Bach and the blues on May 26

CEDAR FALLS — Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony’s partnership with acclaimed Cedar Falls visual artist Gary Kelley has brought stunning images and great music together for many years. The latest entry in this amazing partnership takes place at 7 p.m. on May 26 at Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center in Cedar Falls.

According to wcfsymphony Artistic Director & Conductor Jason Weinberger, this concert will be a departure 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 America’s own musical genre, the blues.

The concept for the concert began when Kelley heard a report on National Public Radio about 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 make-shift recording studio in Room 414 of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio. The NPR report piqued Kelley’s interest by telling the story of these foundational 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 telling of the story began to take root.

In recent years, Kelley and Weinberger talked about collaborating on a multi-media 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 principal bassist and University of Northern Iowa School of Music faculty member Alex Pershounin.

The remainder of the first half will consist of the world premiere of a new work, J.S. by UNI School of Music Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies Michael Conrad. The work is written for jazz octet.

After intermission, the concert will conclude with Bach and the Blues, based on Kelley’s new visual novel of the same name. Playing Bach’s music and songs by Robert Johnson while images are projected on the large screen are Isaac Pastor-Chermak, principal cellist of wcfsymphony and Iowa blues guitarist and Waterloo native Kevin Burt. The visual novel Bach & the Blues will be on sale at the concert and Kelley will sign books after the concert.

Pre-concert music in the Gallagher Bluedorn lobby will be provided by Cedar Falls guitarists and singers 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 more than 20 years and is the leader of the Cedar Valley Strings.

Tickets to the Bach & the Blues concert may be purchased by visiting wcfsymphony.org or by calling UNItix at 319-273-4849.


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