Wichita Symphony Orchestra at 75: One fan’s view

By Helen Bullock

A classical violinist playing on stage in bright red shoes? What is this? Oh, yes, it’s the Wichita Symphony Orchestra’s “Wizard of Oz” movie/concert with its story of Dorothy trying to get back to Kansas by clicking the heels of her new red slippers. 

Another night and Maestro Daniel Hege is conducting the orchestra dressed like Harry Potter, along with many in the audience. Well, of course. It›s the “Harry Potter Music Concert.”

      This is the WSO heading into its 75th anniversary season, showing off fun new looks while still performing great classical music. Symphony CEO Don Reinhold isn’t exaggerating when he calls the upcoming schedule “one blockbuster after another.”

First on my personal must-see list is “South Pacific,” a Feb. 5 production in collaboration with Music Theatre Wichita, led by Wayne Bryan. 

Next is “Rachmaninoff: The Complete Piano Concertos,” played over two days on a new Steinway concert grand piano by an outstanding pianist, Lise de la Salle. She will perform Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, plus Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 4 on Friday, Feb. 15, and Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 3 on Sunday afternoon, Feb. 17. 

On March 16-17, the WSO celebrates the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing with “A Film with Orchestra: Moonrise.” 

That’s followed by one of the greatest symphonic works of all time: “Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony” on April 13-14. Bring out your costumes May 4 for “May the Fourth Be With You: The Music of Star Wars.”

On the Thursday morning before classical concerts, in the Founder’s Room at Century II, there is a treat for music lovers called “Inside the Music with Daniel.” For an hour, Hege describes each composition in the upcoming concert and answers questions.

He plays excerpts and often tells amusing anecdotes about the lives of each composer. 

Reinhold has been with WSO for seven years, helping expand its attendance and artistic horizons. One way is through what he calls a “great growth in multimedia performance-including movies, photography and collaborating with other local organizations such as Music Theatre Wichita, Wichita Children’s Theatre, acrobatic artists, performers and even an astronomer.”  

Ensembles from the orchestra have played in off-beat (for a symphony) venues such as Mike’s Wine Dive and local brewpubs. Before the “The Wizard of Oz” show, young actors from Wichita Children’s Theatre performed scenes from the movie in the lobby.  

According to Reinhold, “We want the audience members to experience the concert the minute they walk in the door.”

Then there are the Symphony’s Young People’s Concerts, three days of two performances each, held twice year. It sounds incredible but these short, fun concerts geared for 4th and 5th graders are attended by 24,000 Wichita-area students each year. 

     Helen Bullock is on the board of the Women’s Association of the Wichita Symphony, which helps support the Young People’s Concerts and other aspects of the WSO.

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