In the 1920s, a young George Gershwin was invited to compose for a New York music hall concert that celebrated the fusion of newly popular jazz and classical music. He hadn’t committed to doing so, but a little over a month before the show, the New York Tribune reported that Gershwin was working on a jazz concerto for the show, which spurred Gershwin to action. He hastily composed the now-classic “Rhapsody in Blue.”

“Most of the time composers need a year or two,” said Ignacio “Nachito” Herrera. “It’s unbelievable that in just six weeks, Gershwin was able to write that beautiful piece.”

“For me,” said the Cuban piano virtuoso, “when I close my eyes, it brings me back to the 1920s and 1930s jazz clubs of New York.”

Next Sunday, Herrera will accompany the Dakota Valley Symphony Orchestra in performing the piece during their showcase “A Latin Rhapsody” at the Burnsville Performing Arts Center. The show launches their 28th season.

“He’s a very effervescent and energetic performer,” said orchestra director Stephen J. Ramsey. “He’s got an interpretation of the piece that’s really unique. He definitely knocks the energy of the piece up a few notches.”

At the young age of 12, Herrera performed Rachmaninoff’s “Concerto No. 2” with the Havana Symphony Orchestra, and in the 1990s, he started working as the pianist, musical director and arranger for the Orquestra “Cubanismo.”

Herrera has lived in Minnesota for the past 12 years but spends most of the year traveling the world performing. When touring, he said, he usually arrives only a day or two before a performance, but he was pleased to meet with the Dakota Valley Symphony early on. “Most of the time,” he said, “you don’t have the opportunity to see the process from the very beginning.”

The show will include a variety of songs in addition to “Rhapsody.” Ramsey said the show draws from Afrocubanismo, a movement in the 1920s and 1930s that celebrated the influence of African traditions on Cuban culture and music. Next Sunday’s concert includes Gershwin’s “Cuban Overture,” “Cuban Fire Suite: La Suerte de los Tontos” by John Richards, Lecuona’s “Malaguena” and LeRoy Anderson’s “Serenata.” The symphony will also perform two “Danzons” (a Cuban dance): Marquez’s “Danzon No. 2” and Copland’s “Danzon Cubano.”

Herrera calls the show a “really nice tour around the classical concept of Cuban music.’”

The next show of the 2013-2014 season is Dec. 8, when the symphony performs Handel’s “Messiah” with the Dakota Valley Symphony Chorus.

On Feb. 9, the symphony hosts the Three Choirs Festival with the Dakota Valley Symphony Chorus and two Lakeville High School chorales. The group of about 200 singers will perform Britten’s “March from Matinee Musicale,” Mozart’s “Violin Concerto No. 5” and Jenkins’s haunting “The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace,” a 63-minute long piece that draws from a collage of sources: excerpts from Kipling and Tennyson, sacred Hindu texts, the Islamic call to prayer, and the Bible.

On March 16, the Dakota Valley Symphony Chamber Orchestra performs “The Feeling in Baroque Music” at the arts center’s Black Box Theater. The performance includes Pachelbel’s “Canon” and “Gigue”— the “Gigue,” Ramsey said, is a “bright and lively” counterpoint to the well known “Canon” — as well as Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, and Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5.

For the final concert on April 27, the University of Minnesota Health Sciences Orchestra joins the orchestra. The performance of Kimsky-Korsakov’s “Procession of the Nobles from Mlada” and Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 4” will also feature the winners of the annual young artists competition.


Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.