WIO valentine concert will tug at the heart strings

— Created February 2, 2022 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

Anyone searching for a unique, totally Whidbey way to celebrate Valentine’s Day can proceed directly to wicaonline.org to purchase tickets to Whidbey Island Orchestra’s concert, Lollipops and Roses, on stage Monday, Feb. 14 at 7:30 p.m. at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley.

This one-of-a-kind concert is filled with one-of-a-kind love songs perfect for two – or for any number of music lovers, for that matter.

“We’ve planned a program that pulls at the heart strings and sets the stage for a singularly romantic evening,” said Cynthia Morrow, WIO conductor and musical director. “Nostalgic movie themes such as ‘Over the Rainbow,’ ‘Somewhere in Time’ and ‘Moon River’ will undoubtedly bring back fond memories, while ‘At Last’ and ‘Don’t Know Why’ will add a modern touch to the evening. All the old favorites have been updated with delicious new arrangements and there’s something for every music lover in our audience.”

While WIO has not yet returned to its full orchestra, the strings, flutes, piano and percussion have been playing together for a while now, and Morrow said the group has developed a unique, lush sound perfect for the selected pieces. Longtime WIO concertmaster (lead violinist) for the evening will be Brian Kenney.

“He certainly brings his own elegant sound and sensitivity to the many solos he performs within the orchestra,” Morrow said. “These pieces are especially dreamy for the violin.”

But what’s a romantic evening without a little something to tantalize listeners? Morrow said the second half of Lollipops and Roses features two new musical additions to the orchestra.

“Genta Hoxha Mullett is an excellent professional violist from Kosovo, internationally trained and celebrated, who is currently teaching violin and viola at her own studio, performing with Saratoga Orchestra, and lending a hand in our public schools,” she said. “Karen Heather is a brilliant pianist who hails from San Francisco and has spent many years organizing and performing in music festivals in the Bay Area. Together they bring Astor Piazzola’s stirring ‘Le Grand Tango’ to life, along with Whidbey Island Orchestra. It’s always a joy to bring fresh talent to the stage and to introduce a ravishing piece of music to the audience.”

Hoxha Mullett said she is thrilled to have found Morrow and Whidbey Island Orchestra, because she feels she has become part of a community of people who share a love for music and the stage. This will be her first solo appearance in the U.S.

“This concert is full of love,” said Hoxha Mullett, who comes from a long line of musicians. “The pieces were so carefully chosen to leave the audience with passion after it’s done. I believe the tango we’re preparing for this concert will be very well enjoyed by everyone, not just because I am performing it, but because it’s such a beautiful and passionate piece of work.

“Piazzola is amazing about writing music that connects us with one another,” she continued. “It’ll be the first time I am playing solo here and I hope I can reach the audience and project my love for this community to them, just as well as Whidbey Island Orchestra does.” 

Pianist Karen Heather, who moved to Whidbey Island in the middle of the pandemic in 2020, said it was a challenge to meet people and find a sense of community – until she met Morrow.

“After living in San Francisco for 45 years, it has been an adjustment to rural life on Whidbey, but now that it is possible to socialize and attend events in person, I’m excited about the connections I’m making,” Heather told Whidbey Weekly via email.

“Cynthia Morrow was one of the first people to introduce me to other musicians and when she asked if I would be willing to perform the Piazzola ‘Grand Tango,’ I didn’t hesitate,” she continued. “Piazzola tangos are challenging, with very complex rhythms, but are great fun to perform. I was introduced to violist Genta Hoxha Mullett and we hit it off. Genta brings a zest and enthusiasm to the piece which is infectious. I’m sure the audience will find this piece and the rest of the romantic program to be every enjoyable and appropriate for Valentine’s Day.”

As an all-ages orchestra, it is likely some of the younger members may have been unfamiliar with some of the music they’ll be playing for this Valentine’s Day concert. But as Morrow describes it, when musicians of any age learn to play new music well, it becomes part of them.

“Forever after it will be appreciated as a familiar expansion of that younger person’s repertoire,” she said. “Our younger players probably haven’t seen ‘Phantom of the Opera’ or heard Steve Lawrence sing ‘Lollipops and Roses,’ but when they do, it will immediately click for them as something they’ve performed with an orchestra and can now call their own.

“For the older members of the orchestra and the audience, these pieces will bring back memories of a special date or dance, their favorite romantic movie and perhaps even their own wedding,” Morrow continued. “These are timeless pieces meant to inspire and enthrall their audience and hopefully they will do just that this Valentine’s Day.”

Tickets to Lollipops and Roses are $45 for premium seats, $30 for standard seats and are available at wicaonline.org. Information regarding WICA’s COVID guidelines can also be found there. For more information about Whidbey Island Orchestra, visit whidbeyislandorchestra.org.

Perhaps the lyrics to that old classic by Hal David and Burt Bacharach holds true nowadays more than ever – “what the world needs now is love, sweet love.” Whidbey Island Orchestra has plenty to share this Valentine’s Day.

“I think we all need a little bit of Valentine’s Day feeling, love and kisses and music to make us connect again,” said Hoxha Mullett.