Quad City Symphony Orchestra’s 100 Years, 100 Cellos Singing a Beautiful Duet of Music and Art.

Music and art are singing a beautiful duet as the Quad City Symphony Orchestra nears completion of its "100 Years, 100 Cellos" project.

In a "cello-bration" for its 100th season, the orchestra commissioned the painting of 100 full-sized bare cellos by artists of all ages -- including many area students.The goal of the project is raising at least $100,000 from sponsorship and auction of the instruments, to benefit the QCSO and its music- education programs.

"100 Years, 100 Cellos" also honors the QCSO season grand finale May 14, which will feature a one-night-only performance by superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma, which has been sold out for a while. 

"It's having music meet the art world," said Laurie Skjerseth, co-president of Volunteers for Symphony, which is leading the project. "Some people are new to helping us out. They are just living it. It's been fun to work with professional artists and the students."

"The cellos are beautiful. They are truly amazing," she said. "It's overwhelming."

The QCSO did similar fundraisers with painted violins 10 years ago and again in 2011, during the residency of acclaimed violinist Midori; both were much smaller projects in number, Ms. Skjerseth said.

“The painted cellos displayed around the community will make a beautiful statement about the link between the visual and audio arts,” said QCSO executive director Ben Loeb. "They will bring a powerful general awareness of the arts in the Quad-Cities.”

“A collaboration between musicians and artists is not that uncommon, but the scope of this project is both mind-boggling and attention-grabbing,” said Mary Kae Waytenick, Volunteers for Symphony co-president. “Laurie and I are grateful that we have over 100 members in the Volunteers for Symphony. We are using every one of them to pull this project together."

Sponsors still needed

VFS and QCSO staffs have been seeking corporate and individual sponsors for 88 of the 100 cellos, at $1,000 each, and 23 more are needed, Mr. Loeb said. Ten cellos -- painted by selected "lead artists," including Rose Frantzen, of Maquoketa -- will be sold in a live acution at the Yo-Yo Ma pre-concert dinner May 14.

Two "celebrity" cellos -- painted by QCSO music director and conductor Mark Russell Smith and singer/songwriter Lisa Loeb, who is Mr. Loeb's sister -- will be sold at silent auction at the end of the post-concert dessert and champagne reception that night.

All 100 cellos will be displayed on the first floor of the Figge Art Museum in Davenport from May 26 to the 29, and a big anniversary event May 29 will feature a silent auction to raise even more money, Mr. Loeb said. Sponsors have the choice to donate their cello back for auction.

Sponsors were offered the opportunity to decorate their individual cellos and to decide where they will be placed for public display before May 26.

“We compiled a list of artists, art educators and art students willing to volunteer their services to decorate a sponsored cello,” Mr. Loeb said.

Amy Nielsen, of Cordova, talked to Mr. Smith, who is himself a cellist, about how to paint the cello he sponsored. She said his favorite color is red and he shares her love of abstract expressionism, so her cello is a bright and shiny red, covered with protective enamel and accented with real gold, silver and red leaf, which "flow over and around the red cello in a syncopated pattern, illuminating, glowing, making it come alive," Ms. Nielsen said.

"I was so excited," she said of the project, noting she intently watched the first cello at the QCSO's March concert for inspiration. "What I was trying to do is link the natural highlights the light makes on the cello."

Ms. Nielsen, who played clarinet at Davenport West High School, has been a longtime QCSO subscriber, and she has worked as a volunteer.

"It's fun. It's been a great project. I was happy to be invited," she said, noting she can't wait to see Yo-Yo Ma in concert. "It's a big, big deal. It will be great," she said. Her cello is up at Red Crow Grille, 2504 53rd Ave., Bettendorf.

Other painted cellos are displayed at local libraries, the QCSO office in Davenport, the Hotel Blackhawk and RiverCenter/Adler Theatre in Davenport, Evergreen Art Works in Bettendorf, the Planning Center in Moline, The Grape Life in Davenport, Dunn Bros. Coffee in Bettendorf, Wallenberg Hall at Augustana College in Rock Island, and John Deere Pavilion in Moline.

Cellos will also be on display at the next QCSO concerts April 11-12 at the Adler Theatre, and Centennial Hall, Rock Island. All the cello locations will be listed soon at qcso.org.

