Music in the Park and Schubert Club: Last year’s merger has brought good things to both institutions


One year after Music in the Park merged with the Schubert Club, Julie Himmelstrup, founder and artistic director of Music in the Park, reports that the union of the two longstanding St. Paul institutions has gone well.

“I can’t help but think that timing and good fortune has just followed us through this thing,” Himmelstrup said. She gives credit to Kathleen van Bergen, the Schubert Club’s artistic and executive director who orchestrated the merger last October.

Van Bergen recently left the Schubert Club to begin work as the president and CEO of the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Naples, Fla. The Schubert Club has named Barry Kempton as the club’s new artistic and executive director.

Kempton has extensive experience in arts management and artistic programming. He is currently in his fifth year as chief executive of the City of London Sinfonia in England and he worked with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra for 11 years as vice president for artistic planning. His first position, after graduating from the University of Bristol, was with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra as concerts director and education manager.

Last year, when van Bergen approached Himmelstrup to combine forces with the Schubert Club, Himmelstrup described it as “a gift from heaven.” Music in the Park was solid, she said, but joining a well-established and well-respected institution like the Schubert Club, which has a nearly $2 million annual budget and a 12-person staff, was very attractive. Himmelstrup was acting as artistic director as well as chief fundraiser of Music in the Park, and she had a staff of one, Brian Woods, who worked half time. Woods is now program manager with the Schubert Club.

Himmelstrup founded Music in the Park and introduced the chamber music series to the St. Anthony Park neighborhood 33 years ago. “There have been a lot of changes [since the merger], but a lot that’s the same,” she said. “It’s still the Music in the Park series.”

Music in the Park has been “allowed to be a community force and not be swallowed up by a big organization,” she said. “We still have our family series coming up and things going on in the [local] schools, and we are still holding our opening reception at Muffuletta.”

And the concerts are still held at the original venue, St. Anthony Park United Church of Christ, 2129 Commonwealth Ave.

This year, in honor of the church’s 125th anniversary, cellist Wendy Warner and pianist Irina Nuzova, who will be playing a Music in the Park concert Sunday, Nov. 13, will play for the UCC’s church service that morning.

Two big changes to the series that longtime concert-goers will notice is that tickets are no longer sold at area stores, and this year the concert series is introducing assigned seating. “I don’t know how that’s going to work,” Himmelstrup said. “That has yet to be tested, but in the long run we are keeping it in the community, which is what I worried about.”

Music in the Park’s merger with the Schubert Club ultimately “was the best chance for the series to survive,” she said. “It gives me a chance to ultimately retire, but also has given me a new lease on being able to do the artistic things that I think are important.”

The Schubert Club has done some good things for the series, she says. “We have 60 new subscribers for the series this season, and a total subscriber base of 286.”

Himmelstrup doesn’t hesitate to note, however, that “we’ve done some good things for the Schubert Club, too.”