CEDAR FALLS — Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony’s partnership with renowned Cedar Falls visual artist Gary Kelley has brought together stunning visuals and great music for many years. The final entry in this incredible partnership will be at 7 p.m. on May 26 at the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center in Cedar Falls.
According to wcfsymphony artistic director and conductor Jason Weinberger, this concert will deviate from the format of previous Kelley/wcfsymphony concerts. Through performances by individual soloists, a world premiere and an eight-piece jazz ensemble, the concert explores the unlikely connection between the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and the American musical genre, the blues.
The concept for the concert began when Kelley heard a report on National Public Radio about the groundbreaking recordings made by famed cellist Pablo Casals and blues legend Robert Johnson during the same week in 1936. During that week, Casals recorded Bach’s Cello Suites (BWV 1007-1012) for the first time, in the midst of the Spanish Civil War. Across the ocean, blues guitarist Robert Johnson made his first recording in a makeshift recording studio in room 414 of the Hotel Gunter in San Antonio. The NPR report piqued Kelley’s interest by telling the story of those seminal recordings and the racism faced by the two artists, Casals in Europe during the rise of fascism and Johnson in the Jim Crow South. In Kelley’s mind, a visual narrative of history began to take hold.
In recent years, Kelley and Weinberger have talked about collaborating on a multimedia event that would visually and musically tell the stories of Bach’s influence on the blues and the parallels between Casals and Johnson.
The resulting concert on May 26 will open with Bach To Blues for Double Bass Solo by American musician and composer John Lee Clayton. The piece will be performed by wcfsymphony lead bassist and Northern Iowa University School of Music faculty member Alex Pershounin.
The rest of the first half will feature the world premiere of a new work, JS, by UNI’s School of Music Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies, Michael Conrad. The work is written for jazz octet.
After the intermission, the concert will close with Bach and the Blues, based on Kelley’s new visual novel of the same name. Isaac Pastor-Chermak, wcfsymphony’s principal cellist and Iowa blues guitarist and Waterloo native, Kevin Burt, performs music by Bach and songs by Robert Johnson as images are projected on the large screen. The visual novel Bach & the Blues will be on sale during the concert and Kelley will be signing books after the concert.
Pre-concert music in the Gallagher Bluedorn Lobby will be provided by Cedar Falls guitarists and vocalists Jim Miller and Carter Guse, along with wcfsymphony violinist Cara Lockard. Miller is a member of the Iowa Music Hall of Fame and Guse is a rising star on the Cedar Valley music scene. Lockard has been a member of wcfsymphony for over 20 years and is the leader of the Cedar Valley Strings.
Tickets for the Bach & the Blues concert can be purchased by visiting wcfsymphony.org or by calling UNITix at 319-273-4849.