116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Amid the roaring rise of jazz and speak-easies, Orchestra Iowa found fertile soil in which to plant its roots in 1923, when Joseph Kitchin raised his baton over a new Cedar Rapids Symphony of sound April 13, 1923, at Coe College.
The 1920s is one of Cedar Rapids historian Mark Stoffer Hunter’s favorite decades to research in the city’s history.
“What an incredible decade of Cedar Rapids,” he told a gathering of costumed guys and dolls from the Marvin Cone Art Club, strolling amid arts enthusiasts at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art in early August. They punched their tickets for a peek behind the curtains as Orchestra Iowa launches into its centennial season.
“From Jan. 1, 1920, to Dec. 31, 1929, you saw a completely different city from one end of the decade to the other,” Stoffer Hunter said. “And one of the real highlights of the decade: Cedar Rapids transformed itself into the major metropolis that we know today, in a very high sense, on so many different cultural levels.”
What: Brucemorchestra XV, Orchestra Iowa’s centennial season opener
Featuring: Orchestra Iowa and Broadway star Melissa Errico in “Sincerely, Sondheim”
Where: Brucemore mansion, 2160 Linden D.r SE, Cedar Rapids, on the front lawn facing First Avenue SE
When: Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022; gates open 5:30 p.m., concert at 7 p.m.; rain date Sunday, Sept. 18; masks encouraged, not required
Tickets: $20 lawn in advance, $25 at the gate; $35 chair seating; (319) 366-8203 or artsiowa.com/tickets/concerts/brucemorchestra-xv/
Student tickets: $10 ages 18 and up; free ages 17 and under with paying adult; at the Ticket Office, 119 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
Family STEAM Day: Free activities begin at 5:30 p.m., including Instrument Petting Zoo featuring real instruments and the odd Theremin that makes spooky sounds
Extras: Bring blankets, chairs, picnics, beverages, flashlight; or buy food and drink from on-site vendors
Orchestra Iowa history: See Time Machine story
In music, the city’s all-volunteer symphony was founded. The symphony, now called Orchestra Iowa, is launching its centennial year Sept. 17 on the front lawn of Brucemore mansion with a tribute to the late musical theater giant, Stephen Sondheim.
Saturday night’s popular Brucemorchestra concert emerged in September 2008 after epic floodwaters ravaged the Cedar Rapids Symphony Orchestra’s Paramount Theatre in June, sending the organization scrambling to find new venues around the state, giving rise to the new name, Orchestra Iowa.
The Gazette talked with Orchestra Iowa Maestro Timothy Hankewich, 54, of Cedar Rapids, about how the symphony plans to both honor its past and embrace its future.
Q: How is the Brucemorchestra Sondheim concert a fitting opening for the centennial season?
A: That’s a great question because when we were putting our theme together for the season, it’s “A Hundred Years Into Our Future.” So what does the future look like for an orchestra? Our industry has been grappling with that for years. Part of that is: What is the classical music of the future?
Here we had one of the great American composers recently pass away — Stephen Sondheim — and time will tell whether his music will survive or not. But certainly, I think this is the beginning of yet another chapter in the canon of great American music for orchestras to play.
Going forward, what does that mean? Does that also mean that we will still be playing Beethoven and Tchaikovsky? Probably, but we also will be playing music of living composers and people of different races and colors and cultures — also women composers. If an orchestra is going to survive, it has to look like this country.
And so, playing the music of Stephen Sondheim fits perfectly into this sort of vision of a symphony orchestra of the future.
Q: How gutsy was it to establish an orchestra in the midst of the jazz and flapper era?
A: It was remarkable for a community of this size back in 1923. Certainly, there were a lot more people back then who had rudimentary training in an acoustic instrument than they do today. So there was probably a more willing group of people wanting to participate in our symphony orchestra.
The story of our orchestra and any symphonic organization in the last 100 years is a slow, steady march toward professionalism. And in the 1920s, you're at a time where the only music that you could hear was acoustic music.
Now, we live in an age where you can you can get your music from whatever gadgets you want. It flows as freely as water from the tap, whereas back in the 1920s, if you wanted to hear music, you had to make it yourself.
So the culture has changed, clearly.
I think you can sum up our history and the history of such organizations: from amateurs who want to play and socialize, to professionals who want to burnish the masterworks and play at an extremely high level and hopefully make a living out of it.
Q: How unusual was it to be able to sustain the orchestra through the Depression and World War II, when other organizations like Theatre Cedar Rapids went on hiatus?
A: Oh, man. I look at the history of Orchestra Iowa, and I see hurdle after hurdle of adversity that this organization has had to manage.
In my own tenure, we’ve had two floods, a pandemic and a derecho.
There's something about the grit of this community to be able to sustain an organization through the World War. (It) seems very much in character with this organization because it's not easy in the best of years. Sustaining a symphony orchestra is not an easy task.
Q: What does music — and an orchestra in particular — bring to audiences during those times when your world is upside down?
A: Isn't that interesting? Because when times are good, people tend to forget the arts. And when times are bad, they turn to the arts for solace. This was true when I was in the Kansas City Symphony in the aftermath of 9/11. This was true during the flood. And it was true last year on our opening concert on the lawn at Brucemore (after more than 500 days of being on a pandemic pause).
I guess it's only human nature that we take for granted things when times are good and really assess what's important to us in times that are stressful.
Q: You came on board in 2006. What changes have you seen since then?
A: I've seen continued change toward professionalism. The musicians that we hire are just getting better and better and better.
Our operational capacity has been transformed, and that's because of the (2008) flood, now that we play in multiple locations throughout the season.
Our musical offerings have exploded, whether you're talking about ballet or working with the opera or collaborating with Hancher, as well as performing throughout the Corridor and beyond.
Having (the Opus Concert Cafe) as part of our organization has allowed us to expand artistically from First Friday Jazz to Now Hear This to cabaret programs.
We've just become way more nimble and way more diversified than I think I could have even imagined back in 2006.
Q: What has sustained you personally through all the trials and tribulations?
A: This will sound kind of like a cliche, but it's true. I've always been inspired by the art form. … I am motivated by the music.
There are pieces out there on my bucket list that continue to inspire me. In the past, I've been lucky to do rare milestones like the (Bach) B-minor Mass, or Mahler's “Resurrection” symphony. These are the sorts of pieces that if you can't fill the pockets of a musician, at least you can fill their soul. These are rarities that inspire any musician and will cause them to drive from four states away to play.
That's what keeps me inspired.
I'm also inspired by the people — both musicians and the community. That came into pretty strong relief during the flood of 2008 when all seemed lost, and similarly during the pandemic.
If I can make a connection, and a case for having a symphony orchestra in the community, and linking our musicians up with our partners, that makes it all worthwhile.
Q: How do you sustain and create interest in an orchestra?
A: The struggle for relevancy is my daily occupation.
When I was an apprentice conductor with the Oregon Symphony, my boss, James DePriest, once said, “Nowhere is it written in stone that a community needs to have a symphony orchestra. It is incumbent upon the music director and everyone else in the organization to struggle for relevancy each and every day, and to make that case to his community.”
And I've been honored for the last 17 years to do that.
Comments: (319) 368-8508; firstname.lastname@example.org