2016-17 Season Sneak Peek!

By Jonathan Turner, DispatchArgus

Quad City Symphony Orchestra's 2016-17 Season will be Joined by a River

Or more accurately, several rivers around the world!

Inspired by the mighty Mississippi River, which binds and defines the Quad-Cities, conductor and music director Mark Russell Smith has programmed river-related works for five of the six Masterworks classical concerts for 2016-17.

"I really like to have a big overarching theme to a season; also we live in River City," he said this week. "So many important musical cities, important composers and pieces are a reflection of living by a river. A river runs through lots of music."

"It's influenced our lives, it's the rhythm of our life," Mr. Smith said of the Mississippi, which is the subject of a contemporary piece on the first concert in October 2016. The QCSO will perform "Reflections on the Mississippi" (2013), by Cedar Rapids native Michael Daugherty.

That is a tuba concerto, featuring the Minnesota Orchestra's Steve Campbell. "He's unbelievably amazing; he will wow people," Mr. Smith said, adding the piece is "really cool."

Other river-themed works for the next season (in concert order) are:

-- "Old and Lost Rivers" (1986), by Tobias Picker.

-- "The Moldau" (1875), by Bedrich Smetana, evoking the sounds of one of Bohemia's major rivers.

-- "Water Music Suite" (1717), by George Frideric Handel, which debuted on the Thames in London.

-- Symphony No. 3 (1851), by Robert Schumann, a tribute to the Rhine River.

-- A new commissioned work by Michael Abels, to have a river theme.

-- Blue Danube Waltzes (1866), by Johann Strauss II.

-- "Dawn and Siegfried's Rhine Journey" (1876), from Richard Wagner's "Götterdämmerung."

Of Mr. Abels (a Phoenix native, born 1962, the same city where Mr. Smith grew up), the conductor said: "He is a great composer, a great orchestrator, a very creative, colorful composer. He's a very thoughtful guy, innovative," the conductor said.

Mr. Smith commissioned his "Global Warming," which he premiered in 1991 with a youth orchestra in Phoenix, and is Mr. Abels' most performed work. It was featured in the Detroit Symphony's 1992 African-American Symphony Composers Forum, and was one of the first works of a black composer to be performed by the National Symphony of South Africa following the election of President Nelson Mandela.

Mr. Smith is excited to welcome back acclaimed Wagnerian soprano Heidi Melton, who sang with the orchestra last October; "She blew the roof off," he said. She's returning to sing Wagner ("Liebstod" from "Tristan Und Isolde") and Richard Strauss (the 1948 Four Last Songs) for the fifth Masterworks.

The November concerts also will be special, with a more belated return -- world-renowned pianist Garrick Ohlsson, who will play the Johannes Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2. Turning 68 on April 3, Mr. Ohlsson was a close colleague of James Dixon (a longtime QCSO conductor), and performed other piano concertos here in 1978, 1981, and in 1989.

Gold Medal winner of the 1970 Chopin International Piano Competition, and student of the late Claudio Arrau, Mr. Ohlsson was scheduled to kick off the QCSO 100th season in October 2014, but had to cancel due to illness. "He felt terrible about not performing," Mr. Smith said.

The monumental Brahms Second is "a big structural challenge," but Mr. Ohlsson "owns that piece," Mr. Smith said. "If you want one person to play it, it should be Garrick Ohlsson."

Capping the 102nd season will be J.S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion (1727), which reflects the interactions of Jesus and the Evangelist. Performed in English, six vocal soloists, two organs, the Handel Oratorio Society and Quad City Choral Arts will partner with the QCSO.

It's another imposing masterwork Mr. Smith is passionate about. He just conducted the Passion earlier this month in Detmold, Germany, as part of another collaboration with students and faculty from the Hochschule für Musik in Detmold, and the Minnesota Boychoir. Mr. Smith similarly led concerts of Britten's War Requiem in Germany, Minnesota, and the Quad-Cities in 2012.

"Like Mahler 2, St. Matthew Passion is one of the cornerstone pieces in the Western oeuvre," he said. "It's a work I know intimately."

As he did with the War Requiem, Mr. Smith hopes to offer some companion educational programming for the "Joined by a River" season. "I'd love for that to happen," he said. "There's tons we can do."

QCSO marketing director Brad Lewis said they've had some very early conversations with River Action and expect to with other river-related groups.

The orchestra may do fundraisers, where the organization will promote either the season or a particular performance and QCSO offers their guests a promo code for 10 percent off, and possibly for every ticket sold, 10 percent would be donated to the organization, Mr. Lewis said.