“Un/Masked”: Symphony of Diversity explores cultures through music


Courtesy of the Iowa State Lecture Series webpage

The Iowa State Symphony Orchestra and the Iowa State Lecture Series will be partnering to host a performance titled “Un/Masked,” on April 30.

Eleanor Chalstrom

A celebration of music and diverse creators across different cultures will be on full display April 30 at Stephens Auditorium.

The Iowa State Symphony Orchestra will perform in the Symphony of Diversity, partnering with the Iowa State Lecture Series and guest violinist Samuel Vargas to present the Symphony of Diversity.

The Symphony of Diversity has been held annually since 2016 and brings together music selections from diverse backgrounds and combines thematic elements connected to current events.

Dr. Jonathan Govias is the director of Orchestral Activities at Iowa State University. He has been conducting the symphony orchestra and rehearsing this particular program since early March.

“The idea behind it is that music reflects a world that is already a symphony of diversity,” Govias said.

This year’s theme is “Un/Masked” and features musical works that explore themes of identity across cultures, traditions and backgrounds.

Govias said he chose the program pieces to reflect music not typically appreciated in the symphonic music world. He said that educating audiences about music they do not typically encounter is one of the main goals of the concert.

“The intention is to show people to not be afraid of humanity, kind of thing, the idea of identity and who we are, where our traditions and heritage comes from,” Govias said.

The orchestra will be performing a variety of pieces, such as “Taras Bulba: Overture” by Mykola Lysenko, a Ukrainian composer, in connection to the country’s recent crisis. They will also be playing “Concerto No. 2 for Violin” by Florence Price, an African American composer.

The group is also collaborating with Iowa State University Choirs for certain pieces like “Illuminaire” by Des Moines composer Elaine Hagenburg.

Another goal of Govias’ is to highlight the diversity and cultures represented in the student body of the symphony.

“One thing that I think people don’t understand is that there is already immense diversity here, literally and figuratively. The intention is to ‘Unmask’ it,” Govias said.

Sage Cochran is a first-year architecture student and plays violin in the Iowa State Symphony Orchestra. He said that the “Un/Masked” theme of this year’s Symphony of Diversity particularly resonated with him.

“I lived in a rural town and there wasn’t a whole lot of diversity,” Cochran said. ”It really is eye-opening for me, even though I’m half Asian, I still haven’t fully experienced all that, I guess, diversity can encompass. It’s really interesting, and I’m enjoying interacting with all of this.”

Cochran also said that he hopes audiences will learn and connect to the music as the ensemble did.

“I hope they look at these pieces and look at their own background to form their own idea of what this program means to them,” Cochran said.

Amelia Dixon is a senior studying music and the concertmaster of the ensemble. For her, the different musical genres the ensemble gets to perform stand out.

“I enjoy playing with different styles of music that we’ve encountered, like playing the Márquez is not exactly the same as Western, classical music,” Dixon said.

The ensemble members each got to explore different styles of music through the composer’s heritage and identities.

Another student is Tasman Grinnell, a sophomore in cyber security engineering. He plays viola in the orchestra and is a participant in the chamber orchestra.

“I would like people to gather a little bit more about a new style of music or just multiple styles,” Grinnell said. “Like a lot of people who listen to classical music are only really exposed to Western Europeans like Beethoven or romantics like Tchaikovsky. I would just like people to explore a little bit more and expand their horizons.”

More information on the performance can be found here