Serendipity has waved its baton all over Orchestra Iowa’s upcoming “Tales of Hemingway” Masterworks concerts.
Written centuries apart, a common thread of themes or artists touched by mental illness weaves through all four pieces being performed Saturday night (2/16) at the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids and Sunday afternoon (2/17) at West High School in Iowa City.
Two are contemporary works: Cedar Rapids native Michael Daugherty’s Grammy-winning “Tales of Hemingway” and Canadian composer Jocelyn Morlock’s Juno Award-winning “My Name is Amanda Todd,” written in response to a 15-year-old cyberbullying victim’s suicide in 2012. The program’s other two works are classics: Beethoven’s “Coriolan” Overture and Schumann’s Symphony No. 4.
“Here’s where serendipity comes in,” Maestro Timothy Hankewich said. “There is a very powerful idea that unifies all of these composers and compositions. In each of these works, either the composer or subject they’re writing about experienced their own existential crisis.
“In the case of Beethoven, he considered suicide while he was coming to grips with his deafness. With Hemingway, he succumbed to his lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder and substance abuse. Both Amanda Todd and Jocelyn Morlock grappled with depression. And Schumann ended his life in a private psychiatric institution.”
Hankewich said the orchestra is partnering with Foundation 2 in Cedar Rapids, a nonprofit agency that operates a 24-hour crisis hotline, as well as crisis prevention and intervention services. In addition to having lobby displays during the concert, Executive Director Emily Blomme will join Hankewich onstage to discuss the topic.
“Sadly, there’s a stigma to mental health, which prevents people from reaching out, and part of the reason for this program is to break down those barriers so people don’t suffer in silence,” he said. “And here we are, talking about some of the giants in the artistic field, like Hemingway and Beethoven and Schumann, and they, too, had to struggle with these very same issues.”
While the subject matter runs deep, it is surrounded in lovely music.
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“I’m really excited about this program, because musically, it’s some of the most beautiful and gorgeous music of our season ...,” Hankewich said.
“It sounds really heavy, all of these back stories, but aesthetically, musically, it’s some of the most pleasing music that we’re performing this year,” he said.
‘TALES OF HEMINGWAY’
The centerpiece is “Tales of Hemingway,” a four-movement cello concerto by Daugherty, 64, a professor of composition at the University of Michigan School of Music in Ann Arbor. Inspired by four stories by Ernest Hemingway, a 2015 live recording by the Nashville Symphony won 2017 Grammy Awards for Best Classical Compendium, Best Classical Instrumental Solo and Best Contemporary Classical Composition. Cellist Zuill Bailey, who won a Grammy as the soloist for the premiere, is coming to Eastern Iowa to perform the piece with Orchestra Iowa.
“Bailey is a real big deal these days,” Hankewich said. “He’s the latest hotshot in the cello world.”
A native of northern Virginia and the son of musicians, Bailey is committed to educational outreach in the communities he visits, and will conduct master classes at the University of Iowa, as well as make guest speaking appearances around the community, Hankewich said.
A professor of cello at the University of Texas at El Paso, Bailey also is director of the Center for Arts Entrepreneurship there, as well as artistic director of El Paso Pro Musica in Texas, the Sitka Summer Music Festival in Alaska, the Northwest Bach Festival in Washington state and the Mesa Arts Center Series in Arizona. He has performed with orchestras around the world and has had recurring television roles in the HBO series “Oz” and NBC’s “Homicide,” as well as appearances on television in Japan and with Minnesota Public Radio and Radio Hong Kong.
“I’m sure this will be one of the highlights of the year for Orchestra Iowa,” Daugherty said, “because Zuill Bailey is such an extraordinary artist, and really enjoys performing and playing for and with people. You see this exuberance and incredible enthusiasm he has for his instrument and for classical music.”
Daugherty had previously collaborated with the Nashville Symphony, and when he expressed an interest in creating a cello concerto, music director Giancarlo Guerrero said he would like to work with Bailey. So Daugherty went to hear Bailey perform with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. After talking with him afterward, they decided to work together, “and the result was ‘Tales of Hemingway,’” Daugherty said.
The literary giant follows in a long line of iconic figures from which Daugherty has drawn inspiration, from “American Gothic” and Superman comics to Abraham Lincoln and Jackie Kennedy.
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I’ve wanted to translate the life and literature of Ernest Hemingway into a work of music,” he said. “There is a site connection. I live in Michigan and Hemingway spent much of his youth in northern Michigan during the summers, and that’s where he wrote his first major works. ... Hemingway also played the cello as a youth, so I thought that was an interesting connection.
“Also, his life was bigger than life — almost like an opera — and was pleading for some kind of musical depiction.”
A year in the works, Daugherty pulled inspiration from four Hemingway stories: “Big Two-Hearted River,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “The Old Man and the Sea” and “The Sun Also Rises.” Each movement differs in tone, “showing the variety of dramatic sounds you can get from a cello, from very low to very high,” Daugherty said, noting he was looking for an “Old World meets the new world” feel.
“One of the things that was innovative in (Hemingway’s) writing was his use of a writing style which is at times very direct and simple and then suddenly changes into very complex and descriptive. In much of his books, there’s a simple dialogue and then it will go into a paragraph that’s very descriptive and virtuosic,” he said.
“That’s what I do in this piece. It moves between having melodies which are memorable to incredibly virtuosic displays of energy.
“Zuill has told me that this is the most-performed contemporary cello concerto that he knows of,” Daugherty said. “Since 2015, he’s performed the work over 50 times, which is quite unusual.”
WHAT: Orchestra Iowa Masterworks: “Tales of Hemingway”
GUESTS: Cellist Zuill Bailey on “Hemingway,” music by Cedar Rapids native Michael Daugherty
CEDAR RAPIDS: 7:30 p.m. Saturday (2/16), Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE; $16 to $55,
IOWA CITY: 7:30 p.m. Sunday (2/17), West High School, 2901 Melrose Ave.; $28 to $44
TICKETS: Paramount Ticket Office, (319) 366-8203 or Paramounttheatrecr.com/Events
YOUTH: $10 college, grades K to 12 free with paying adult; call ticket office for details
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PROGRAM: Beethoven, “Coriolan” Overture, Op. 62; Gavilan, “Guaguanco”: Daugherty, “Tales of Hemingway”; Morlock, “My Name is Amanda Todd”; Schumann, Symphony No. 4
PRESHOW: Insight discussions with Maestro Timothy Hankewich, composer Michael Daugherty and cellist Zuill Bailey, 6:45 p.m. each night; Paramount’s Encore Lounge on Saturday, West High classroom on Sunday