In a tribute to Quad Cities past and present, QCSO will premiere a multimedia tone poem titled CitySpeaks in its early April Masterworks VI performances, wowing the audience with a masterful combination of music, poetry, and visual elements. QCSO will also pay homage to the Quad Cities multicultural roots with pieces by Mexican composer Carlos Chávez and Czech composer Antonín Dvorák.

The Colors of Home

Masterworks VI begins with Carlos Chávez’s Sinfonía India. His most popular composition, Chávez finished the piece in 1936. It consists of a single movement heavily inspired by northern Mexico’s Native American tribes and culture.

“It is a really cool ethnically influence piece,” said QCSO Music Director and Conductor Mark Russell Smith. “It is very colorful and folky. You have different sounds and textures than you’re not used to hearing.”

QCSO Executive Director Brian Baxter agrees, adding, “The piece is vibrant, lively, and very approachable. One of the things I find most striking is its rhythmic vitality; he does a very good job of capturing that in this piece.”

The piece, says Russell Smith, was chosen because of the Mexican influence seen in the Quad Cities.

“Mexican culture has significantly influenced the Quad Cities,” Russell Smith said. “It is a long, well-established, important part of this community. It is part of its very fabric.”

Capturing Past and Present in CitySpeaks

James StephensonWithout a doubt what is most exciting about Masterworks VI is James Stephenson’s piece CitySpeaks. The Chicago-based composer was commissioned by QCSO to capture the true essence of the Quad Cities. To do that, Stephenson decided to take a unique approach.

“I pitched the idea of doing something that was more than just a sheet of music—something multimedia in nature. Something that had visuals,” he said.

Stephenson was given an artist rendering of the Quad Cities surrounding the Mississippi River. He felt inspired, deciding to create five unique blocks of sound representing five different cities—Davenport, Bettendorf, Moline, East Moline, and Rock Island.

Just like the cities surrounded the Mississippi River, the blocks of sound would surround the orchestra—the “river” of the performance.

“The five cities’ rhythmic fanfares are inspired by actually saying the name of the cities out loud,” Stephenson said. “If you say ‘Davenport,’ that’s a rhythm; ‘Bettendorf’ is another rhythm.”

As the piece progresses through each city, the orchestra mixes with other forms of artistic expression including spoken-word, poetry, and visual art. Stephenson promises that the orchestra will not be overshadowed.

“I didn’t want the orchestra to be in the background,” he said. “The hard part was creating something that was interesting and fun for the orchestra to play while there is this added experience.”

The Added Experience of Bix Beiderbecke

Matthew Onstad, Bix CornetIt goes without saying that Bix Beiderbecke plays a huge role in CitySpeak. The Davenport portion of the piece features a live recording of Beiderbecke’s Davenport Blues. As the recording progresses, the orchestra joins in, featuring QCSO Principal Trumpet Matt Onstad performing on Beiderbecke’s 1927 Bach Cornet.

“Bix Beiderbecke is the biggest part,” Stephenson said. “The first thing I did was look for a Bix Beiderbecke tune that I thought might fit my vision.”

Besides music unique to each city, CitySpeaks also features spoken-word written by young writers from the Quad Cities in a book of prose titled The Atlas, and a poem titled, “The Mississippi River, My Compass” by Quad City native Dick Stahl.

Russell Smith summarizes CitySpeak well: “It’s a classical piece about us—about the Quad Cities.”

Finishing with Dvorák 

Masterworks VI ends with Dvorák’s Symphony No. 7. Completed in 1885, the piece consists of four movements and attempts to reconcile Dvorák’s love for simplicity and peace with the patriotism he felt for his nation.

Dvorák, too, shares a connection with Iowa, having spent many summers in the town of Spillville where his father and other family members lived.

“Dvorák’s connection to the United States is significant,” said QCSO Executive Director Brian Baxter. “He encouraged American composers to seek out, study, and incorporate the music of Native Americans and African-Americans as a means to finding America’s own national style of music. We see this connection clearly in our program that includes Chavez’s Sínfonia India which does just that in Mexico.”

A Tribute to Us 

Ultimately Masterworks VI promises to be a performance that any Quad Citian can enjoy. Every moment has been masterfully planned to reflect the past and present of the Quad Cities, giving the audience a sense of excitement for what the future may hold.


Masterworks VI: Quad Cities Past & Present
April 6, 2019 | 8:00 p.m.
Adler Theatre
136 E 3rd St | Davenport, IA

April 7, 2019 | 2:00 p.m.
Centennial Hall
3703 7th Ave | Rock Island, IL

Purchase Tickets | $17 – $41 Adults each | $10 – $22 Students each


Article by
Tyler Mitchell
Freelance Writer

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