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Weidner Philharmonic returns with celebration of women’s compositions

By Janelle Fisher
Staff Writer

After years of canceled performances, the Weidner Philharmonic is set to return to the stage Saturday, Sept. 24 with its Women’s Work program.

Kelli Strickland, executive and artistic director at the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts, said the Weidner Philharmonic was created in 2018 to fill the gap left when the Green Bay Symphony Orchestra closed in 2015.

The four women whose compositions will be performed by the Weidner Philharmonic Saturday are, left to right, Jennifer Higdon, Stacy Garrop, Clarice Assad and Michelle McQuade Dewhirst. Submitted Photos

“We had the conversation and agreed there was a need,” she said. “The Cofrin Family Hall’s acoustics beg for orchestral music, and we had a void in our community of professional orchestral music.”

Stickland said the talent of the music faculty at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the Rush Institute of Music, combined with Weidner Center’s infrastructure to support orchestral music, gave the Weidner Philharmonic a natural foundation and a strong start.

But then the pandemic hit, and concerts had to be put on hold.

“We did one season and had a lot of success with some of our Film with Live Symphony,” she said. “Wizard of Oz, Casablanca, some more traditional repertoire concert’s and then, of course, Covid. So we were paused for a couple of years.”

Saturday’s show, Strickland said, will be the orchestra’s return to live performance.

“Now we’re back for what is really our third season,” she said. “Even though it’s been more years than that.”

Halfway there
Strickland said two of the pieces the orchestra will perform this weekend, Krakatoa by Stacy Garrop and Out of Dark Waters, This by Michelle McQuade Dewhirst, were actually intended for events that had been canceled.

“Krakatoa is a piece that had been on the radar of the Weidner Philharmonic for several seasons,” Strickland said. “In fact, we initially planned to perform it in the fall of 2020, but there was no concert due to Covid.”

The other piece, Strickland said, was commissioned by the orchestra to celebrate the university’s new chancellor, but changes to the celebration ceremony plans meant it was never performed.

“We had commissioned [Out of Dark Waters, This] to celebrate the installation [of the new chancellor],” she said. “When we install a new chancellor, there’s some ceremonial observation of that occurrence. So we were going to celebrate with a concert and commissioned this original piece but then the installation ceremony was radically changed because of Covid so it didn’t get performed.”

Strickland said those two pieces helped inspire the theme for the remainder of the program.

“We started with those two pieces and interestingly, I had read an article in I think 2017 that only 5% of all orchestral programs include compositions by women,” she said. “I found that number to be really staggering. So because we already had two pieces that were composed by women — although we didn’t seek them out for that reason — we then thought well, is there other appropriate and exciting and excellent repertoire by women that we could fill out our concert with and have an entire program? We didn’t start there, but about halfway through programming we realized we were halfway there.”

Rounding out the program

The search for woman-composed pieces, Strickland said, inspired the selection of the other two pieces, Light by Jennifer Higdon and É Gol by Clarise Assad.

Strickland said Light was chosen for its connection to the Green Bay area.

“It was commissioned by the Green Bay Symphony Orchestra and we were looking for kind of a short, beautiful opening piece. It fit the bill on all of those counts.”

The final piece of the program, Strickland said, was selected to get the audience involved in the program.
“We want to be an orchestra that helps to break down the barriers for participating in orchestra,” she said. “And Clarise Assad’s piece É Gol is actually inspired by soccer. She’s a Brazilian composer and she comes with the piece and conducts the audience who participate in the piece. Audience participation is not something you typically think of with orchestral music, but the piece suited us well in that it helped surprise audiences about what an orchestra concert looks and feels like.”

Tickets for the Weidner Philharmonic’s Women’s Work program, as well as tickets for their spring program, Power and Joy, are available for purchase at weidnercenter.com.

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