The last time the Quad-City Symphony Orchestra took the stage at the Adler Theatre in Davenport, it was the concert of the century.
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma was the guest for the May 14 QCSO performance, capping the symphony's 100th anniversary. A full house gave Ma a nearly five-minute standing ovation, and another three-minute standing-O following a surprise performance of a Bach sarabande.
Now, as the symphony prepares to begin its 101st season tonight at the Adler, conductor and musical director Mark Russell Smith feels like he has the wind at his back.
"My job is to take the momentum, the artistic momentum from that concert and make sure concert No. 1 has just as much energy and momentum," Smith said in a lunch with reporters last week. "That's a challenge, but it's a great challenge and that's what it's all about."
Ticket sales and subscribers are close to the same level they were a year ago, which included the promise of the Ma performance.
"We saw that the audience recognizes the incredible level of playing, and they responded by buying tickets and in the way they appreciated the concert, the excitement before and after," QCSO executive director Benjamin Loeb said.
The 2015-16 schedule, Smith said, is both lively and complex.
When asked about the balance between artistic integrity and getting butts in seats, Smith said "We're actually lucky here because we can do both."
"It's a sophisticated audience. They know what they like," he said. "And it really depends on how it's presented and how much preparation there is. We do arguably tough stuff."
That includes Gustav Mahler's second symphony, which caps the Masterworks season in April.
"Our audience responds to that. Thanks be to God, I never have to program down," he said. "There are certain things I wouldn't do because I'm not interested in them, but we won't do ... stuff that has limited appeal."
While other symphonies have seasons that include what Smith calls "dumbing down" the repertoire, he said he can keep a higher quality in the selections.
"The way I program — I'd like to think, and the audience seems to respond well to it — is to keep the audience in mind. That's doesn't mean they're going to like every piece and it doesn't mean we're going to dumb stuff down at all," Smith said.
"The balance of what we present — the long, big, complicated pieces contrasting with the shorter, flashier pieces — we keep all that in mind," he added.
The success of the Ma performance, Loeb said, enforces the fact that the QCSO — like other cultural organizations in the Quad-Cities — can bring in A-list attractions that are appreciated in the area.
"If we do leverage our resources, and 'we' meaning any cultural institution, to bring in something that's truly extraordinary who we don't get every day, the community goes for it — whether it's Yo-Yo Ma or the Diana exhibit (at the Putnam Museum) or anything at the Figge," he said.
"While we may not have the resources for everybody to do something like that every year, maybe we can be strategic and have one event by one cultural organization to break through," Loeb continued. "A community always wants something super-hot, that goes beyond what we already get and ... everybody can try to leverage what they've got to bring in something even better. We can't be complacent with what we already have.
"The success of Yo-Yo means the community is ready for something like that on a regular basis," he concluded. "It's worth the risk."
A proposed mega media merger between two large TV station groups could send shockwaves through the Quad-Cities.
Earlier this week, Nexstar Broadcasting — which owns WHBF and KGCW and operates KLJB — made an offer to buy Media General, whose stations include KWQC, for $1.8 billion. That was proposed to offset a planned merger between Media General and the Des Moines-based Meredith Corp.
If the buyout does happen — and many Wall Street-types are supporting it — look for either KWQC or WHBF to be sold immediately, to avoid FCC ownership restrictions.
Similar scenarios are playing out throughout the country in larger and smaller markets than ours.
If you're a fan of the Iowa Hawkeyes or of country singer and "The Voice" judge Blake Shelton, you've probably already heard that Shelton will headlining Kinnick Stadium's first concert, scheduled for Aug. 27.
The concert will benefit the Native Fund, a nonprofit founded by former Hawkeye star Dallas Clark — with assistance from two other Iowa natives, golfer Zach Johnson and actor Ashton Kutcher — to fund state residents displaced by natural disasters.
There will be dozens of story angles in the 10 months between now and the concert, but it was interesting to see that one of the opening acts is Tucker Beathard, brother of Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard.
The brothers are the sons of Casey Beathard, two-time country songwriter of the year who wrote the Eric Church hit "Homeboy" about Tucker.
Tickets for the concert go on sale at 10 a.m. Wednesday, with a presale for Hawkeye season ticket holders on Monday. Ticket prices range from $239 to $39 — how many different levels they'll be and different prices was uncertain at deadline — available at TheBackPorchRevival.com.
Fellow performers as well as audience members are remembering veteran actor Michael Oberfield, who died last weekend at age 70 in Fort Myers, Fla.
The Detroit native had appeared in at least 40 shows at Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse in Rock Island. His last appearance on Quad-City area stages, at least according to our archives, were from the summer of 2010, when he played the King in "Big River" and Cap'n Andy in "Show Boat," both at the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre.
When interviewed in 2005, while living in Clinton and working as a cashier at the former Mississippi Belle II casino when not at the Showboat, he was excited about directing both there and at New Ground Theatre.
"You have to look at the play from everyone's point of view, not just the character's," Oberfield said of "Scotland Road," the thriller he was about to direct.
"I prefer directing as I get older, because it takes so much energy to act," he told me at the time. "I loved acting when I was in my 30s and 40s, but it takes so much more energy as you get older. Eight, nine shows a week gets to you after a while."