Maestro Timothy Hankewich and company are preparing to fill the front lawn at Brucemore mansion with out-of-this-world programming for Brucemorchestra XII on Saturday night (9/14).
Before the orchestra explores the planets and galaxies far, far away, STEAM activities will beckon the young and the young at heart to orbit around the mansion and its periphery beginning at 5 p.m.
Participants can meet former NASA astronauts Joan Higginbotham and Daniel C. Burbank; see a real NASA spacesuit; see comet creation programs by NASA Solar System Ambassador Mark Brown; make some Milky Way slime; explore the science of sound, robotics and more. The documentary “Live From the Moon” will be shown on the jumbo screens at 5:30 p.m. And when the grown-ups get thirsty, they can belly up to the Tranquility Base bar — a name that makes Hankewich let out his signature hearty laugh.
Food tents will be on-site, but as always, audience members are invited to bring picnics as humble or grand as they’d like. Hankewich said he’ll be munching on “light, yet filling” sushi beforehand and diving into “a big, greasy burger” afterward.
Tickets also are still available for a 5 p.m. preconcert “Fly Me to the Moon” dinner in the courtyard, featuring vocalist Joe Wetrich. He sang the title song — penned by Burlington native Bart Howard — during Brucemore’s recent Cabaret in the Courtyard concerts.
This isn’t the orchestra’s first trip around the solar system. Brucemorchestra explored Gustav Holst’s seminal suite, “The Planets,” on a cold and drizzly night in 2010.
“This is a do-over — with a whole lot more bells and whistles,” Hankewich said. “We’ve had some memorable events on the lawn, but this year’s Brucemorchestra is the most meaningful, most far-reaching in terms of our partnerships, and the most complex of all of our productions.”
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When the planning phase launched three years ago, going back to the future was a natural path on which organizers would set their sights. After all, it was thanks to Collins Radio innovations in Cedar Rapids that Earthlings could see Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon July 20, 1969.
“We’re paying tribute to all the engineers at Collins Radio who worked on Apollo. That’s a surprisingly lost story around here,” Hankewich said. “It’s a really big deal — one of the biggest events of all time.”
Between movements in Mozart’s “Jupiter” symphony, Phil Jasper, head of Mission Systems at what is now Collins Aerospace, will join Hankewich onstage to honor the employees who left their mark on the Apollo 11 mission.
Another big deal is the local premiere “From Earth to the Moon & Beyond,” a lunar landing golden anniversary tribute by James Beckel, that Orchestra Iowa co-commissioned with the Boston Pops and seven other organizations.
The piece shoots beyond orchestral, too, featuring live narration by the visiting former astronauts, as well as footage of the space program and dramatic speeches by Presidents Kennedy and Reagan — the latter in response to the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986.
“It’s a great piece,” Hankewich said. “It tells the story of space exploration and the developing knowledge of man’s understanding of the universe. ... The orchestra provides the emotional underpinning.
“In terms of what’s musically fascinating, is talking about Copernicus and the Greeks contemplating the heavens. The composer inserts melodies from the Middle Ages and ancient antiquity. It’s really a program for people to get their nerd on.”
He’ll be right there with them, with his Star Trek communicator “lucky charm” pinned to his suspenders.
“I want to see people wear costumes if they want to,” he added. “Let your geek fly proud. I hope to see some Jedi knights, Battlestar Galactica, Dr. Who and Klingons. Qapla’,” he exclaimed. That’s Klingon for “success,” and is pronounced “kah-plah,” for those not fluent in Trek-speak.
The concert will begin with “Star Trek Through the Years,” a compilation of the various movie and TV themes, and end with John Williams’ bombastic “Star Wars Theme,” which Pops concert patrons heard two years ago.
“It’s what got my generation interested in symphonic music,” Hankewich said of the Williams work. “‘The Planets’ ends so quietly. You gotta end with something uplifting, and I can’t think of anything more special and fun than ‘Star Wars.’”
And just because it’s fun doesn’t mean it’s easy.
“This program is an unusual animal,” Hankewich said. “It’s not a Pops concert, but it’s popular in appeal. Rehearsing and preparing music like ‘The Planets,’ Mozart and ‘Star Wars’ — that’s a lot of notes per square inch. Compounded by it being the first concert of the season, to be able to prepare all that music in a limited amount of time is going to be a real challenge.”
PICKING UP STEAM
It’s also a chance to introduce the orchestra’s new STEAM initiative with Johnson elementary, a magnet school for STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) programming.
“We’re starting to develop our education programs more in line with these educational philosophies,” Hankewich explained, noting all the hands-on student and family activities being offered before this concert.
It’s also a chance to show audience members that Orchestra Iowa strives to be accessible to all, not just the Jedi musical masters.
“Every orchestra faces an existential challenge of being relevant to their community, and this program is designed to combat apathy and relevance head-on,” Hankewich said. “Our mission with Brucemorchestra is to take pride in our community; to showcase the orchestra as a central part of the quality of living and its well-being; and to let people know we don’t just exclusively do serious classical music all the time. ...
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“It’s my mission to spread the news to our community that they have a really important cultural asset here. In this day and age, it’s getting more and more difficult for artistic nonprofits to survive. One of the reasons often is awareness of the organization’s involvement in the community, and that’s why we do Brucemorchestra. This is an event without barriers. It is for the entire family. It will engage both the novice and the expert at the same time, in terms of programming.
“We’re at the vanguard of leading the charge for our community’s pride. Case in point, the tribute to the many (local) men and women who worked on the Apollo project — our unsung heroes — and all but forgotten.”
WHAT: Brucemorchestra XII: The Planets
WHERE: Brucemore front lawn, facing First Avenue SE, Cedar Rapids
WHEN: Gates open 5 p.m., concert 7 p.m. Saturday (9/14)
TICKETS: Lawn seating $15 advance, $20 at the gate; reserved chairs $30; ages 17 and under free with paying adult; VIP dinner party in the Courtyard $100 to $115; Orchestra Iowa Ticket Office, 119 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids, (319) 366-8203 or Artsiowa.com/tickets/concerts/brucemorchestra-xii/
RAIN DATE: 7 p.m. Sunday (9/15) at Brucemore; in case of rain that day, the concert will move to the Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE, and the first 1,650 to arrive will be seated; ticket holders will be notified of any changes
FEATURES: STEAM activities by the mansion 5 to 6:30 p.m.; 5:30 p.m. “Live From the Moon” documentary on the big screens; three comet creation demonstration by NASA Solar System Ambassador Mark Brown at 5:15, 5:45 and 6:15 p.m.; reading of “Harold’s Trip to the Sky” at 5:30 and 6 p.m.; bring seating and picnics or buy from food and beverage vendors; only service animals allowed (no pets)
CONCERT: “Star Trek Through the Years,” Mozart’s “Jupiter” symphony movements 1 and 4; “From Earth to the Moon and Beyond” co-commission by James Beckel, with video and narration; “The Planets” by Gustav Holst; “Star Wars Theme” by John Williams
PARKING: Off-site; handicap tag parking at Bradley and Riley next to the First Avenue gate