Des Moines Symphony’s 75th season begins
Sept. 29 with “Scheherazade” and “Nomade.” |
The Des Moines Symphony enjoys an important
milestone this season: its 75th anniversary.
“It means a lot to this organization and to
the city,” said Sophia Ahmad, Director of Marketing
and Public Relations. “Seventy-five years of
continuous playing — coming out of the Great
Depression, surviving a World War.”
The growth of the symphony, from its beginnings
at Drake University to the professional organization
it is today, has culminated in a 75th season
that is being celebrated in a truly unique fashion.
Combining elements from the symphony’s inaugural
season with specially commissioned new music,
Music Director/Conductor Joe Giunta has put
together a season to remember.
“(This season) we’re pulling out all the stops,”
It starts with the world premiere of a piece
specially commissioned for the symphony. Written
by Minnesota-based composer Steve Heitzeg, the
piece is inspired by the artwork in the Pappajohn
Sculpture Park. Heitzeg spent time in the park,
becoming intimately acquainted with the pieces
it houses, in order to capture the feel of each
sculpture in music.
“He would do things like yell inside the sculpture
to hear what it sounded like and base the instrumentation
off of that,” explained Ahmad. “Or, for example,
‘White Ghost’ is in C-major because (the sculpture)
is white, so he chose an all-white key.”
From there, the symphony season continues through
the fall and winter with shows highlighted by
some of the most famous and beloved pieces in
classical music. Highlights such as “Scheherazade,”
“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (made famous by
Disney’s “Fantasia”) and Carl Orff’s “Carmina
Burana” ensure that season 75 does the tradition
of the symphony proud.
But 75 years means more than just celebrating
the past. For those involved, the anniversary
is also about looking to the future.
“Our motto is ‘great music for a lifetime,’
so engaging new audiences is definitely on the
forefront of our minds,” said Ahmad.
To that end, the symphony has created a number
of programs to enable and encourage the young
people who will both play in and support the
symphony for the next 75 years.
“We have a very robust school of music — the
Symphony Academy — that celebrates its 10th
anniversary this year as well,” Ahmad explained.
“(We see) the establishment of the Symphony
Academy as a great feeder for the professional
orchestra. There are three youth orchestras:
one for kids in first through sixth grade, one
for middle school kids and the last one for
high-schoolers. We have camps and a ‘Group Lessons
for Young Beginners’ program, which is where
kids come in and are introduced to music in
a keyboard-based environment. So they learn
about rhythm, pitch and things like that.”
Additionally, the symphony makes it easy for
young people to attend shows and be exposed
to classical music.
“Every symphony academy student gets four tickets
to hear the orchestra. If you come to any concert,
you’ll see kids as young as 5 and 6 years old
“Something that we introduced last year is the
Collegiate Seven, which is a subscription program
where any college student with a valid ID can
hear all seven Master Works concerts for $40,”
she continued. “The idea is to make sure that
price isn’t a barrier for anyone who wants to
From the symphony’s current season, to the young
people viewed as the program’s future, the binding
thread is the importance of a home-grown passion
for classical music.
“This is how Des Moines plays Beethoven,” said
Ahmad. “If Carrie Underwood (comes to town),
that’s Carrie Underwood playing Des Moines.
But this is Des Moines’ take on (classical music).”