As the eyes of a nation are turned on the flood-ravaged South, Orchestra Iowa is marking a silver-lining milestone this weekend with Brucemorchestra X.
“This particular event has an added bit of poignancy for the orchestra, because it is a symbol of our survival,” Maestro Timothy Hankewich said.
An outdoor event that had been discussed for years suddenly became the symphony’s best hope for opening a new season just weeks after the Floods of 2008 devastated its home at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Cedar Rapids.
Beethoven’s epic Ninth Symphony, slated to launch that 2008-09 season, requires a full orchestra and chorus, rendering it too big for any other local venue. But the front lawn at Brucemore mansion could not only accommodate a large stage, it could accommodate a large audience, as well.
“Necessity is the mother of invention, and Brucemorchestra is a direct result of our first initiative to survive the flood,” Hankewich said.
“I still break out in a cold sweat when I think back to those days. I just remember trying to run our organization on a cellphone as, like so many other businesses, we were struggling to find temporary workspace, rebuilding the infrastructure of our organization. At the same time, we had to rejigger an entire season in a matter of a month, which is all but impossible. And then we had to solve the problem of where to perform Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. ...
“So we built our own stage at Brucemore, and I kept a brave face at the time, but it really was a Hail Mary,” he said of that desperate attempt to keep the orchestra going. “We had about four months left of operating capital, and this particular event is extremely expensive — even today, it operates at a significant loss for us — so it was either going to be a beautiful beginning to a new era or a spectacular end of one.”
People turned out for that initial concert, dubbed “Brucemorchestra,” and have been coming ever since, with crowds swelling to 4,000 people when the weather gods cooperate, as they are expected to do Saturday night (9/9).
The Beethoven 9, with its signature “Ode to Joy” choral finale, “could not have come at a better time for this community,” Hankewich said. “The words to Beethoven 9 talk about brotherhood and unity and coming together for a higher cause — and that was certainly appropriate for the time.”
Revisiting that work for the 10th anniversary concert works just as well, he added.
“Today, the notes and the words are exactly the same, but because of the context, the meaning is slightly different, as the words are also about thanksgiving and gratitude. The fact that Orchestra Iowa is still here after that incredible disaster is nothing short of a miracle,” he said. “It is also a symbol of the grit of this community, to have left no one behind.”
A 200-voice mass choir will join the orchestra for Beethoven’s final complete symphony, uniting the Cedar Rapids Concert Chorale with choirs from Coe College, Kirkwood Community College and Mount Mercy University. Hankewich likens it to “a mass sea of humanity onstage.”
The concert also will pay homage to the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre’s 20th anniversary season, and its involvement over the years with the orchestra and Brucemorchestra in particular.
Four nationally and internationally renowned soloist will perform familiar arias, including “Nessun dorma” from the opera theater’s upcoming January performances of “Turandot.” Tenor Ta’u Pupu’a, the former NFL football player who dazzled Paramount audiences in last January’s productions of “Cavalleria rusticana” and “Pagliacci,” will tackle this haunting aria.
Also performing are soprano Rebecca Nash, who will sing the title role in “Turandot,” bass Daniel Sumegi and Cedar Rapids native Janara Kellerman. A mezzo-soprano, she will reprise an aria from “Carmen,” in which she starred with the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre in 2014.
After Hankewich opens, Daniel Kleinknecht, founder and artistic director of the opera company, will conduct the first half of the program.
He sees the concert as “a nice way of communing with the community” and seeing how far it’s come since 2008.
“If you remember 10 years ago, what a disaster our community was. For me it’s a recollection of the power of community spirit and of the creative mind of Orchestra Iowa,” Kleinknecht said. “Look what was created by Orchestra Iowa on account of this.
“I’m particularly thinking of this right now, because a week after the floods, we moved our production (of “Aida”) from (flooded Theatre Cedar Rapids) to Washington High School. We moved stuff out of that theater in 15 minutes. And I just heard that the Houston Grand Opera stage has flooded,” he said. “I just have to take a breath and respect the power of a community to come together and repair after tragedies like that.
“You know what has the power to bind us together is the arts and the music. So we can look at Houston right now and think, ‘Wow, they’ve got a long row to hoe ahead.’ But who knows what’s going to happen? Something good will happen,” Kleinknecht said.
“That’s what I think about when I think of Brucemorchestra: the power of creativity, the power of art to bring us together.”
WHAT: Orchestra Iowa presents: Brucemorchestra X
WHERE: First Avenue lawn, Brucemore estate, 2160 Linden Dr. SE, Cedar Rapids
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday (9/9); gates open at 5:30 p.m.; rain date is Sunday (9/10)
TICKETS: $15 general admission, $30 chair seating, (319) 366-8203 or Artsiowa.com/tickets/concerts/brucemorchestra1718/
FEATURES: Orchestra Iowa; Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre soloists; mass choir from Cedar Rapids Concert Chorale, Coe College, Kirkwood Community College and Mount Mercy University; popular arias, including “Nessun dorma” from “Turandot” and “Toreador Song” from “Carmen,” as well as Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with “Ode to Joy”
EXTRAS: Bring picnics, blankets and chairs; limited beverages and concessions on-site; parking is off-site, with handicap parking at Bradley & Riley lot on First Avenue SE; no pets allowed
DETAILS: Artsiowa.com/tickets/concerts/brucemorchestra1718/ or Brucemore.org