Paddle down the river with the Willmar Area Symphonic Orchestra

The Willmar Area Symphonic Orchestra will spotlight rivers during its March 19 concert, playing music inspired by great waterways including the Mississippi and Danube.

The Minnesota River along the Renville and Redwood County corridor.
Rivers will be in the spotlight for the next Willmar Area Symphonic Orchestra concert on March 19.
West Central Tribune file photo

WILLMAR — Music lovers are invited to join the Willmar Area Symphonic Orchestra on a musical tour of the Mississippi, Vltava and Danube rivers. The rivers will be the stars in four different pieces of music performed by the orchestra.

"The River" concert will leave the dock at 3 p.m. March 19 at the Willmar Education and Arts Center. Tickets are $15 for adults, free to those under 18 and can be purchased at or at the door.

The Mississippi River will be the focus of two pieces, "The River" by Virgil Thomson and the "Mississippi River Suite" by Florence Price.

The Willmar Area Symphonic Orchestra, conducted by Stephen J. Ramsey, performs Oct. 9, 2022, at the Willmar Education and Arts Center for its "Animalia" concert. The orchestra's next concert, "The River," is March 19.
Contributed / John Kellen

Thomson's "The River" was originally composed as a soundtrack in 1938 for a documentary about the river and is now enjoyed as a concert suite. In the suite, Thomson tells the story of the river, including the power it had to shape society, and uses adaptations of several other pieces including the hymn "How Firm a Foundation."

The performance will include poetry read by Tim Ostby. A local performer, Ostby has taken the stage with the West Central Singers, Prairie Arts Chorale and the Great River Chorale. He has also performed on the Barn Theatre stage.


Price, who wrote the "Mississippi River Suite" in 1934, was the first African American woman to have her symphony performed by a major U.S. orchestra. The Chicago Symphony performed Price's First Symphony in 1933. The river suite quotes many famous Mississippi River-themed works along with Negro spirituals such as "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen" and "Deep River."

The Willmar Area Symphonic Orchestra will supplement the performance of Price's work by showing photos taken by both local and national photographers.

Moving beyond the United States, the local orchestra will bring to life Bedrich Smetana's "The Moldau," a piece to honor the composer's homeland of Bohemia and the Vltava River in what is now the Czech Republic. Smetana wrote the piece in 1879, and it takes listeners on a journey through the mountains, past a hunting party and a wedding feast, and on to Prague and the king's castle.

It wouldn't be a river-themed concert without a performance of one of the most famous waltzes ever written — "The Blue Danube" by Johann Strauss. The piece was written first in 1866 as a choral piece and then as an instrumental piece in 1867.

Strauss was inspired by a poem written by Karl Isidor Beck, and wrote "The Blue Danube" as a way to lift the spirits of Vienna after its defeat in the Austro-Prussian War.

The musicians of the Willmar Area Symphonic Orchestra this weekend will be playing four pieces of music that spotlight rivers, including the Mississippi and Danube.
Contributed / John Kellen

Concert goers will also be treated to a special performance of the "Das Steckenpferd," a traditional folk song. Playing alongside the Willmar Area Symphonic Orchestra will be members of the Willmar Public Schools fifth-grade orchestra program.

Doors open at 2:30 p.m. for the Sunday concert. Attendees can come early and visit the Hawk Creek Watershed Project booth and view river projects submitted by school students. There is also a door prize of a Taylor Falls Scenic Riverboat tour for two.

Area school children have been invited to attend a free concert by the orchestra at the WEAC on March 17, made possible through a grant from the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council. Grant money will also be used to record the orchestra's main concert on Sunday and share it with area care centers.

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email or direct 320-214-4373.

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