Finding instrumental inspiration

Artist Bill Marsoun, of Rock Island, based the design of his cello -- which distinctly depicts a string quartet -- on a painting he had done before. It was inspired by his mother, who played violin in the orchestra in the late '40s.

"Working three-dimensionally was a challenge, and I couldn't take the neck off," Mr. Marsoun said. "The biggest problem was I was afraid to screw up, because I couldn't start over without having to sand it down and repaint it."

Mr. Marsoun is a fan of classical music and opera, and his cello is sponsored by the Planning Center, 1615 5th Ave., Moline, where it's now on display.

Leslie Bell, a retired art professor from St. Ambrose University, painted a scene of women musicians playing on a beach at dusk.

"My work has long been about women and their efforts, abilities and creations, often carried out in nature to give them scale. So in some ways, the cello, despite its inherent quirks of form, is representative of my current work," he said recently by email.

"All of the arts are interrelated. They feed each other. They inspire one another as they combine in new and different ways," he said. The cello "suffuses the natural space with the sweet smell of creative effort and aesthetic beauty," Mr. Bell said. His is in the art case at River Center/Adler Theatre, Davenport.

Big project for 100th season

This 100th season of the QCSO opened last fall with an appearance by acclaimed pianist Andre Watts and will end April 11-12 with a performance of Beethoven’s epic Ninth Symphony ("Ode to Joy"), featuring the Handel Oratorio Society and Quad City Choral Arts.

Photos of all the painted cellos will be featured in a collector’s-quality commemorative book, "100 Years, 100 Cellos." It will be offered for sale at a price to be determined starting May 14.

Ms. Waytenick and Ms. Skjerseth are both past music educators who see the project as a source of funds that will anchor the music outreach program of the QCSO for many years.

This fundraiser is the largest that VFS has ever undertaken, Ms. Waytenick said. "What's good is money will be set aside so that music-education programs will have a base. It should make all of our efforts multiply," she said. Traditionally, the annual Second Fiddle Sale sponsored by the VFS in June has been the biggest fundraiser, bringing in about $30,000.

"I think this is going to create a qualitative difference in our programs -- taking them completely to the next level," Mr. Loeb said of the "100 Cellos" fundraising effort.

“Music education is a central part of the QCSO mission, and '100 Years, 100 Cellos' will help us greatly expand our positive impact and eventually grow the audiences and patrons of the future,” he said.

"Our very ambitious goal was to raise $100,000 for the music-education programs of the QCSO. Anything we raise, though, is above and beyond our budget, so we are very grateful for all the support we get," Mr. Loeb said.

The QCSO education programs include school engagement tours, classroom visits, Symphony Day, Students@Symphony, Instruments for Kids, and the QC Symphony Youth Ensembles.

Mr. Loeb said the QCSO also plans to introduce a family concert next season geared to young children, to introduce them to live orchestral music.

Yo-Yo Ma -- who will perform the Dvorak Cello Concerto in B minor with the QCSO at the Adler -- has won 15 Grammy Awards, the Avery Fisher Prize, National Medal of Arts, Presidential Medal of Freedom, and Kennedy Center Honors. He has performed for eight U.S. presidents, including at the 2009 inauguration.

For more information, visit qcso.org/support-qcso/100-years-100-cellos-project. You can watch a video on the project at vimeo.com/120202187.

'Cello-bration' details 

-- 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 14: In the Gold Room at Hotel Blackhawk, 200 E. 3rd St., Davenport, enjoy drinks and hors d'oeuvres, and share the excitement for the sold-out Yo-Yo Ma concert that will begin at 7:30 p.m. Ten painted cellos will be sold in a live auction to benefit music-education programs. Tickets are $100 per person.

-- 9:30 p.m. Thursday, May 14: In the Mississippi Room at the RiverCenter, 136 E. 3rd St., Davenport, meet Mr. Ma at a champagne and dessert reception. Two celebrity cellos will be sold in a silent auction. Tickets are $25 per person.

-- 6 p.m. Friday, May 29: Attend the 100th anniversary celebration at the Figge Art Museum, 225 W. 2nd St., Davenport, where you can see all 100 painted cellos. Cello sponsors and artists will be recognized, and a silent auction of cellos will take place. Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for Volunteers for Symphony members, and $10 for students.

For tickets, visit qcso.org/concerts/cat-special-event