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Tuesday Worthington Area Symphony Orchestra concert strings in the holidays

Aimon Dwan, principal cellist with the Worthington Area Symphony Orchestra, will be one of three featured soloists during Tuesday evening’s performance. (BRIAN KORTHALS/DAILY GLOBE)

WORTHINGTON — A Tuesday evening concert at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center will mark, with holiday flair, the start of the Worthington Area Symphony Orchestra’s (WASO) fourth season.

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“The fourth year already — when you’re having fun, you don’t even think about time passing, do you?” posed Dr. Christopher Stanichar, WASO’s conductor since the group originated.

Contributed WASO violinist and manager Beth Habicht, “With the concert taking place only a couple of days before Thanksgiving, the Christmas music will help get everyone in a Christmas spirit.”

Indeed, Stanichar has planned a dynamic program of music that runs the gamut from classical (the overture from Mozart’s opera “Cosi fan Tutte”) to popular (“Gabriel’s Oboe” from the 1986 movie “The Mission”) to contemporary holiday (Mannheim Steamroller’s arrangement of “Stille Nacht”).

“I love all of the selections,” professed Habicht, “but if I had to name a favorite, I’d go with the Mozart.

“There’s nothing like Mozart. He was such an incredible genius and a fascinating personality, not only in his own time but still today.”

“Everybody needs a little Mozart,” Stanichar concurred.

Habicht, a member of the WASO-founding Great Plains String Quartet, attributes a solid chunk of WASO’s ongoing success to Stanichar, who hails from Sioux Falls, S.D., where he is director of orchestras at Augustana College.

“We are so incredibly blessed to have him as our director,” attested Habicht.

“He’s a wonderful teacher as well as conductor because he tells us about the composers and musical styles, and then we learn different techniques to create those styles,” she continued. “He’s really passionate about community orchestras and sees the future of orchestral music in this country based in regional and community groups like ours, so we feel very good to be a small part of helping preserve this wealth of classical music.”

At Thursday’s practice, Stanichar was tolerant yet firm with his rehearsing musicians.

“I need to see your eyes, otherwise it’s not working,” he admonished. “Playing with your eyes only in your music is like driving a car with your head in a map — you’ll end up in a ditch.”

Joining in the effort Tuesday night will be Dr. Joseph Rodgers, director of the orchestra at Minnesota State University, Mankato, where he also teaches cello and bass, directs the Mankato Area Youth Symphony and serves as assistant conductor of the Mankato Symphony Orchestra.

“He’s a very talented cellist, besides being very personable, and as part of our mission to feature Minnesota artists, it seemed like a natural fit to have him here,” explained Stanichar.

Rodgers will be the cello soloist on “Kol Nidrei” by Max Bruch and “Hungarian Fantasy” by Friedrich Grutzmacher. 

“‘Kol Nidrei’ is a Jewish prayer begging God for forgiveness of our sins,” Stanichar said. “And Dr. Rodgers and I collaborated on ‘Hungarian Fantasy’ at a Mankato orchestra performance in October.”

Additionally, Rodgers will serve as an artist-in-residence on Tuesday and Wednesday, spending time with District 518 orchestra students during the school day.

“Dr. Rodgers has generously offered to play for our students,” said Aimon Dwan, District 518’s new fourth- and fifth-grade orchestra instructor and WASO’s principal cellist. 

“Hearing an accomplished professional musician like Dr. Rodgers can be so inspirational for students, even as my beginners are working hard to produce their first sounds with the bow.”

Dwan will also have a chance to demonstrate her cello skills as featured soloist on “Stille Nacht.”

“I enjoy the calm peacefulness of this arrangement,” said Dwan of the number. “It’s always fun to play different versions of traditional pieces.”

Dwan and Habicht are among the 52 musicians currently on WASO’s roster. The group’s members come not only from Worthington but also from several communities within a roughly 60-mile radius, including Sioux Falls, Fairmont, Westbrook, Windom and Bigelow. 

“There are a lot of band directors and music teachers involved,” allowed Habicht, “but there are also accountants, electricians, students and swimming instructors involved.

“It’s people from many walks of life who come together to create our orchestra, and with a 90-minute rehearsal each Thursday night, it’s a huge commitment.”

Other Tuesday concert treats will be oboeist Kristi Stanichar soloing on “Gabriel’s Oboe,” and four local vocalists — soprano Elizabeth Bushard, alto Linda Lang, tenor Duane Anderson and baritone Jon Loy — joining the instrumentalists to share in the delivery of a lush “White Christmas,” Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and a Christmas sing-along.

“People underestimate the strength of our local musicians, including these singers, and to have our own symphony in Worthington is a dream come true, it really is,” expressed Habicht, who for 38 years was District 518’s orchestra instructor before passing her baton to Melanie Loy in 2006. 

“There are people whose talents were hiding under a bushel, and playing in the symphony has allowed those skills to be revealed—I love it.”

Newcomer Dwan is similarly enthusiastic.

“After interviewing for my current position with ISD 518 and learning about the schools here, I was overjoyed to hear of WASO,” said Dwan. “After my first WASO rehearsal, I felt like Worthington was home.

“I love the positive and friendly atmosphere among the members, and we’re so lucky to have Dr. Stanichar’s talented leadership.”

Stanichar, saying he hopes to feature Dwan in future WASO concerts, offers similar praise for the group.

“It’s always fun for the audience members to see family, friends and acquaintances from the area perform,” he confirmed. “It’s a very enjoyable group, and the Great Plains String Quartet deserves a lot of credit for making WASO an affable, warm and fun place to be.”

The Worthington Area Symphony Orchestra is in concert 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center, 714 13th St., Worthington. General admission tickets (with a reduced fee for students and children) are available at the door prior to the performance. WASO’s fourth season is funded in part by a grant from the Southwest Minnesota Arts and Humanities Council; Tuesday’s concert sponsors include Sanford Health, Veterinary Medical Center, P.A., Dorothy Sietsema, Dr. Christopher and Kristi Stanichar, and the Great Plains String Quartet.