After a decades-long courtship, two longstanding St. Paul institutions have decided to tie the knot.
Music in the Park, 32, and the Schubert Club, 128, will join their music-based forces this month. Although the Schubert Club will fold the Music in the Park program into its general operations, both sides say it will otherwise be business as usual. No name changes, no venue changes, no leadership changes. Nothing but a bolstered level of support and a promise to love, honor and cherish one another.
Julie Himmelstrup and her granddaughter, Sila Liljedahl
Kathleen van Bergen, artistic and executive director for the Schubert Club, had been flirting with the idea of bringing together the two organizations before she approached longtime St. Anthony Park resident Julie Himmelstrup last winter.
“I thought she [had been] hinting to me,” van Bergen recalls. “She was really just asking my opinion about something. I thought we were thinking along the same lines, but I guess I was thinking it alone!”
Music in the Park’s founder was taken aback-but pleasantly surprised-by van Bergen’s offer.
“My jaw just dropped,” Himmelstrup says. “It was like a gift from heaven!”
Opportunity, not desperation, prompted Himmelstrup to accept van Bergen’s proposal. “We were not in trouble. We are rock-solid. We have a good amount of money in the bank,” Himmelstrup says, noting an annual budget of more than $150,000. “It’s good for both sides. Together we can cook up a whole lot of things.”
Joining a well-established and well-respected institution like the Schubert Club, which has an annual budget of nearly $2 million and a 12-person staff, was a seductive proposition for Himmelstrup, who, with a part-time manager, makes up half of Music in the Park’s staff. Still, the decision to merge with Minnesota’s oldest arts organization was not made in haste.
“We thought long and hard” before accepting van Bergen’s proposal, says Himmelstrup who started the chamber-music series in 1979.
“She is taking a big leap of faith and trusting us to carry and grow her baby,” van Bergen says. “How do you continue to grow this amazing thing that she’s built?”
For more than three decades, Himmelstrup has served as artistic director for Music in the Park, bringing chamber music (including jazz) to St. Anthony Park, exposing the neighborhood to nationally prominent and promising musicians and composers.
Still, joining forces made sense on both an artistic and a financial level. It ensures the future of the Music of the Park series and expands the program offerings of both organizations.
“Two healthy organizations coming together-we really couldn’t ask for a better scenario,” says van Bergen.
The organizations have collaborated on many music-related and community-based projects over the years, forging a strong, friendly working relationship in the process. Himmelstrup worked closely with Schubert Club director Bruce Carlson for decades until his death in 2006 from leukemia.
“Kathleen took over from somewhat of a legend,” Himmelstrup says of Carlson, who worked 40-plus years for the Schubert Club. “That’s a very difficult thing to do. But Kathleen is pretty fabulous and very capable. She’s just amazing. She knows all the musicians in the world practically!” Himmelstrup says. “She’s 34. She’s less than half my age! It’s painful. But it’s a good hurt.”
Van Bergen, a New Jersey native, served as vice president for artistic planning with the Philadelphia Orchestra before joining the Schubert Club. Since her arrival in 2008, she has overseen the $1 million renovation of the Schubert Club’s music museum, logo redesign and magazine launch, An die Musik, named after Franz Schubert’s love song “To Music.”
Based in downtown’s Landmark Center, the Schubert Club draws world-renowned classical musicians and composers. October features soprano Renée Fleming, a trumpet recital by Alison Balsom, Grammy-nominated pianist Yuja Wang and violinist and MacArthur Genius Award winner Leila Josefowicz.
Both the Schubert Club and Music in the Park share the philosophy that music is about the artist-audience relationship. And community is at the heart of their philosophy. Himmelstrup uses concerts, artist-in-residency-programs and post-concert discussions to unite audiences and musicians. “I want to bring them together,” the matchmaker explains. “I think you owe it to the artist to get a good audience, even if 25 people show up for the event.”
Like all arts organizations, Music in the Park has felt the economy’s squeeze. Gone are “the glory days of arts funding,” Himmelstrup says. Yet, while others in her industry have struggled to survive, Music in the Park has flourished. Even Himmelstrup acknowledges, however, that after three decades of working full time at a part-time job she is grateful for the help and excited about the resources the merger brings.
Music in the Park’s success can be credited to Himmelstrup’s passion and determination and a long list of community advocates and board members who played supporting roles over the years.
“I get all the credit,” Himmelstrup says, “but we would not be at the point we’re at now without these people. It takes a village-it took this village and people outside this village-to grow Music in the Park into what it is today.”
That community needn’t worry about what the merger will mean for one of its most treasured assets. An accomplished pianist, Himmelstrup understood the importance of acoustics the first time she walked through the doors of the historic United Church of Christ on Commonwealth Avenue.
With talent like pianist Menahem Pressler of Beaux Arts Trio fame opening Music in the Park’s 32nd season, elbow room is in high demand in the 350-seat church. But Himmelstrup relishes the intimate setting and the fact that it won’t be lost as a result of the merger.
“The Ordway is a wonderful place,” she says, “but it’s not a great place for chamber music. We’re based here and we’ll stay here. We really don’t want to lose the neighborhood feel.”
The opening concert with Pressler and his colleagues from Indiana University and the New England Conservatory is on Oct. 17. The 86-year-old Pressler is a founding member and has been a pianist with the revered Beaux Arts Trio for more than five decades. The group will perform Mozart and Dvorak piano quartets, as well as Ravel’s “Duo for Violin and Cello.”
Other concerts in this season’s lineup include cellist Zuill Bailey and pianist Lydia Artymiw, Nov. 7; Imani Winds, Nov. 21; St. Paul Chamber Orchestra concertmaster Steven Copes with pianist Shai Wosner, Jan. 30; the Twin Cities debut of the Jupiter String Quartet and clarinetist Jose Franch-Ballester, Feb. 27; and return appearances by the Shanghai and Pacifica quartets in March and April.
Ruth Weleczki is a freelance writer, editor and artist who lives in St. Paul.