R. Carlos Nakai

R. Carlos Nakai

John Driscoll, executive director of the Missoula Symphony Orchestra, knew that he was on to something when he started getting calls in January for a concert that wasn’t happening until April. All the way from places like Wyoming. 

“I knew that we had a big deal coming, but I had no idea people would call from out of state for this concert,” Driscoll said.

This “big deal” is R. Carlos Nakai, a Native American flute soloist.

Music Director Darko Butorac describes Nakai as the voice of contemporary Native American music.

“This is the first time the Missoula Symphony Orchestra has ever worked with a Native American artist, so it’s long overdue,” he said. “Nakai is a virtuoso of his instrument, his performances are haunting - I’m very excited about this collaboration.”

This “collaboration” is also of note as it is a melding of the Native American flute with European classical music, an almost unprecedented combination.

The composer and performer has had an incredibly successful career. He has released more than 50 albums, sold over 5 million records, earned two Gold records and a Platinum record, and received 11 Grammy nominations.

And he has a huge fan base.

“I’m excited to consider the potential of this concert and the audience we will reach,” Driscoll said. “I think we will attract some first time concert-goers, but, more important, I hope we will connect with our audience in a meaningful and different way.”

“Nakai’s music embodies the natural world,” Butorac said, “which made him a perfect fit for our Earth Day concerts.”

In addition to Nakai, the concerts’ repertoire includes three other pieces with natural themes, Bedrich Smetana’s “From Bohemia’s Forests and Meadows,” Jean Sibelius’s “The Swan of Tuonela,” and Ottorino Respighi’s “Pines of Rome.”

“We’ve got forests, meadows, swans, trees - we’ve got Earth Day covered. But in all seriousness, it’s going to be a phenomenal concert,” he said.

The concert, and season, concludes with “Pines of Rome,” which Butorac describes as one of the great, large orchestral pieces. It includes an additional 12 brass instruments. 

“It seemed fitting that we would end a huge season, our 60th season, with a huge piece.  This is it,” he said.

“Earth, Wind and Fire” takes place on April 25 at 7:30 p.m. and April 26 at 3 p.m. in the Dennison Theatre, and is the final concert of the orchestra’s season. Tickets for all concerts are available online at missoulasymphony.org, by phone at 721-3194, or in person at the Missoula Symphony office at 320 E. Main Street.

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