RACINE — Though the harp is difficult to pick up, literally and figuratively, Kelsey Molinari knew from a young age that this was her passion.

“The harp is about 6 feet tall and 85 pounds,” Molinari said. “Moving a harp is no fun, especially in the snow.”

Molinari’s harp will be on the move a lot for the Racine Symphony Orchestra’s 85th season, as she is the artist-in-residence after more than 15 years playing with the orchestra. And she will perform with the orchestra during its Fall Masterworks Concert Sunday, Oct. 9, at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

As the artist-in-residence, it will be her duty to not only perform on stage, but throughout the community in middle schools, elderly care centers, community centers and other places throughout the city to share the sound that captivated her when she was young.

“There’s something captivating and mysterious about the harp,” Molinari said. “Sounds like nothing else.”

The harp is traditionally a solo instrument, so playing in the community will be the instrument in its natural environment. However, Molinari prefers playing with an orchestra. The harp has a unique sound, but it sounds even better combined with the rest of the ensemble.

“Playing in an orchestra exposed me to different literature and music instead of just solo harp music,” she said. “That experience of making one sound with so many people. That’s what I decided I wanted to do.”

With the 85th season of the Racine Symphony Orchestra underway, Molinari is excited to take the stage with one of the longest-running orchestras in Wisconsin.

“We anticipate seeing our 100th year,” said Andrea Forgianni Imoehl, communications and program coordinator for the Racine Symphony Orchestra. “We’re going to incorporate the entire season into one big celebration.”

From sports to opera house

Molinari’s parents signed her up for everything in Thiensville. She was involved in sports, dance classes, cello lessons, piano lessons, but none of them good enough. With so many hours in the day, she was consumed with things that were not her cup of tea.

Age 11 brought an epiphany — one early in life that had Molinari as excited as a kid in a music shop in the presence of oddly shaped contraptions that produced various sounds. She wanted one that sounded like nothing else. She wanted the harp.

“I went to my parents and I kept asking and kept asking and kept asking,” Molinari said. “After a year my parents were like, ‘Oh, she’s serious,’ and let me take a lesson.”

From there the sounds of the harp pushed everything else to the wayside. No more sports, dance, cello or piano. After four years of practice, she landed her first gig. The Racine Symphony Orchestra needed a harpist and Molinari fit the bill.

“I remember printing out the Mapquest direction to Festival Hall,” Molinari said. “Then over time I go from Racine Symphony Orchestra to playing Carnegie Hall and the Sydney Opera House. It all started in Racine.”

Molinari went on to the Chicago School of Performing Arts and from there has played in various orchestras around the world. Her first major season was with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. From there, she was on an unofficial short list for harpists in the country.

Whenever there was a vacancy or emergency need for a harpist, Molinari would get a call.

“I remember getting a call from the L.A. Symphony Orchestra less than 48 hours before a concert,” Molinari said. “There aren’t too many full-time jobs playing the harp with orchestras, so I take these jobs between concerts.”

Molinari has played with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

Though her playing took her all over the globe, that was only temporary. She always remained close to her roots in Thiensville, and for more than 15 years has stepped in to play harp for the Racine Symphony Orchestra.

When a family was on the horizon, she and her husband settled down in Thiensville. Then she was asked to be the artist-in-residence for the Racine orchestra. Even with her second child on the way, she obliged.

“I did practice before he was born,” Molinari said. “I’ve gradually gotten back into shape so I’m feeling really good for the concert.”

All started in Racine

The stage is set for Sunday afternoon. Many of the ensemble have performed together for many years. Some of the members have been around for 50 years.

That is what draws Molinari to the stage with them.

“They’ve seen me grow up and have babies and it’s really playing music with my friends,” Molinari said. “It’s unlike any other gig I play.”

Saturday marks the first masterworks concert of the year. Maestro Pasquale Laurino will lead the orchestra through pieces he selected for the occasion.

The concert is set for 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 9, at Frances Bedford Concert Hall, UW-Parkside, 900 Wood Road, Somers. Tickets are $23 for adults if purchased prior to the event, $25 for adults at the door. Students and children younger than 21 are admitted free. For tickets, visit www.racinesymphony.org or call 262-636-9285.

Also on Sunday will be a pre-concert lecture at 2 p.m. to detail what music will be played and how to best appreciate it. After the concert, there will be a reception at UW-Parkside.

This is only the tip of the iceberg though. For the 85th anniversary, the orchestra plans to pull out all of the stops to celebrate being one of the longest-running orchestras in Wisconsin.

“It’s a year-long celebration,” said Executive Director Donna Lyons. “Seeing the people’s faces. Hearing they’ve enjoyed it. It’s worth the work and dedication of the maestro and staff. It’s amazing.”


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