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Conversations with creators and organizers of the arts scene in West Michigan, hosted by Cara Lieurance

An American journey from New Orleans to Philadelphia to Harlem with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra

Julian Kuerti, Nathaniel Waller, and Jun-Ching Lin
Kalamazoo Symphony / Djembe Yaru
Julian Kuerti, Nathaniel Waller, and Jun-Ching Lin

The Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra's busy season has included masterworks by Tchaikovsky and Bruckner, holiday music, new premieres for chamber orchestra, craft concerts at Bell's Eccentric Cafe and playing John Williams' score to perfection with the film Jurassic Park, in addition to reaching thousands of kids in school concerts. As the musicians head into spring, a program of fresh and rarely-heard American music is the season's next offering. It's set for 7:30 pm on Saturday, Mar 18 at Miller Auditorium.

It will begin with a rare symphony by a composer and virtuoso pianist who grew up in New Orleans in the mid-18th century. Louis Moreau Gottschalk's A Night in the Tropics has two contrasting movements, says conductor Julian Kuerti, beginning with a sultry and romantic atmosphere and concluding with a festive dance that invites improvisation, which will be provided by the West Afrikan drum and dance group Djembe Yaru under the direction of Nathaniel Waller. Waller tells Cara Lieurance he has collaborated with orchestras before and the group is anticipating an exciting performance.

Jun-Ching Lin, the concertmaster of the symphony, is appearing as the soloist in Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto. He's known the work for decades and says he can't wait to take the stage with the Kalamazoo Symphony on Saturday. He and Kuerti tell the story of how the violinist for whom Barber wrote the work complained that the first part was too simple, and the final part was impossible to play. Today it is regarded as a classic.

Africa is one of William Grant Still's most personal orchestral works. Written in 1930, the so-called "Dean of African-American composers" was working in Harlem, NY and pursuing a goal to lift up his community with works expressing pride, nobility, and freedom.

Cara Lieurance is the local host of NPR's All Things Considered on 1021 WMUK and covers local arts & culture on Let's Hear It on 89.9 Classical WMUK weekday mornings at 10 - 11 am.
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