News Column

A river runs through it: Wcfsymphony concerts to link theme, celebrate American music

August 17, 2014

By Melody Parker, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Iowa

Aug. 17--The Cedar River channels the lifeblood and energy of the communities living at its edge. Historically it powered the engine of commerce and economic growth . Today it is a resource for recreation and reflection, as well as inspiration for a pair of concerts.

The Cedar River will be the backdrop when Jason Weinberger raises his baton to open the first wcfsymphony concert of the 85th season Sept. 6. It takes place at the panoramic RiverLoop Amphitheatre. As the sun sets, the symphony will flow through a program that features a classic ballet work by Duke Ellington, "The River," and the world premiere of a river-themed piece by composer Daniel Gilliam.

On Oct. 11, the wcfsymphony will return to the Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center in Cedar Falls to explore a broad range of American music. Project Trio, "chamber music rock stars" from Brooklyn N.Y., will perform their high-octane pieces. The evening also features Leonard Bernstein's "On the Waterfront" suite.

"We're calling the two concerts our ' Sounds American Festival,' linking the two concerts thematically to the Cedar River and our interest in celebrating truly American music," says Weinberger, chief executive office, artistic director and conductor.

The wcfsymphony commissioned Gilliam's piece, "Sweet Rivers" specifically for the season-opening concert. "It's written by a composer who has spent his life in river cities, so he really identifies with that connection. Daniel and I got to know each other through the Louisville (Ky.) orchestra, and we both share a strong interest in American music. It's been a great collaborative partnership."

Gilliam's composition was inspired by the Colonial-era hymn tune, "Sweet Rivers." The composer describes the music as "a meditation on all rivers, their persistent flow without regard for human events, their functional purpose and importance for our environment."

The Ellington piece was written for an Alvin Alley ballet and premiered at New York's Lincoln Center on June 25, 1970. The symphony's performance honors "one of America's truly great composers, one of the most important composers in our history. I'm excited about that," says the conductor.

Project Trio's October performance is a celebration of American style and innovation. Project Trio -- Peter Seymour, double bassist, Greg Pattillo, flutist, and Eric Stephenson, cellist -- are classically trained musicians who have a desire to create something "approachable" that will draw new audiences to classical concerts. Pattillo has become a YouTube sensation for "beatboxing" or using the flute to simulate percussion instruments.

"They take traditional instruments and themes and put an incredible spin on it. It's hard to describe what they do. When you experience them, it's incredibly new, exciting and fresh," Weinberger explains.

The concert taps into the American tradition of film music with Bernstein's score from the 1954 film classic starring Marlon Brando, "On the Waterfront," and a work by Adam Schoenberg, one of America's leading young composers, "American Symphony 2011."

In recent years, Weinberger has altered the symphony's approach to program planning. Rather than set a program and find a guest artist to fill the bill, Weinberger prefers to choose guest artists . "Then we have an extensive conversation about what the program is going to be before we get to the part of actually programming the pieces. That creates synergy in our concerts."

Engaging audiences is foremost in Weinberger's mind. "Traditional concerts have been somewhat passive affairs for the audience. They settle into their seats and listen to the music. We want to flip that passive experience into something more engaging, surprising and varied. If anything, we've learned that sometimes it's a great success and sometimes it doesn't work as we expected, but experimentation and discovery is a huge part of our programming."


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Source: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (IA)

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