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CEDAR FALLS – “Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs,” William Shakespeare wrote in “Romeo and Juliet.” Music, too, can fan the flames of passion in retelling the tales of star-crossed lovers. And that can make for a memorable sweetheart date night.

“So much classical music is romantic. If it isn’t romantic, it’s passionate, and it’s all well-suited thematically to a Valentine concert. Instead of looking for generic pieces about love or Valentine’s Day, we chose to feature stories of star-crossed lovers like Romeo and Juliet and Porgy and Bess,” says Jason Weinberger.

The Pauline Barrett Artistic Director and Conductor will direct the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony Orchestra in Saturday’s romantic concert at the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center.

“This concert draws on beautiful, romantic pieces from every era, incredibly stirring music full of jazz, strings and passion,” Weinberger says.

While audiences may expect Prokofiev’s or Tchaikovsky’s popular “Romeo and Juliet” musical settings on the program, Weinberger chose to go in an unexpected direction. “We have an interesting collection of composers people will recognize, but featuring music that isn’t familiar or played that often,” he explains.

A rarely-heard piece by German-Swiss composer Joachim Raff, “Prelude to Romeo and Juliet,” for example, is on the program. “This guy should be as famous and well-known as Gustav Mahler and Johannes Brahm, his contemporaries, but for various reasons that have nothing to do with his music, Raff’s music didn’t enter the big-time repertoire as those other composers,” Weinberger says.

In recent years, however, Raff’s music has been rediscovered and “this is one of his best pieces, a musical retelling of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and should be sitting alongside (Robert) Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn and other composers of the Romantic era.”

Weinberger also is excited about George Gershwin’s “Catfish Row Suite” from “Porgy and Bess,” a setting the orchestra hasn’t played before, and audiences probably haven’t heard before. The orchestra also will perform incidental music well-known Finnish composer Jean Sibelius written for a play, and “Interludes” by Claude Debussy.

Another surprise is a piece by Sergei Rachmaninoff, “Variation 18” from “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.” Weinberger describes the Russian composer’s music as “incredibly hard to play, but ‘Variations 18’ has become a pop culture icon associated with movie love stories, including the 1980 movie, ‘Somewhere in Time.’ It’s a nice fit for the program.”

UNI School of Music piano professor Vakhtang Kodanashvili will be the piano soloist with the orchestra on “Variation 18.”

Kodanashvili made his New York City debut at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall in 2001 after his victory at the World Piano Competition in Cincinnati. He is also the prize-winner of several international competitions. A native of Tbilisi, Georgia, he began his musical education at age 6 and made his orchestral debut at 9.

In 1995, Kodanashvili moved to the U.S. He earned his bachelor and master of music degrees at Indiana University and doctorate at Michigan State University College of Music. He has performed with numerous symphony orchestras.

On March 2, a pair of “Turkish Delight” concerts at the Brown Derby Ballroom will feature Ottoman-influenced music by Mozart and others during Vienna’s 18th century Turkish craze.

The season ends April 13 with “To The New World,” a musical and visual imagining of Antonin Dvorak’s journey to America and his experiences living in Iowa. Nationally-known illustrator and Cedar Falls resident Gary Kelley is collaborating with Weinberger on the project.

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Arts/Special Sections Editor

Special Sections Editor for the Courier

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