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Area Voices: Heartland Symphony Orchestra presents 2 world premieres

Orchestra performing on stage in front of an audience.
Heartland Symphony Orchestra
Heartland Symphony Orchestra performing at their winter concert series in 2023.

Heartland Symphony Orchestra is premiering two new music pieces at their performances in Little Falls and Brainerd on April 6 and 7.

BRAINERD — Heartland Symphony Orchestra Musical Director Ryan Webber spends a lot of time on the road commuting from Bemidji to Brainerd for rehearsals. He’s happy to do it because he finds it an honor to work with this group and is thrilled for the opportunity to perform for their communities.

The Heartland Symphony Orchestra is a community orchestra made up of members from all walks of life. There are retirees, music teachers, college and high school students and bankers.

“We just all come together for our love of making music together,” Webber said.

Photo portrait of conductor Ryan Webber
Heartland Symphony Orchestra
Heartland Symphony Orchestra Musical Director Ryan Webber

The theme for the spring concert series is Shall We Write? which continues the themes of previous concert series. The fall concert series was Shall We Dance? and winter was Shall We Sing?

Webber says the theme idea came to him while commuting.

“So obviously music has a rich history with dance, same with vocal music,” Webber said. “Just finding little ways... to just unify the season together.”

World premieres

Webber is also excited to premiere two new music pieces this weekend. It will be the world premiere of "Wings of Freedom" by Robin M. Butler, winner of the 2023-2024 Composition Competition, and "The Letter and the Envelope" by Lindsey Wiehl, featuring Miriam Webber as principal bassoon.

Ryan Webber feels the Heartland Symphony Orchestra has built enough goodwill with their audience to try new music that people haven’t heard yet. After taking a pause in 2020 because of COVID, Webber carefully selected music that would entice people to come back to the performances.

Photo portrait in black and white of composer Robin Butler.
Heartland Symphony Orchestra
Robin M. Butler whose piece "Wings of Freedom" will be performed by Heartland Symphony Orchestra.

“When I create my programs, I try and take a little something for everybody," Webber said. "So, you're gonna hear these world premieres, which I'm very proud of, but you're also going to hear something more standard, like Sibelius's "Finlandia" which classical music fans just love. And if they don't know it, I think they'll fall in love with it too.”

Becoming a conductor

Originally a musician, Webber spent a lot of time in the trombone section counting beats of silence, but he found himself listening to the orchestra and paying more attention to the conductor.

“I started thinking maybe I could do this," he said. "I definitely knew I wanted to, but started feeling that this is where my musical life was taking me, and so I started pursuing conducting opportunities.”

Webber went to workshops, took private lessons, searched out mentors and said yes to every opportunity. After that, doors opened, and he was hired by the Heartland Symphony Orchestra to be their music director.

Phot portrait of composer Lindsey Wiehl standing in front of a brick wall.
Heartland Symphony Orchestra
Lindsey Wiehl whose piece "The Letter and the Envelope" will be performed by the Heartland Symphony Orchestra.

“[I’m] just so thankful that I get to work with this wonderful group of musicians each and every week,” he said.

The orchestra practices together once a week, alternating between Little Falls and Brainerd. They have five to seven rehearsals before each performance.

“It's really a small family, so I think the musicians really value the time together and look forward to seeing each other,” Webber said.

Welcome to all

Both performances are free to attend, but attendees may give a free will donation.

“We want to make our music as accessible as possible, and I don't want the cost of a ticket to be the reason people don't attend,” Webber said. “We just want to share our music with anybody who wants to listen and just keep expanding the audience.”

Webber said he believes communities can take a lot of pride in their local orchestras. He finds that for many musicians, this is their chance to keep playing their instruments. Though they may not be professional musicians, they can still make room for music in their lives.

Webber enjoys the experience of watching volunteer musicians coming together to create something from nothing. He said rehearsals are his favorite part of the process.

“I guess the concerts the cherry on top, but I enjoy getting together and making it click,” he said.

Webber also feels he’s a collaborative musician. In some orchestras, the maestro can have an attitude of “it’s their way or nothing at all.” Webber has a different approach.

“I do get the final say, but I think it's just really fun to put it all together and then even having the trust of the musicians to take chances at the concert," he said. "That's what music's all about.”

The first performance is at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 6 at Charles D. Martin Auditorium in Little Falls High School. The second performance is 2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 7 at Gichi-ziibi Center for the Arts in Brainerd. Performances are free to attend.

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Area Voices is made possible by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.

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