Conductor brings passion to QCSO concerts

Originally Posted Online: Feb. 08, 2012, 5:38 pm
Last Updated: Feb. 08, 2012, 5:48 pm
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By Jonathan Turner,

The Quad City Symphony Orchestra is pulling out all the stops in its Valentine's Day weekend concerts -- not only welcoming a hot new guest conductor, but hosting big pre- and post-concert gala events Saturday at the Hotel Blackhawk, Davenport.

Alondra de la Parra and guitarist Robert Belinic will present a romantic array of orchestral works, including:

-- "Scheherazade" by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, a symphonic suite based on "One Thousand and One Nights," also known as "The Arabian Nights." This compelling classic combines thrilling orchestration with exotic legends of the East.

-- "Concierto de Aranjuez" by Joaquín Rodrigo. From one of the finest Spanish composers of the 20th century, this work for classical guitar and orchestra was inspired by the gardens at Palacio Real de Aranjuez, the residence of the King of Spain.

-- "Bolero" by Maurice Ravel. This one-movement orchestral piece, composed as a ballet, is the French composer's most famous work. An excerpt was featured in the 1980 movie "10," and that romantic musical interlude significantly increased sales of recordings of the work.

Ms. de la Parra, who splits her time between Mexico City and New York, earned her bachelor's degree in piano performance and her master's in conducting from the Manhattan School of Music. She is just the third woman to lead a QCSO concert in its 97-year history, with typically six classical concerts a year. Kate Tamarkian guest-conducted in April 1999, and Catherine Comet in December 2004.

Ms. de la Parra has been featured on NBC´s "Today Show"; mentioned in Crain´s New York Business as one of that publication's "40 Under 40, New York´s Rising Stars"; singled out in The Daily Beast as one of the "Young Rock Stars of the Conducting World"; the subject of a major feature in The New York Times; recognized by Poder magazine as one of its "Top 20 under 40"; and named as one of six "Young Artists on the Rise" in Symphony magazine.

In an interview last June with The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus, Ms. de la Parra said her gender doesn't affect her conducting. "It's your connection to the music, the way of communicating to others. It's your technique, efficiency, knowledge, your ear."

When an orchestra plays, the musicians "stop thinking whether you're a woman or guy, short or tall, wherever you're from," she said. "I don't ever have a problem. The truth is, honestly, just answering this question over and over is the difficult part. I know it's there, a topic you need to ask, but I have not had any issues in my real professional life."

"The answer has always been that conducting is difficult enough on its own, and has been difficult for me as it has been for many women and male conductors," she said. "But I've never felt that I'm a woman on the podium. I've never been aware of that."

Saturday's pre-concert gala -- starting at 5 p.m. in the Gold Room at the Hotel Blackhawk and featuring a Latin-infused gourmet dinner -- is sold out, but you still can buy $25 tickets for the post-concert party at the hotel and take part in the symphony's silent auction.

Auction items will include an all-expenses-paid Mexican vacation, an authentic Italian dinner for 10 prepared by QCSO music director Mark Russell Smith, and a $5,000 diamond pendant, courtesy of Holland Jewelers. The QCSO also is selling $97 raffle tickets for a pot of $50,000.

Nearly $5,000 in preliminary cash prizes are to be awarded at concerts this season, including a $250 "early-bird" prize Saturday at the post-concert party and Sunday at the concert. Winners of the preliminary prizes remain eligible for the grand prize.

At the post-concert party, you can dance the night away in the Gold Room to the sultry sounds of the blues band the Candymakers and savor an assortment of delectable desserts.

The Scott County Family Y will offer child-care services from 4:30 to 10:30 p.m. in a specially designated room in the hotel. The cost is $20 per child, which includes dinner.

"We will have games, heart-shaped cookies, and a G-rated movie for the kids," said Deb Gustafson, executive director of Child Care and Family Services, a branch of the Scott County Family Y. "We'll also have Valentine's Day activities, like making valentines." She added that kids must be toilet-trained and between the ages of 3 and 8 in order to attend.

For more information about the Quad City Symphony Orchestra's Valentine's Day festivities, call the QCSO box office at (563) 322-7276 or visit

If you go

-- What: Quad City Symphony Orchestra Masterworks IV concert, "Valentine's Day."
-- When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
-- Where: Saturday at Adler Theatre, 136 E. 3rd St., Davenport; Sunday at Centennial Hall, 3703 7th Ave., Rock Island.
-- Tickets: $9 to $51 Saturday, $10 to $35 Sunday at QCSO box office, 327 Brady St., Davenport; (800) 745-3000; Ticketmaster outlets; and or

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