Thank you, Julie Himmelstrup

By Barry Kempton

After 39 wonderful years of leading the Music in the Park Series, founder Julie Himmelstrup is retiring. We asked former Schubert Club Board Member and long time devotee to the series, Lynne Beck, to share some of Julie’s accolades with us. 

A 55-year resident of the St. Anthony Park neighborhood of St. Paul, Music in the Park Series Founder and Artistic Director Julie Himmelstrup had a vision of creating a chamber music series in the acoustically and architecturally superb St. Anthony Park United Church of Christ. Working with a committee of neighborhood residents, she launched the series in 1979 with a budget of $5,000. The first season, featuring the 25-member Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, flutist Julia Bogorad, Grammy award-winning guitarist Sharon Isbin, and pianist Thelma Hunter, was a success.

To make the gatherings educational and accessible, the Series also includes pre-concert talks about the music and meet-the-artist receptions after the performance. From its beginnings as a small neighborhood treasure, Julie developed Music in the Park Series into a nationally recognized chamber music series.

Julie Himmelstrup is a beloved figure in local music circles and beyond. A much-lauded impresaria, she has a unique intuitive ability to select and present the best chamber musicians. Prominent artists from Scandinavia, France, Czech Republic, Russia, Germany, Austria, Mexico, England, United States; and the Twin Cities such as pianist Lydia Artymiw; violinists Steven Copes, Erin Keefe, and Jorja Fleezanis; Minnesota Orchestra conductor and clarinetist Osmo Vanska, and jazz pianist Butch Thompson, to name of few, have graced the Music in the Park Series stage.

Several times a year, musicians perform for students in St. Anthony Park Schools and residents of the St. Anthony Park Home for seniors. These free outreach activities give school audiences, who represent the full diversity of St. Paul School students, and seniors, who are unable to attend concerts outside their facility, a rare opportunity to experience a live performance by world-class musicians.

Early on, Julie developed a hands-on approach which included ticket sales, marketing, budget development (the series has never had a deficit), fundraising, program planning, communication with artists and management, as well as forming partnerships with local businesses, churches and other non-profits in the community.

The three-concert Family Concert Series, established almost 30 years ago, first took place at the St. Anthony Park Library and later at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in St. Anthony Park. These family-friendly events feature prominent Twin Cities musicians along with world-class ensembles from the chamber music series. The artists present programs of folk, ethnic and classical music that include storytelling, dance and audience participation for children of all ages and their families. 

“No arts administrator in my 35 year career as a musician has been more supportive of my work than Julie Himmelstrup. I loved to bring ideas for new programs to Julie and she would say, “What do you need?” She encouraged me to dream big and to think big and her support made it possible to develop new shows that had a life well beyond the Music in the Park Family Concert Series.” Ross Sutter (acclaimed local artist who has appeared on the Family Concert Series numerous times.)

Julie believed in presenting emerging as well as prominent established musicians. Young artists like Alisa Weilerstein (sought-after solo artist and 2011 recipient of the MacArthur “genius grant”),” Mark Kosower (Principal Cello of the Cleveland Orchestra and avid soloist), and Christopher O’Riley (acclaimed pianist and host of MPR’s From the Top) performed on Music in the Park Series at very young ages. Mark Kosower was only 9! Other musicians first played on the series before presenting their recitals at Carnegie Hall in New York City.  

Julie has introduced new music to audiences by commissioning works and regularly presenting contemporary classical music. She has a passionate dedication to new music and the promotion of Minnesota composers. Music in the Park Series has commissioned and/or premiered works by local composers Randall Davidson, Carol Barnett, Stephen Paulus, Libby Larsen and David Evan Thomas as well as national composers like Pulitzer Prize-winner Aaron Jay Kernis; Pulitzer prize and MacArthur “genius grant”-winner Julia Wolfe; MPR’s Piano Puzzler and writer Bruce Adolphe; and prolific piano soloist and visual artist Lera Auerbach.  

“No community is truly great without art as its core.” “She loved the music, she loved art, she loved community. It takes a rare person to be able to provide the kind of atmosphere, accommodations, travel planning and love that has brought the absolute top international musical performers to our little neighborhood for almost 40 years. Julie has been able to do it with an indefatigable combination of intellect, charm, hard work and heart,” said Jon Schumacher, Executive Director of the St. Anthony Park Community Foundation. 

After 39 years of leading the series, Julie is stepping down as artistic director at end of the 2017-2018 season. The season finale on April 15, 2018 brought the series full circle with a performance by both the current and the original members of the Lark Quartet who played on the series in their early years. Park Bugle stated that it was truly a “standing ovation for Julie.”  

Julie Himmelstrup, 81, has spent almost four decades advocating for musicians and their audiences in the Twin Cities community. By presenting quality chamber music in a variety of settings, she has had an extraordinary impact on thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds. Julie has dedicated her life to creating and nurturing a distinctive chamber music series that reaches well beyond the boundaries of the St. Anthony Park neighborhood. Fortunately for all who love her and Music in the Park Series, her legacy will continue in the capable hands of Barry Kempton and the Schubert Club, the area’s oldest music organization.