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NISO does ‘West Side Story’ at Spotlight Series

SOFIA LEGASPI, Staff Writer

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The phrase “orchestra concert” rarely calls to mind the image of an entire ensemble snapping and chanting “mambo!” But that’s just what the Northern Iowa Symphony Orchestra (NISO) did at their Spotlight Series concert last Thursday, March 1.

The concert featured the “Symphonic Dances” from the musical “West Side Story” composed by Leonard Bernstein, born one century ago this year.

“We’re going to celebrate Bernstein’s 100th birthday with one of my favorite pieces from one of my favorite musicals,” said NISO Conductor Rebecca Burkhardt. “I think it’s the best musical ever written.”

The concert, held in the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center, also included two pieces showcasing the virtuosity of two soloists. Clarinetist and UNI graduate student Sayyod Mirzomurodov was featured in the first movement of Jean Françiax’s “Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra.” The second piece, John Corigliano’s “Chaconne for Violin and Orchestra” from the film “The Red Violin,” featured violinist Ross Monroe Winter, who is an assistant professor at the UNI School of Music.

“I always enjoy seeing a good clarinetist,” said Erin Thomason, a sophomore political science and public administration double-major attending the concert. “The violin solo was also really good.”

Wesley Montoya, a junior majoring in instrumental music education, has been with the orchestra for six semesters. He discussed the complexities behind the “Red Violin” piece.

“There’s a lot of parts in our pieces where we have an incredible number of divisions,” Montoya said. “Even within the cello sections, none of us were playing the same part. So those were really hard to get in tune, but it’s turned out really well.”

Thursday’s performance was a preview of NISO’s upcoming concert tour to Brazil over spring break. Forty-nine UNI orchestra members will be collaborating with an orchestra from Universidade de Caxias do Sul, performing in various locations in southern Brazil. In addition to pieces by Bernstein and Corgliano, they will be performing the “Star Wars Suite” by John Williams.

“We wanted All-American music,” Burkhardt explained.

NISO is in their last push of fundraising for their Brazil tour. Due to university budget cuts, students are required to raise more funds than in previous years.

“We really appreciate your support financially and in your presence here because without you, we couldn’t do what we do in many many ways,” Burkhardt said, addressing the audience after intermission. “Without an audience to listen to what we’re experiencing up here and sharing with you, it wouldn’t mean anything. We can rehearse all day long, but you make our performance special.”

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NISO does ‘West Side Story’ at Spotlight Series