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String Theory Music Festival April 14-17 Features McNally Smith Collaboration with Numerous Arts Organizations, Public Entities and a Cavalcade of Musicians and Composers

The number of bowed string players in leading-edge rock bands has exploded, from showings at the recent Grammy Awards to widespread coverage in print, broadcast, and online media. Arcade Fire, DeVotchKa, local favorite Cloud Cult and others are among a growing number of contemporary groups using these traditionally classical instruments, inspiring, in part, one of the most high-profile collaborations ever between McNally Smith College of Music and leading Twin Cities Arts organizations, including The Southern Theater, New Amsterdam Records, History Theatre, Minnesota Public Radio, Invisible Button Entertainment, and the Walker Art Center.

The String Theory Music Festival, to be held at various Minneapolis-St. Paul venues April 14-17 (see venue list and artists below), will feature world premieres of new works by various composers, inspired concert settings, recitals, classes and workshops, and late-night gigs in the clubs. Designed to engage music novices and aficionados alike, the festival will shine a celebratory spotlight on the role of bowed string instruments as a focal point and compositional centerpiece within modern popular, indie/alternative, rock, and classical ensembles. The four-day event will include seven public concerts, a youth recital, and several workshops and master classes.

“A dialogue that began a couple years ago between McNally Smith’s Chris Cunningham in our Composition department and the Southern Theater’s Music Curator Kate Nordstrum generated this intensely string-centric partnership among many musicians and composers,” notes Chris Osgood, Vice President of External Affairs at McNally Smith. “Nordstrum took the lead in assembling the roster and pairings of musicians and featured composers from the classical and contemporary music worlds. All of us involved believe the String Theory Music Festival promises to be one of the highlights of the year in music.”

“This is an opportunity for classical and non-classical music lovers to converge, listen, and learn,” adds Nordstrum. “My hope is that attendees will take a chance on music that is new to them. We’re thankful to have so many enthusiastic partners in the event, including the five-star faculty/players from McNally Smith: Chris Cunningham, Randy Sabien, Michelle Kinney, Dessa, and the support staff.” Nordstrom’s viewpoint was echoed by McNally’s own Cunningham, who will also be performing during the event.

“We have seen a resurgence in the use of bowed instruments in popular music that I don’t think anyone could have anticipated, but it is a resurgence that all of us involved in music performance and composition have been watching very excitedly,” says Cunningham. “A 2011 Grammy-winning band like Arcade Fire and all of the other groups currently featuring violins, violas and cellos — such as Andrew Bird, Sufjan Stevens and others — bring not only a richer sound to the alternative pop world, but also a rarefied visual image onstage that audiences are supporting. This four-day event captures that trend, and it presents numerous showcases of new work where string music is at the forefront.”

Featured artists:

Owen Pallett, JACK Quartet, Nat Baldwin (Dirty Projectors), Anni Rossi, Tom Hagerman (DeVotchKa), Victoire, Dessa, Robert Black (Bang on a Can All-Stars), Nadia Sirota, Missy Mazzoli, yMusic, ACME, Orange Mighty Trio, Adam Levy, Chris Koza, Heiruspecs instrumentalists, Mississippi Peace, Chan Poling, StarDweller, Felix, Eliza Blue, Martin Devaney & Jake Hyer, Molly Dean and The Laurels String Quartet

Event Schedule:

  • April 14, Walker Art Center: Missy Mazzoli and Nadia Sirota present three 20-minute sets in the Walker Art Center’s Gallery 2, an event that is part of the new “Sound Horizon” series at the Walker Art Center’s Target Free Thursday Nights.
  • April 14, Southern Theater: Chris Koza and rocker Adam Levy will host the third installment of the Southern’s 2010-11 Southern Songbook series. Guest musicians for “The Rites of String: Intersection of song, songwriter and strings” will include Dessa, Mississippi Peace, Martin Devaney, Eliza Blue, Chan Poling, StarDweller, Molly Dean, The Laurels String Quartet, music director DeVon Gray (dVRG), and instrumentalists of Heiruspecs as house band.
  • April 15, History Theatre: Owen Pallett, Nat Baldwin (Dirty Projectors), and yMusic string players perform their own material with new arrangements by yMusic’s Rob Moose. This unique roster and concert-scenario is designed specially for the String Theory Music Festival by the artists and Southern Theater Music Curator Kate Nordstrum.
  • April 15, Late-night sets at the Artists’ Quarter (located in the historic Hamm Building, downtown St. Paul): Twin Cities-based ensembles Orange Mighty Trio (10:30 p.m.) and Felix (midnight).
  • April 16, McNally Smith Recital Hall: 2:00 p.m. performance by winners of the Eclectic Strings Competition in three age categories, sponsored by the Minnesota String and Orchestra Teachers Association.
  • April 16, Minnesota Public Radio’s UBS Forum: 5:00 p.m. concert showcasing compositions and performances by artists of New Amsterdam Records, hosted by Classical MPR program director Daniel Gilliam. Members of ACME and yMusic will present a selection of Minnesota premieres by Nico Muhly, William Brittelle, Caleb Burhans, Judd Greenstein, and Sarah Kirkland Snider, plus the world premiere of newly expanded arrangements by Rob Moose of his own solo works.
  • April 16, History Theatre: An 8:00 p.m. string sampler performance by Tom Hagerman of DeVotchKa (with full band), Anni Rossi (trio), Robert Black of Bang on a Can All-Stars — a world premiere by Mary Ellen Childs, and Mississippi Peace with Chris Cunningham, Melissa Matthews, Michelle Kinney, Graham O’Brien, Gregory Reese and Nicholas Gaudette. Each ensemble will present approximately 25 minutes of material.
  • April 17, History Theater: Two of today’s most highly-praised classical ensembles, JACK Quartet and Victoire, with Fred Childs hosting at 7:00 p.m.

Recitals, Workshops & Master Class Schedules:

A variety of workshops and master classes throughout the festival will be coordinated by Cunningham, head of the Songwriting & Composition department at McNally Smith:


  • Saturday, April 16 at 2 p.m., McNally Smith Recital Hall: Minnesota String and Orchestra Teachers Association presents winners of the Eclectic Strings Competition, ages 10-25. FREE, non-ticketed event.

Workshops & Master Classes

  • Thursday, April 14 from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m., McNally Smith Auditorium: In-studio master class on string arranging and production with members of yMusic. Members of NYC-based ensemble yMusic will record original works by two selected McNally Smith composition majors. FREE, open to the public and participating high school music students.
  • Friday, April 15 at 12 p.m., McNally Smith Auditorium: Performance by the Orange Mighty Trio, Peter Leggett of Heiruspecs and St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists string ensemble. Hosted by Nicholas Gaudette (Orange Mighty Trio and SPCPA orchestra director). Special program of contemporary electronica, video game music, and progressive pop arranged for string ensemble. Orange Mighty Trio and Peter Leggett will be joined on stage by SPCPA students to perform the contemporary chamber works set by Orange Mighty Trio, previously workshopped with the students. FREE, public seating limited to 50.
  • Friday, April 15 from 2:30 p.m. – 5 p.m. McNally Smith Recital Hall: Fiddling master class with Randy Sabien and special guest. McNally Smith String Department head and jazz violin virtuoso Randy Sabien and a special guest will present a master class and workshop for violinists, high school violinists, and string teachers. FREE, open to the public.

Ticket Information and Festival Website

Southern Theater box office: 612.340.1725
1420 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55454