Nobuyoshi Yasuda knows Pablo Center at the Confluence has opened a proud new chapter for culture in the Chippewa Valley. But he’s also getting ready to provide a peek at the region’s illustrious past.
The music director of the Chippewa Valley Symphony Orchestra is drawing on that history as well as the present and future for the group’s concert at 2 p.m. Saturday in the center’s RCU Theatre.
Yasuda, who joined the UW-Eau Claire music faculty in 1991 and became the CVSO’s artistic leader in 1993, wanted to celebrate the region’s musical legacy during the current season. So he went to the Chippewa Valley Museum and was amazed at the richness of that history.
He discovered, for instance:
• A program from a recital that renowned violinist Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962) performed in Eau Claire.
• A program of the recital that Ole Bull (1810-1880) — like his peer Niccolo Paganini one of the most celebrated violinists of his time — presented at the Grand Opera House.
• A ticket to the 1889 opening concert of the Grand Opera Company.
“I was just stunned to see these things,” Yasuda said.
He also learned that Eau Claire had a philharmonic and chorus, and that the musicians came directly from New York and Germany to play in the orchestra. And some who left were hired shortly thereafter by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
“So this kind of thing was in Eau Claire,” he said.
The first half of Saturday’s concert will feature performances by the Kristo Orthodontics Young Artist Competition winner and the Chippewa Valley Youth Symphony. The second half will include a selection of music that Yasuda found was played in the 19th and early 20th centuries in Eau Claire.
“This time I purposely chose some of the music we no longer hear, but at the time these were very popular,” Yasuda said.
They will present the following works:
• Adolphe Adam: “Si j’etais roi (If I were King)” Overture. It was performed on Oct. 1, 1883, the opening concert at the Grand Opera House.
• Ole Bull: “Sæterjentens Søntag” (“The Herdmaiden’s Sunday”) (arr. Johan Svendsen). Bull performed it on April 22, 1869, at the Music Hall.
• Giovanni Bolzoni: Minuetto. Performed on May 18, 1914, by the Philharmonic Society of Eau Claire, conducted by Edwin Howard, at the Grand Opera House.
• Friedrich von Flotow: “Alessandro Stradella” Overture, performed on May 15, 1900, by Steinberg’s Symphonic Orchestra at the Grand Opera House.
Yasuda said his point in presenting this music is to show the reputation Eau Claire had in an earlier time. “Eau Claire was a major, major city,” he said. “One of the major, major cities in America. That’s why we had an opera house, we had an orchestra — to really entertain those people in our community.”
And now, he added, Pablo Center can reflect a return to those times.
“Now this is our revival of that culture,” he said. “That’s what I tried to explain.”
To Yasuda, the music evokes an earlier era. “Listening to this music I can kind of almost see how people were living … rich people in society at the time. Ladies with the long skirts, gentlemen in kind of a tuxedo at the opera house.”
He also can feel the sense of merriment that was in the air. “They had kind of a high society laughter,” he said, affecting a higher pitched “ha-ha-ha-ha-ha” and grinning after his impression. “I can almost feel those things through this music.”
During the first part of the concert, the CVSO will join the Youth Symphony in a piece of film music from the animated “How to Train Your Dragon.”
Also, the young artists competition winner, pianist Antonio Wu of Madison, will play the third movement of Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2.
As delighted as Yasuda is with what he sees as the city’s cultural rebirth, he’s not totally surprised. He has had a sense of cultural richness from the time he arrived in Eau Claire. “This Eau Claire community didn’t look like a big musical community,” he said. “However, something about our community always … underneath some musical strong history or stream was going on.”
To prove his point he listed some of the high achievers the city has produced, mentioning by name cellist Mark Kosower, jazz pianist Geoffrey Keezer and Bon Iver, the indie group headed by Justin Vernon.
Yasuda is quick to credit The State Theatre for being the orchestra’s home for many years. “Without that venue nothing could have happened,” he said.
But he recounted the elation he felt upon arrival at Pablo Center’s RCU Theatre, knowing the orchestra will have a greater potential to invite major guest artists to join them and to expand collaboration with other community arts groups. When he walked on the stage for a tech rehearsal, he recalled, “The first thing I said was, ‘We are here now.’”