WICA welcomes Whidbey Island Orchestra to the stage

— Created March 24, 2021 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

After a long year of pandemic-prompted performance prohibitions, Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley is once again opening its doors to live music and more. Taking the stage Saturday at 7:30 p.m. is Whidbey Island Orchestra’s string section, presenting Mozart’s Milanese Quartets (K. 155,156 and 157) and “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.” All seats are $35 and tickets are available at wicaonline.org.

Conductor Cynthia Morrow said it is good to be able to bring music back to the community, just over a year after the group decided to cancel what Morrow said would have been the orchestra’s strongest program to date.

“We were supposed to perform our ‘Fiesta Latina!’ concert last year at this time,” she said. “The board and I made the decision to shut the orchestra down in an effort to stop community spread of the COVID-19 virus. We have some players in their 70s and 80s, so we felt strongly this was important.

“We have always felt grateful we made the decision we did,” Morrow continued, “despite our great sadness at not presenting what we all believed was our best program ever.”

As some restrictions eased over the summer and as more was learned about how to gather safely in small groups, Morrow said members of the orchestra began to gather outside to practice. When the rains came again, Whidbey Island Orchestra was invited to practice – and eventually perform – at WICA.

“WICA was very strict about the number of string players permitted onstage and the need to be distanced and masked,” Morrow explained, adding WICA’s strict safety protocols and new air purification system made it all possible, at least for the string sections.

“Why just strings? Because string players can play while masked and within six feet of each other, whereas brass and woodwinds spread saliva up to nine feet, and that takes a huge amount of space for safety,” Morrow said.

So, while just a portion of the orchestra is playing, members say they are grateful for the opportunity to perform once again.

“To me, giving up playing music together has been harder than going without restaurants or browsing shops,” said Clyde Wilson, who is also the WIO board vice president, treasurer and librarian. “There is an intimate connection between musicians who are really listening to each other. In chamber music especially, the whole is much, much more than the sum of the parts. It wasn’t until we got back together that I realized that what I missed was that transcendence.”

“I found preparing for this concert, first rehearsing in Cynthia’s garden last summer right up to today in the theater, it was the activity most beneficial of my pandemic survival strategies,” said Jane Hayes. “It’s been a very long time since I practiced so much or learned so much.”

“We are so grateful to WICA for offering us this opportunity to finally, several performance cancellations later, present an evening of Mozart,” Morrow said.

The opportunity to once again open the doors to entertain the community has been a gratifying experience, said WICA leaders.

“It’s amazingly emotional to welcome our community back to WICA,” said Artistic Director Deana Duncan. “Last Saturday, we produced our online program 98260: Live!  for an in-person audience. Many audience members, guests, and staff had tears in our eyes as we realized how long it’s been since we could come together like this.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the global theater industry to a standstill, yet the challenges experienced over this past year and the pivots and adjustments they’ve caused allow us to dream in new ways,” she continued. “Our Executive Director, Verna Everitt, says, ‘We’re ready when you’re ready,’ and we mean it.”

Duncan said WICA already has several performances scheduled.

“We’re looking forward to seeing more patrons return and to share exciting and diverse programing such as National Theatre Live’s stage-to-screen production of “War Horse;” Robert Merry’s interview with leading shaper of national trends and political messages, Peter Hart; and home-grown musicians Eric Vanderbilt-Mathews, Keegan Harshman, Sidney Hauser, and Katyrose Jordan reuniting for an evening of jazz standards, new works, and a tribute to Chick Corea,” she said.

As far as the musical selection for Whidbey Island Orchestra’s performance Saturday, Morrow describes the quartets as some of Mozart’s most-performed pieces, because they are accessible, not technically difficult and familiar to most professional string players. They are often performed as background music at weddings, parties, funerals and other indoor and outdoor functions.

“Despite that, the average person never gets to truly hear them in a concert situation, or without champagne glasses and plenty of loud conversation in the foreground, so the beauty and elegance of them is lost to the listener and even the player,” Morrow said. “And yet, they deserve our full attention and deliver beautiful melodies and clever twists throughout.”

Tickets for Saturday’s performance at WICA are now available by visiting wicaonline.org. To find out more about Whidbey Island Orchestra, visit whidbeyorchestras.org.