking to evolve further and remain more involved with projects pre- and post-premiere, though the nature of how Liquid Music evolves is dependent on where it lands.

“Should it remain with an orchestra organization? Should it be with a museum? Should it be with a performing arts presenter? Should it be independent?” Nordstrum said. “There will continue to be evolution based on the mission and priorities of the future home.”

Whatever the case, Nordstrum is prioritizing Liquid Music’s mission to connect audiences and artists of different backgrounds.

“Audience members come because they know the string quartet that’s part of the project, and other audience members come because they’re a big fan of the electronic music artist, and then other audience members come because they’re from the visual art realm,” Nordstrum said. “As they talk about what they saw, heard, and experienced, they find a common language that is different from what you would find in a purely classical musical world.” “It feels very unpretentious to me, it feels very human.”

“Thoughts are rolling right now — I’m doing a lot of journal sketching and reading and talking,” she said. “It’s a really good creative moment; it’s a nice place to be.”

Lydia Moran is a music and arts writer in Minneapolis.