CEDAR RAPIDS - Brucemorchestra is the most expensive concert Orchestra Iowa stages each year — and also the most popular.
“One of the benefits — so-called ‘benefits’ -- of the flood is that we’ve created a new annual cultural event,” Tim Hankewich, the orchestra’s music director, says of the event slated for Sept. 9, 2012, on the front lawn of Brucemore mansion in Cedar Rapids.
“It has been, and continues to be, our most popular event. While people are still anticipating a very heady return of the Paramount, I am reminded that every season has to start with a celebration, and Brucemorchestra will always be that opening,” Hankewich says.
The concert under the stars, which features a familiar take on classical music, is an $85,000 production, according to Robert Massey, the orchestra’s CEO.
“It’s the costliest single production we do, because we not only use a full orchestra with chorus and soloists, but we have to build the ‘concert hall’ outdoors with staging, lights and sound,” Massey says. “Facility rental is higher than traditional indoor venues, due to things like police and port-o-potties.
- What: Orchestra Iowa presents Brucemorchestra
- When: 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012; gates open at 5:30 p.m.; rain date, 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 10
- Where: Brucemore front lawn, 2160 Linden Dr. SE, Cedar Rapids
- Tickets: $15 advance, $20 day of show, at Orchestra Iowa Ticket Office, 119 Third Ave. SE, (319) 366-8203, 1-(800) 369-8863 or Orchestraiowa.org
- Extras: Parking is off-site, limited handicapped parking on-site; bring blankets, chairs, picnics; seating in plastic chairs $5 with advance ticket
“A typical symphonic production runs between $45,000 and $65,000 depending on the program. We can take that rehearsed production on the road for about an additional $20,000,” Massey adds.
Brucemorchestra audiences have always gotten plenty of bang for the orchestra’s bucks, from the resounding “Ode to Joy” just months after the Floods of 2008 and the stellar “Carmina Burana” in 2009 to NASA’s otherworldly photographs accompanying “The Planets” in 2010 and the royal wedding pomp and circumstance from 2011.
This year’s program promises to pack plenty of “wow” as well, with Gershwin’s iconic “Rhapsody in Blue” and “An American in Paris,” Grofe’s “Grand Canyon Suite” and Copland’s “The Promise of Living.”
“It is a program of Americana,” Hankewich says, “but concert (repertoire). I really want the Brucemore experience to be classical rather than pops, but yet when I program the music, I want there to be a lot of carry-over, crossover influence so that people of all experiences can enjoy the music.
“To that end, audiences will hear ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ and ‘An American in Paris,’ arguably two of Gershwin’s most popular works,” he says. “And incidentally, these are works that you rarely hear in masterworks concerts — and rarely hear in pops concerts, because they’re too difficult to play. It takes a lot of rehearsal time. As a result, the music that you’ll hear on this coming concert has sort of been orphaned, and yet they’re just wildly popular with audiences.”
Pianist Alan Huckleberry, 43, of Iowa City, is the featured soloist for “Rhapsody in Blue,” which presents a series of firsts and seconds for him.
It’s the second time he’s performed the 20-minute piece, written in 1924. He says it’s fun to play, and challenging.
“The first time I played it was with the Dubuque Symphony. I learned it for that and I’m resurrecting it for Brucemorchestra,” says Huckleberry, a highly sought-after concert pianist who is on the music faculty at the University of Iowa.
“I like it because it’s a really good collaboration with an orchestra, not just an orchestra accompanying the piano,” he says.
“It’s highly virtuosic,” Hankewich, also an accomplished pianist, adds. “It’s full-fledged virtuosic and takes a person of great skill to be able to play it.”
It’s an audience pleaser, full of “syncopation, jazz harmonies and fun rhythms. I almost said ‘fascinating rhythms,’ “ Huckleberry says with a nod to another famous Gershwin tune. “It has known melodies, even for people who don’t go to classical music concerts very often.”
Just last month, people watching the Olympics heard bits of it in United Airlines advertisements, and people who have dashed through the international terminal at O’Hare Airport in Chicago have heard it, too.
If Huckleberry’s name sounds familiar to Orchestra Iowa patrons, perhaps it’s because he performed a Shostakovich piece in a January 2011 masterworks concert, under Daniel Kleinknecht’s baton. Or because his wife, Heather Huckleberry, is the ensemble’s librarian.
Still, this concert marks his first time attending Brucemorchestra, his first visit to the Brucemore estate, his first time performing with Hankewich — and his first time performing outdoors.
“I’ve been thinking about that a lot,” Huckleberry says, “wondering if there’s any other noise, any street noise. I’ve never played with an amplified piano, so that will be interesting acoustically. I’m interested in what the weather will be like. If it’s nippy, that could be interesting for the fingers. ... I’m looking forward to the outdoor aspects of it. It’s going to be a new experience.”
One that audiences will embrace. “Everybody loves ‘Rhapsody in Blue,’ “ says Hankewich, who was just waiting for the right time to program it after hearing Huckleberry perform it several years ago.
Also by popular demand comes “Grand Canyon Suite.”
“We’ve had a lot of requests from audiences to hear that work,” Hankewich says. “It ties in nicely with ‘Rhapsody in Blue,’ because the version that everyone knows and loves was arranged by Grofe, even though Gershwin gets all the credit, and rightly so,” for conducting and recording it with the New York Philharmonic.
“ ‘On the Trail’ is probably the most famous of the five movements, of a mule or donkey complaining as it goes down into the canyon,” Hankewich says. “We’re also flirting with fate, as one of the movements is called ‘Cloudburst,’ “ he says with a hearty laugh.
If the weather gods don’t cooperate, the concert does have a rain date of Monday, Sept. 10, at 7 p.m. at Brucemore.
At the other weather extreme, Hankewich says the Copland has “some poignancy, given the drought that we’ve been through. It’s from ‘The Tender Land Suite,’ giving thanks for the harvest. It’s gorgeous.”
Guests galore will grace the stage, complete with a front extension to accommodate dancers from Ballet Quad Cities. This new Orchestra Iowa collaboration will bring the troupe to Brucemorchestra, as well as to the Paramount for “The Nutcracker” in December and “Cinderella” ballets in April.
“It’s our way of introducing professional ballet to Cedar Rapids,” Hankewich says. “Not only do we get to elevate each other’s art by complementing each other, it also helps Orchestra Iowa reach into the Quad Cities area.”
They will be dancing to “An American in Paris” and “The Promise of Living.” Voices from the Cedar Rapids Concert Chorale, Coe College Concert Choir and Mount Mercy University Choir will sing the Copland, as well as an a cappella version of “Shenandoah.”
David Janssen, Brucemore’s new executive director, calls the program “a brilliant choice by them for the setting. I can’t imagine a more American, patriotic way to begin the season and kick off the fall. It’s going to be familiar enough to attract a core audience and potentially, people who want to enjoy the setting.
“It’s a nice mix. It’s good for both associations,” Janssen says. “It’s a spectacular use of the site. We’re proud to be associated with them.”
Hankewich always looks forward to seeing the crowd lounging on the lawn, with picnics that range from simple to elaborate.
“What delights me is that it’s turned into a good-natured competition between parties over who can bring the most lavish picnic,” the maestro says. “Some people even brought a candelabra last year. I might just have to stop conducting and walk up and ask what’s for dinner.”