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Brucemorechestra: American Rhapsody

Picnicking is a tradition before the downbeat of Brucemorchestra, Orchestra Iowa’s season opener on the front lawn at Brucemore in Cedar Rapids. This year’s concert begins at 7 p.m. Saturday (9/15), but gates open at 5:30 p.m. for preshow revelry. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Picnicking is a tradition before the downbeat of Brucemorchestra, Orchestra Iowa’s season opener on the front lawn at Brucemore in Cedar Rapids. This year’s concert begins at 7 p.m. Saturday (9/15), but gates open at 5:30 p.m. for preshow revelry. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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During last week’s endless rains, Orchestra Iowa Music Director Timothy Hankewich was “an absolute wreck,” he said, staying glued to the weather channel “almost 24/7.”

This week, he’s breathing a sigh of relief as the forecast calls for sunny days that will help dry the front lawn of Brucemore mansion in time for Saturday night’s Brucemorchestra season opener.

“A lot is riding with the weather for Brucemore,” Hankewich said of the popular concert that moved to the historic estate after the 2008 flood swamped the orchestra’s Paramount Theatre home.

“We’ve certainly been lucky in the last decade,” he said, noting that the second one was almost rained out. “We threaded the needle. Right after the rain stopped, we performed, and minutes after we finished the performance, it started again. It was cold and miserable — and people still came out.

“Brucemorchestra can’t seem to escape the flood,” he said. “It’s what gave us birth and at the same time, it gives me great anxiety that we’re still looking at river levels this long after 2008.”

More than 4,000 people typically flock to the outdoor concert, toting chairs, blankets and picnics fun to fancy. However, Saturday (9/15) also is a Hawkeye evening home football game, which may take away some fans.

“We do our best to avoid (football conflicts), but we found when we perform on Sundays, we don’t get the turn out that we normally get,” Hankewich said. “This particular year, there was just no avoiding it. Any time earlier in the summer the weather is too hot or unpredictable, and any time later, it gets too cold.

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“To coin a phrase from ‘On the Waterfront’: Come to Brucemorchestra,” he said. “You, too, could be a contender. Or you, too, could be somebody.”

Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Suite from “On the Waterfront” will open the concert, in honor of the late musical master’s 100th birthday on Aug. 25. He died Oct. 14, 1990.

“As this season was coming together, I realized it was getting harder and harder to shoehorn his music into the year,” Hankewich said. “It would have been a terrible oversight if I couldn’t have paid tribute to arguably the greatest American conductor/composer of all time. And so this Americana program seemed to be the best way to do so.”

Titled “The American Rhapsody,” the program includes one of the most-often requested pieces, George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” followed by his “I Got Rhythm Variations.”

The concert ends with another popular work, Ferde Grofe’s “Grand Canyon Suite.” Brucemorchestra has become known for adding visual components to the event, such as showing NASA footage during “The Planets.” This year, the finale will feature the photography of local icon George Henry, who spent years guiding rafting tours down the Colorado River, which snakes through the Grand Canyon. Henry’s son, Jerry Henry, is a longtime violinist with Orchestra Iowa.

“It’s nice for the son to honor the dad,” Hankewich said. “It’s a nice local touch to a piece that Americans in general love, but it’s also nice to put in something where a local audience can appreciate a unique and local flair.”

The two Gershwin pieces will feature Rene Lecuona, a piano professor at the University of Iowa. Hankewich reached out after hearing her perform Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major at the UI.

“Gershwin and Ravel are very much related,” Hankewich said. “They knew each other, they borrowed from each other. There is sort of a bluesy-slash-jazzy vein going through their piano writing. ... She has a flair and a sparkle and an energy about her that through her reputation, I’ve always admired.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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WHAT: Brucemorchestra: “The American Rhapsody” featuring Orchestra Iowa

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WHERE: Front lawn, Brucemore Estate, 2160 Linden Dr. SE, Cedar Rapids; enter through First Avenue SE gates

WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday (9/15); gates open 5:30 p.m.

TICKETS: $15 general admission advance, $20 starting Friday (9/14); $30 general admission with chairs provided; $10 college students with ID; ages 17 and under free with paid adult; 5 p.m. opening night reception in the Brucemore Courtyard, tickets start at $100; Orchestra Iowa Ticket Office, (319) 366-8203 or Artsiowa.com/tickets/concerts/brucemorchestra-xi/

PROGRAM: Bernstein’s Symphonic Suite from “On the Waterfront”; Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and “I Got Rhythm Variations,” with Rene Lecuona, piano; Classen’s “Kral Tango”; Grofe’s “Grand Canyon Suite,” with photos by George Henry

EXTRAS: Bring chairs, blankets, picnics; limited beverage and concessions on-site; parking off-site; no pets allowed

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