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WASO to deliver state premiere of musical

The Worthington Area Symphony Orchestra rehearses Thursday night at the Memorial Auditorium in Worthington. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- Thursday evening's spring concert of the Worthington Area Symphony Orchestra (WASO) will make history.

The 50 musicians of WASO will deliver the Minnesota premiere of Sioux Falls, S.D.-based composer/arranger Dan Goeller's "The Selfish Giant," a musical, multi-media adaptation of the inspirational short story by Oscar Wilde.

"Orchestras don't get to play too many compositions by living composers, and this will be even more special because Dan Goeller will be present," related Dr. Christopher Stanichar, WASO conductor.

"Dan is the guest narrator of this story, shared in words, music and pictures, about a giant who bans children from playing in his garden, but when he becomes lonely, he experiences a transformation and reopens his garden to all visitors," Stanichar explained. "The garden is an analogy for our hearts, and it's about being open to others and not being selfish or greedy."

A similar air of openness pervades WASO, which has welcomed to its musical "garden" instrumentalists from around the area in its first three seasons of existence. Together they have worked to improve their ensemble and musicianship, and Stanichar, who is director of orchestral activities at Augustana College, couldn't be more pleased.

"The WASO people are so affable, and I love seeing the enthusiasm they have," Stanichar said. "Watching them grow as a group and as musicians is really rewarding."

Music and words are interwoven in "The Selfish Giant," which has its place in the second half of this week's WASO concert.

"It's very accessible, wonderful music, and while the piece is somewhat like 'Peter and the Wolf,' it's different from Prokofiev in that Dan doesn't use specific instruments to represent the characters," Stanichar said. "It's more about the musical material than about the instruments themselves."

Goeller and his work came to Stanichar's attention through WASO cellist Jodi Hansen of Worthington, who happens to be Goeller's sister-in-law.

"Dan [Goeller] travels around the United States and the world," said Stanichar, noting Goeller recently returned from Chihuahua, Mexico, where "The Selfish Giant" was performed. "He has done a lot of pieces and accompaniments for Christian and country/pop singers, and also does a lot of orchestrations and arrangements.

"I've enjoyed getting to know him, and his music, since working with him on this composition."

Melanie Loy, one of WASO's four founders and part of its volunteer management team, has similar praise for Goeller.

"The music is so inspiring and tells the story," she said. "It's somewhat reflective of Aaron Copland and his thematic music. To have Goeller locally is a wonderful treasure for us. His score writing is beautiful."

Also on the concert program is Symphony No. 100 by Joseph Haydn. Its performance will mark the first time WASO has tackled a full, four-movement symphony, albeit one that is only about 25 minutes long.

"It was a goal of ours to present a complete symphony score," Loy said.

Added Stanichar, "This is one of Haydn's last symphonies. It's part of his London symphony series and is known as 'The Military Symphony' because it was written during the Napoleonic war and uses lots of military-type percussion to evoke images of soldiers on the battlefield, fighting Napoleon's army."

Another piece, "Haydn Seek," unites Haydn and Goeller in a lighthearted collection of children's songs. Goeller composed it, incorporating snippets of Haydn's "Surprise Symphony," and Stanichar said it's packed with other musical themes the entire audience will recognize.

"Everybody will enjoy this concert," affirmed Stanichar. "It's definitely family friendly. There's something on the program for classical music lovers, but also music for those who are not."

Among WASO's string players are concertmaster Justyna Lutow-Resch of Sioux Falls, who gave birth to her second child on March 31, and newlywed Rachel Samuels Estrella.

Estrella, a lawyer currently working as a law clerk in the Fifth Judicial District, was married last Saturday but is happy to postpone her honeymoon to take her place in the orchestra's violin section.

"Playing in WASO has been a wonderful way for me to ease into the Worthington community while reconnecting with orchestral music after not playing violin during law school," said Estrella, who has lived and worked in Worthington for the past year.

"I have been greatly impressed by the warmth and enthusiasm of everyone involved in WASO," Estrella continued. "It's been fun for me to meet so many people from the area who are deeply passionate about music."

Loy echoes Estrella's thoughts.

"It's rewarding to continue carrying on the work of the orchestra, and it means a lot for the musicians to have a group like this in which to play," Loy said. "Everyone is learning and growing from the experience."

The Worthington Area Symphony Orchestra's 2013 concert season is made possible in part by a grant from the Southwest Minnesota Arts & Humanities Council.

WASO's spring concert will take place at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Worthington's Memorial Auditorium. Tickets (adult and student rates) are available in advance from WASO members, at the Auditorium's box office (9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays) or at the door.