Fairfield Ledger

Neighbors Growing Together | Apr 18, 2014

Orchestra Iowa performs Sunday at Sondheim

By DIANE VANCE | Feb 07, 2014
Photo by: SUBMITTED PHOTO Luke Witchger, concertmaster with Orchestra Iowa, will perform a solo, as will principle violist Lisa Ponton at Sinfonia Shostakovich, 3 p.m. Sunday at the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center.

One of the musicians in Orchestra Iowa will be easy to watch Sunday in Fairfield; Luke Witchger, who has been playing the violin for 18 years, is the orchestra’s concertmaster and a soloist in the program.

Witchger joined Orchestra Iowa, based in Cedar Rapids, in August.

“Being concertmaster gives me more responsibilities,” he said. “And I’m doing a solo, which is exciting.”

A concertmaster is the second-most significant person in an orchestra, after the maestro/conductor, which for Orchestra Iowa is Tim Hankewich.

In an orchestra, the concertmaster is the leader of the first violin section, and the concertmaster usually plays any violin solo.

A concertmaster is normally required to be the most skilled musician in the section, experienced at learning music quickly, and counting rests and observing the conductor for the rest of the section to follow.

The concertmaster sits to the conductor’s left, closest to the audience, and makes decisions regarding bowing and other technical details of violin playing for the violins, and sometimes all of the string players.

The concertmaster leads the orchestra in tuning before concerts and rehearsals, and other technical aspects of orchestra management.

“I am the liaison between the musicians and the music director [conductor],” said Witchger.

He won the role of concertmaster for Orchestra Iowa in 2013, making him the youngest professional concertmaster among the nation’s major symphony orchestras. He regularly performs with the Orchestra Iowa Chamber Players and offers master classes through the Orchestra School, according to Sunday’s program notes for Sinfonia Shostakovich.

He also commutes from New York.

“I was born in Florida, but grew up in Omaha,” he said. “I’m living in New York, attending school at Julliard and each summer I try to attend a different music festival.”

His position with Orchestra Iowa is his first contract musician job.

“I started playing in a string quartet in high school,” said Witchger. “I love classical music, especially the late romantics, such as Rachmaninoff and Brahms.”

Sunday’s program will feature music by Beethoven and Mozart, as well as American composer Samuel Barber and Dmitri Shostakovich of St. Petersburg.

Witchger studied at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

“I played with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra,” he said.

The program notes also say he’s performed with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall for its Spring Music concert in 2012, has soloed with the Vanderbilt University Orchestra and the Omaha Symphony Orchestra, and frequently substitutes with the New World Symphony in Miami and with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.

He has been in Cedar Rapids this week, rehearsing with the other 67 orchestra members who will perform at 3 p.m. Sunday in Fairfield Arts & Convention Center’s Stephen Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts.

Tickets are $15 general admission, available at the ticket office, 472-2787 and online at www.FairfieldACC.com.

“We’re playing in Iowa City Friday night, Saturday at the Paramount Theatre [Cedar Rapids] and Sunday in Fairfield,” he said.

After the performance, he heads back to NYC for studies.

Look for Witchger among the sea of black-clothed musicians; he will be left of the conductor, and enjoying his many roles in Orchestra Iowa.


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