The Weidner Philharmonic returns with a celebration of women’s compositions


By Janelle Fisher
Personal editor

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

Kelli Strickland, executive and artistic director of the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts, said the Weidner Philharmonic was created in 2018 to fill the void left by the closure of the Green Bay Symphony Orchestra in 2015.

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

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

Stickland said the talent of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay School of Music and the Rush Institute of Music, combined with the infrastructure of the Weidner Center to support orchestral music, gave the Weidner Philharmonic a natural and a good start.

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

“We did a season and had great success with some of our films with Live Symphony,” she said. “Wizard of Oz, Casablanca, a few more traditional repertoire gigs and then, of course, Covid. So we were put on hiatus for a few 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.”

Half-way
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 for events that had been canceled.

“Krakatoa is a piece that was on the Weidner Philharmonic’s radar for several seasons,” Strickland said. “In fact, we originally planned to play it in the fall of 2020, but there was no concert because of the Covid.”

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

“We ordered [Out of Dark Waters, This] to celebrate the installation [of the new chancellor],” she said. “When we install a new chancellor, there is a solemn observance of that event. So we were going to celebrate with a concert and commissioned this original piece, but the installation ceremony was drastically changed because of Covid, so it was not played.

Strickland said these two pieces inspired the theme for the rest of the program.

“We started with those two pieces, and interestingly, I had read an article I think in 2017 that only 5% of all orchestral programs include compositions by women,” she said. “I found that number really staggering. So because we already had two pieces composed by women — although we didn’t research them for that reason — we then thought, are there other repertoires appropriate, exciting and excellent female songs with which we could complete our concert and do you have a complete program? We didn’t start there, but halfway through the lineup, we realized that we were halfway there.

Complete the program

The search for pieces composed by women, 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 a sort of short, beautiful opening piece. It fit the bill in all of those respects.

The final piece on the program, Strickland said, was selected to engage the audience in the program.
“We want to be an orchestra that helps break down the barriers to participating in the orchestra,” she said. “And Clarise Assad’s piece É Gol is actually inspired by football. She’s a Brazilian composer and she comes with the piece and directs the audience that participates in the piece. Audience participation isn’t something you typically think of with orchestral music, but the piece suited us well in that it helped surprise the audience about what an orchestral concert is 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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