CEDAR FALLS – Critics have praised Latin pianist Ignacio “Nachito” Herrera’s playing as “stronger than a straight shot of Havana rum” and “hotter than the burning tip of a contraband Cuban cigar.” The internationally acclaimed musician is recognized as the greatest Cuban pianist of his generation.
Herrera will be the featured artist on Sept. 21 as the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony Orchestra opens its 90th anniversary season. The performance is in the Great Hall at the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center.
“I’m excited to work with Nachito. He’s a fantastic Latin jazz pianist and such a unique guy beyond his accomplishments as a musician. It will make for a really spicy season opener, a celebration and a big event for the audience,” says Jason Weinberger, maestro and Pauline Barrett Artistic Director.
The Grammy and Emmy-award winning Herrera was 12 when he burst onto music scene performing Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 2 with the Havana Symphony Orchesetra. He later was the lead pianist, arranger and musical director for Cubanismo and a special guest for the Afrocuban All Stars.
He will perform George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” with the symphony. Also on the program will be Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” and Florence Price’s Concerto Overture No. 1.
“Historically, the work of women composers is just not performed enough. Our responsibility is to be responsive and reflect the society that we live in. As an artist, it is gratifying and exciting to unearth the work of composers like Florence Price and bring more attention to it,” Weinberger explains.
The adventurous season continues with a concert pair Oct. 12 at the historic Brown Derby Ballroom in Waterloo.
The orchestra’s woodwind players will perform Mozart’s Serenade in B-flat Major (Gran Partita).
“American Grandeur” is the theme for the Nov. 2 concert at Gallagher Bluedorn, celebrating the natural world and the country’s national parks. American composer James Romig’s Replicas for piano and orchestra will be performed by soloist Ashlee Mack. Romig, a professor at Western Illinois University (Macomb) and 2019 Pulitzer Prize in music finalist, and Mack, his wife, who is director of piano studies at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., perform annual residencies in the West’s national parks.
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The concert concludes with “Grand Canyon Suite” by Ferde Grofe, honoring the 100th anniversary of the Grand Canyon National Park. “It’s wonderful to hear the entire suite performed instead of individual movements. This will be the first time I’ve performed the whole thing in one go,” Weinberger noted.
Guests can ring in 2020 with the symphony at “Melodies ‘Til Midnight: A New Year’s Celebration” on Dec. 31, beginning at 8 p.m.
The orchestra will perform Viennese waltzes and polkas, and a dance floor will be available in the Great Hall. Following the concert, guests can continue the festivities with more dancing, food and beverages in the lobby. Chris Merz’s band, Hands of Time” will perform. A toast will take place at midnight. Tickets will be available for each portion of the evening or as a package.
On Feb. 15, the season continues at the Brown Derby as the orchestra’s strings explore “Sibling Revelry,” featuring the music of brother/sister duo Felix and Fanny (Mendelssohn) Hensel.
The concert will recreate the world of house concerts the duo participated in as teenagers.
“Honoring Our Own” on March 7 will include the work of Joan Tower, winner of the 2019 Gold Baton Award, awarded by the League of American Orchestras. University of Northern Iowa bassoon professor Cayla Bellamy will perform Tower’s “Red Maple.”
On April 18, the orchestra will provide musical accompaniment for the National Geographic film documentary, “JANE.” The film documents the experiences of conservationist Jane Goodall, whose chimpanzee research revolutionized understanding of the natural world.
In addition to awe-inspiring visuals characteristic of National Geographic films, the music was composed by Philip Glass. “It’s an unbelievably beautiful score, and this is a great family film about a woman who was a force of nature. This event connects all of our themes for the season,” Weinberger says.
The conductor is in his 10th decade shepherding the 90-year-old organization — “something I never imagined I’d be doing when I was younger.” He praises the wcfsymphony’s longevity and national reputation, as well as community support through the years.
“That’s why this season is a celebration and it should be exciting to present. There’s something to love, no matter who you are,” Weinberger added.