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Music in living color: WASO in concert at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Kurt Haag will perform Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” during Tuesday's Worthington Area Symphony Orchestra concert. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — What’s your favorite color?

Whichever one you prefer, it’s likely to be reflected musically at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday when the Worthington Area Symphony Orchestra (WASO) performs the closing concert of its eighth season at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center.

Dubbed “Symphonic Colors,” the concert features selections that each reference a different color — pink, yellow, orange, red, blue, purple or green — making for a colorful program that incorporates varied musical genres.

“Our pieces represent the colors of the rainbow,” said Dr. Christopher Stanichar, conductor of the 54-member ensemble.

“I’d never thought of programming a concert of this kind before, but as we talked about a couple of numbers we wanted to include — ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ and ‘Pink Ribbon for Susan’ — it hit me in the face that we already had a color theme.

“There is an infinite number of works that refer to color in one way or another, which is interesting in that music has nothing to do with visual colors,” Stanichar continued.

“But music is a sensory thing that inspires composers from generation to generation to equate it with color in various forms.”

Thus, attendees will hear Gustav Holst’s charming “Brook Green Suite,” a march and scherzo from Prokofiev’s opera “The Love of the Three Oranges” and even a string arrangement of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” with guest musician Colin O’Donnell playing electric guitar.

Another musical guest will be Kurt Haag, the solo pianist on Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”

Haag, a 2015 graduate of Concordia College, Moorhead, who majored in mathematics, education and music, is completing his third year as a Worthington High School math teacher. Haag focused on piano performance during his college years and is busy after school hours as a musician; he plays piano at American Lutheran Church, has accompanied for the Worthington Chamber Singers and WHS musicals and teaches private piano lessons, among other involvement.

“I love ‘Rhapsody in Blue,’” Haag confirmed, mentioning that he first learned the piece when he was asked to play it with the Princeton High School band at a pops concert in February 2017.

“It’s unique in that there are extended periods when it’s just piano without orchestral background — and when Gershwin wrote it, he joined together the worlds of jazz and classical music.”

While Haag admits his years of piano training lean more toward the classical than blues/jazz, that didn’t stop him from mastering the bluesy number, which most people will recognize as the signature tune from United Airlines’ commercial campaigns of 1988-2016, if from nothing else.

“I approached ‘Rhapsody’ as a classical way to play a blues/jazz piece,” said Haag, who began his piano studies as a first grader. “It’s a privilege to be able to play with this community of musicians, and having these musical opportunities here makes Worthington feel like home to me.”

Beth Habicht, one of WASO’s four leadership team members and a violinist in the orchestra, returns the compliment.

“We’re incredibly lucky to have Kurt as our soloist,” said Habicht. “His playing is so articulate and expressive, and he knocks it out of the park.”

A very special program element will be “Pink Ribbon for Susan,” a composition Stanichar wrote in 2013 in honor of his friend Susan Hill, who battled breast cancer and ultimately succumbed to the disease in February 2016 at the age of 43.

Her husband, Dr. Christopher Hill, will play the clarinet solo called for in the selection. Hill is the principal clarinetist of the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra and is a close friend of Stanichar’s.

“Chris wanted a composition in Susan’s honor,” explained Stanichar, who is an active composer as well as an orchestral conductor (he will be Visiting Professor/Director of the Aberdeen University and Civic Symphony at Northern State University for the 2018-19 academic year, among other professional assignments).

“I initially wrote it for band, and it was first played by the Sioux Falls Community Band, which Chris Hill directs, and Susan heard it performed several times in her life,” said Stanichar.

“She was such an inspiring person, and though I watched her deal with the things people struggling with cancer often experience, she never complained and always maintained her sense of humor.

“It’s always a little bit of a challenge for us to perform because we feel her presence.”

Confirmed Habicht, “It’s a very poignant piece, but everybody can relate to it because everyone has lost someone or been touched by cancer in one way or another.

“And Dr. Christopher Hill is a brilliant musician. It’s touching to see him perform this in memory of his beloved wife.”

Stanichar will end Tuesday’s concert with “The Stars and Stripes Forever” — a red, white and blue salute to veterans as Memorial Day approaches, and a fitting wrap-up to a concert that celebrates the joy colors bring to human existence.

“We’re presenting several famous works with a lot of kick,” promised Stanichar.

“And the beauty of music is that it’s a universal language that brings people together, from all walks of life and of all colors.”

The Worthington Area Symphony Orchestra presents its “Symphonic Colors” concert at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center, 714 13th St., Worthington. All seats are reserved; tickets are available at the box office from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays, or by calling 376-9101 or visiting www.friendsoftheauditorium.com. Tickets will also be sold at the door.

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