RSO celebrates Racine

Stormtroopers? Jazz? Visions of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing in your head?

Such things may not be expected from a symphony orchestra. Yet, all of them and more will be presented by the Racine Symphony Orchestra and its guests during an Aug. 23 pops concert at Festival Hall.

The overall theme of the RSO’s performance — “Celebrate Racine” — will be especially evident in the evening’s guest artists, all of whom are locally based. The jazz band Opus (Curt Hanrahan, James Sodke, Steve Lewandowski, Larry Tresp and Brian Ford) will perform a selection of its original compositions with the symphony. And popular vocalist Bob Benson will sing a couple numbers with the orchestra.

They, along with the rest of the program, give the RSO an opportunity to “Celebrate the talent within the community with some really, really exciting music,” said Pasquale Laurino, artistic director and conductor of the RSO.

Laurino, who has collaborated with saxophonist/composer Curt Hanrahan before in performances with Milwaukee’s Skylight Music Theatre, said he is excited for the orchestra’s opportunity to engage with Opus and perform its compositions, which he described as “so smartly written.”

“Curt is one of the preeminent jazz players in the state,” he said. “To be able to have him front and center, performing with the orchestra, is a special treat.”

Hanrahan — who is also head of Jazz Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and co-founder of Racine’s Lakeshore Conservatory of Music — said that Opus will play four tunes with the orchestra, including three original compositions by him, Sodke and Lewandowki, as well as “Threshold,” by Pat Williams. Some have been written since the group  — which originally formed in the late 1970s — reunited in recent years. And, they reflect a maturity that has developed in the band’s music since its members each went on to play professionally in various projects for 30-plus years, Hanrahan said.

Opus’ performance with the RSO is part of the band’s summer Midwestern tour which included a CD release party for the band’s latest recording, “Timeless!”, at Caroline’s jazz club in Milwaukee.

For more about Opus, go to

By request

Bob Benson described his chance to sing with the RSO as a “dream come true.” A frequent performer with the Racine Theatre Guild and other community theaters, Benson will open the evening with the “Star-Spangled Banner” and will sing “The Continental,” by Con Conrad and Herb Magidson.

Introduced by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the 1934 film “The Gay Divorcee,” “The Continental” won the first Academy Award for Best Original Song, The symphony has included it in this program at the special request of one of its patrons, said Laurino.

“We had a heck of a time tracking down this particular arrangement, in a key that Bob could sing, but eventually all of the stars aligned and we are happy to be able to perform it,” he said,

The orchestra will also Celebrate Racine with another audience favorite — the music of composer John Williams. Both Williams’ “Stars Wars Suite” (from the movie score) and “The Mission” (theme song for NBC Nightly News) are on the program. And, they are there because “I love John Williams, and I think the audience loves John Williams,” Laurino said.

Considered one of the greatest film composers of all time, Williams uses the resources of the full orchestra and uses them “so incredibly well,” Laurino said. “That puts him in line with traditions that go back as far as the Baroque period and continue through today. It’s what connects him with the great composers that preceded him.”

Williams’ “Star Wars” score is challenging to play, yet it is also music that is immediately engaging for the audience, the conductor said. “There is one drawback to doing the ‘Star Wars’ theme,” he said with a chuckle. “I wind up singing the music throughout the day — as I’m doing laundry.”

In keeping with the “Star Wars” theme, the RSO has invited special guests from the Wisconsin Garrison of the 501st Legion (a group of “Star Wars” enthusiasts in authentic costumes, to attend the concert. They will be available for photos after the performance. Audience members are also invited to get in on the fun by dressing up in “Star Wars” attire for the evening.

“As with all weapons, we ask that you please leave your lightsabers at home,” the RSO says.

When asked if he, too, might appear in costume to conduct, Laurino said he wouldn’t put it past himself to have some kind of surprise up his sleeve.

“It’s going to be a fun, exciting and entertaining evening,” he said. “We’re hoping for a great turnout.”

If You Go

WHAT: Racine Symphony Orchestra Celebrates Racine

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 23. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

WHERE: Festival Hall, 5 Fifth St.

COST: General admission tickets are $23 ($25 at the door) for adults and free for anyone younger than 21 (ticket required). Some table seating is still available, at $32.50 per seat.

INFO: Go to or call (262) 636-9285.


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